No Enlightenment in Texas

In the good-and-good-for-you department, food scientists are now touting the health benefits of enjoying a handful of nuts every day.

I, for one, am glad, because I love nuts—pecans, hazelnuts, pistachios, almonds, you-name-em. But my favorite nuts, by far, are the homegrown natives that have taken root in one particularly fertile area of my state: the Texas Board of Education. You just can’t get any nuttier than this bunch!

This board, little known even to us Texans, has lately risen to national notoriety, making our state’s educational system a punch line for comedians everywhere. That’s because a handful of ultra-rightwing nutcases have taken over this elected overseer of Texas educational policy, and they’re hell-bent on supplanting classroom education with their own brand of ideological indoctrination.

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Their way of achieving this political goal is to rewrite the state standards that textbook publishers must follow to get the lucrative contracts for providing teaching materials for every student in the state, from first grade through high school. Their latest exercise in ideological correctness comes at the expense of the social studies curriculum. They’ve gone through guidelines for history, government, economics, and sociology textbooks, purging references that offend their doctrinaire sensibilities and substituting their own nutty biases and ignorance.

How nutty?

Take Thomas Jefferson. They did! They literally did take Jefferson off a list of revolutionary political thinkers from the Enlightenment period, replacing him with a favorite of Christian fundamentalists, John Calvin. Thus, the prime author of our Declaration of Independence—poof—disappeared! Jefferson’s unpardonable transgression? He coined the phrase “separation between church and state.”

Any concepts that might spur progressive thoughts in young minds were also expunged.

“Justice,” for example, was stripped from a list of virtues meant to teach grade-schoolers the characteristics of good citizenship. So, too, “responsibility for the common good.” And they insisted that the “positives” of Joe McCarthy’s witch-hunt for commies and of Jefferson Davis’s secessionist government be taught.

Likewise, the full-tilt rightists dismissed Dolores Huerta, the much-admired farmworker leader, from a list of “good citizenship” models, as a socialist. On the other hand, they mandated that Phyllis Schlafly, the Heritage Foundation, and Newt Gingrich’s Contract with America be taught as icons of a “conservative resurgence” in America.

One especially delicious moment came when the board considered a listing of world leaders who fought political repression. On the list was Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador, who was killed in 1980 by the country’s rightwing death squads for speaking out against inequality and oppression. The board cut Romero from the list, declaring that he lacked the stature of such other repression fighters as Gandhi. After all, one board member explained, unlike Gandhi, Romero had not had a movie made about his life, so how important could he have been? But—oops!—there was a popular 1989 feature film called Romero about the archbishop’s exemplary life. The board was embarrassed, but axed him anyway.

Words were banned, too. The word “democratic,” for example, was replaced by the cumbersome “constitutional republic.” “Capitalism” was replaced by “free enterprise.” In addition, all references to Enlightenment ideas were dropped, because . . . well, because these full-fledged political purists don’t want any concept based on reason getting into the heads of our schoolkids.

If you liked this article, check out Hightower's critique of the Supreme Court's "Citizens United" decision." It's called "Judicial Fabricators," and it's on the money, literally. Hightower, by the way, writes every month for The Progressive.

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