Quick, someone notify Glenn Beck. ‘How Christian Were the Founders?‘ has been the most emailed article on the NYT.com since Saturday morning. Far from being the title of a Tea Party pamphlet, the Times Magazine’s long cover story looks into the rewriting of the American social sciences curriculum courtesy of some (rather extreme) members of the Texas State Board of Education, and/or the rewriting of history, depending.
Last year hyperbolic accusations that school boards were trying to “indoctrinate” students with pro-Obama views flew around the news cycle after it was revealed there was plan afoot to encourage schoolchildren to write letters about themselves about what they could do to help President Obama (gasp!). For a while there “who is indoctrinating America’s schoolchildren” turned into a favorite headline of the right. For all the ridiculousness that came out of those concerns, the actual answer to the question — perhaps Fox just hasn’t got around to exposing it yet — appears to be the Texas State Board of Education. This is what is called the real deal.
Following the appeals from the public, the members of what is the most influential state board of education in the country, and one of the most politically conservative, submitted their own proposed changes to the new social-studies curriculum guidelines, whose adoption was the subject of all the attention — guidelines that will affect students around the country, from kindergarten to 12th grade, for the next 10 years. Gail Lowe — who publishes a twice-a-week newspaper when she is not grappling with divisive education issues — is the official chairwoman, but the meeting was dominated by another member. Don McLeroy, a small, vigorous man with a shiny pate and bristling mustache, proposed amendment after amendment on social issues to the document that teams of professional educators had drawn up over 12 months, in what would have to be described as a single-handed display of archconservative political strong-arming.
McLeroy moved that Margaret Sanger, the birth-control pioneer, be included because she “and her followers promoted eugenics,” that language be inserted about Ronald Reagan’s “leadership in restoring national confidence” following Jimmy Carter’s presidency and that students be instructed to “describe the causes and key organizations and individuals of the conservative resurgence of the 1980s and 1990s, including Phyllis Schlafly, the Contract With America, the Heritage Foundation, the Moral Majority and the National Rifle Association.” The injection of partisan politics into education went so far that at one point another Republican board member burst out in seemingly embarrassed exasperation, “Guys, you’re rewriting history now!” Nevertheless, most of McLeroy’s proposed amendments passed by a show of hands.
Finally, the board considered an amendment to require students to evaluate the contributions of significant Americans. The names proposed included Thurgood Marshall, Billy Graham, Newt Gingrich, William F. Buckley Jr., Hillary Rodham Clinton and Edward Kennedy. All passed muster except Kennedy, who was voted down.
Worried yet? Well this part may really make your head spin (or not). It’s a bit how I imagine things to be should Glenn Beck ever be put in charge of the nation’s education system.
The one thing that underlies the entire program of the nation’s Christian conservative activists is, naturally, religion. But it isn’t merely the case that their Christian orientation shapes their opinions on gay marriage, abortion and government spending. More elementally, they hold that the United States was founded by devout Christians and according to biblical precepts. This belief provides what they consider not only a theological but also, ultimately, a judicial grounding to their positions on social questions. When they proclaim that the United States is a “Christian nation,” they are not referring to the percentage of the population that ticks a certain box in a survey or census but to the country’s roots and the intent of the founders.
The answer to the question “How Christian Were the Founders” is both a lot and a little, something which readers of the Constitution have probably already sussed out for themselves. The article goes to some lengths to point out that of course the Founders were influenced by religion — both the good and the bad aspects: “In fact, the founders were rooted in Christianity — they were inheritors of the entire European Christian tradition — and at the same time they were steeped in an Enlightenment rationalism that was, if not opposed to religion, determined to establish separate spheres for faith and reason.” We will have to see whether Fox News will cover this latest “indoctrination” debacle; that said, I wouldn’t be shocked to discover that Glenn Beck had a Founders documentary in the works.
How Christian Were the Founders? [NYT]
Your Moment of Glenn: Meghan McCain Is ‘A Useful Idiot’ [Mediaite]
Inherit the Wind [Wikipedia]