Defending against Zombie Attacks

Zombie, a blogger for whom I have great respect, and whose blog I use in teaching for his wonderful examples of fauxtography, has begun a series on education in which he is looking at left-wing multiculturalists and conservative Christians and declaring a pox on both their houses. “The two competing visions couldn’t be more different. And the stakes couldn’t be higher. Unfortunately, whichever side wins — your kid ends up losing.” I’m dismayed by that characterization of what’s been going on. Zombie writes,

Innumerable liberal critics condemn the anti-science and partisan revisionist lunacy coming out of the Texas school board meetings. And you know what? The criticisms hit home. It’s next to impossible for a sensible person to defend the TSBE’s often ridiculous proposals.

I’ve testified before the Texas State Board of Education, and their proposals aren’t ridiculous at all. What’s ridiculous are the left’s distorted version of those proposals, which bear little relation to anything that’s actually in the State Board of Education’s recommendations. The Board has been presenting precisely the “rigorous non-politicized back-to-basics freedom-centric educational framework” that Zombie says he wants. But make such recommendations publicly, and the Left screams that it’s a Neanderthal, politicized recipe for foolishness.

As Zombie’s articles appear, I’m going to respond (at least on the social science points; I was not involved in the theory of evolution debates, and don’t know the details there). For now, let me address his initial complaint:

First, they defeated a motion to have students learn about the separation of church and state, a foundational principle of the United States; the board members seem to have no problem ignoring those parts of the Constitution (such as the First Amendment) which they personally dislike. To add insult to insanity, they then removed all mention of Thomas Jefferson as one of the writers who “influenced the nation’s intellectual origins,” since he was the bastard who insisted that the U.S. be a secular nation in the first place.

No, no, no. That’s not what happened at all. That’s the Leftist spin on what happened. Let’s take them in turn:

  1. The Board did reject Mavis Knight’s proposed amendment that students be required “to examine the reasons the founding fathers protected religious freedom in America by barring the government from promoting or disfavoring any particular religion above all others.” They were right to vote it down. Read it carefully. The First Amendment, and the rest of the Bill of Rights, are already covered in the standards. The amendment doesn’t add study of the First Amendment; it’s already there. Defeating it correspondingly doesn’t reject study of the First Amendment. The Board voted the proposal down because it was ideologically loaded. It contained a presupposition: that the content of the First Amendment is “the government may not promote or disfavor any particular religion above all others.” But that’s an inaccurate reading of the First Amendment. The First Amendment prohibits the establishment of religion. That is not the same as promoting or disfavoring one religion over others. It also protects the free exercise of religion, something about which Knight’s paraphrase is silent. In short, the Board voted Knight’s proposal down because (a) its topic, the First Amendment, was already included, and (b) the proposal slipped a sloppy and ideologically loaded paraphrase into what was otherwise a neutral description of the First Amendment.
  2. Thomas Jefferson was not written out of the standards; he was not even downgraded. He’s a major figure who is included more times than anyone other than George Washington. The Board proposed removing him from one list—a list of major political philosophers who had an impact on European revolutions—in the world history course. (His status in American history was untouched.) That list included such figures as Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, and Montesquieu. The Board thought, reasonably enough, that Jefferson was not an original political philosopher of that stature. Faced with criticism, the Board backed down, and left Jefferson on the list. But their position was defensible on the merits. Jefferson did not belong on that particular list. (The “get him back for speaking of separation of church and state” motivation is an unfounded allegation by leftists; no one ever said anything of the kind. Leftists were also infuriated by the Board’s addition of Aquinas, Calvin, and Blackstone to the influential political philosophers list, alleging, again without any evidence, that this stemmed from the Board’s desire to cram a particular version of Christianity down students’ throats. Which version that might be is unclear, since Aquinas defines Catholic orthodoxy, Calvin is a sharp critic of that orthodoxy, and Blackstone originated the phrase ‘the pursuit of happiness’ and gave influential definitions of other key terms in our founding documents and in political and legal philosophy more generally.)

I’m sorry to see Zombie taking articles written by leftists based on propaganda from the radical Texas Freedom Network as his sources. They do not offer a fair description of the Board’s deliberations. The Left wants to paint the Texas Board as a bunch of crazies so they can distract people from their own craziness and get fair-minded people like Zombie to think the truth must be somewhere in the middle. It is in the middle, between the two extreme descriptions, but looking at what actually happened, rather than the Left’s version of what happened, makes you realize that the Board has been right there in the middle all along. Go to the Board’s web site for more complete and accurate information.

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