When they meet in Austin next week, social conservatives on the State Board of Education — some now lame ducks — may be going even further with amendments challenging the separation of church and state, entitlements like Social Security and Medicare, landmark desegregation cases and the work of muckrakers such as Susan B. Anthony and W.E.B. Du Bois. Another amendment amplifies a long-running effort to resuscitate the reputation of communist-hunting Sen. Joseph McCarthy.
According to a list of proposed amendments obtained by the Tribune, those and other changes are the brainchild of former chair and outgoing member Don McLeroy, R-Bryan, the standard-bearer of conservative dogma so far in the SBOE's controversial rewriting of history in the standards. McLeroy sent the proposed amendments to other board members in an e-mail that read, “Here are some amendments I intend to propose at our meeting next week.”
Among the more divisive amendments surely will be this one on the separation of church and state: “Contrast the Founders’ intent relative to the wording of the First Amendment's Establishment Clause and Free Exercise Clause, with the popular term 'Separation of church and state.'"
Many members, including McLeroy, have said they do not believe in judicial interpretations of the “wall between church and state,” a phrase first coined by Thomas Jefferson (whom conservatives removed recently from a section on Enlightenment philosophers, to great controversy and confusion in the media). At their last meeting in March, conservative members shot down a proposed amendment seeking to teach the separation concept. The amendment, proposed by member Mavis Knight, D-Dallas, read: “Examine the reasons why the founding fathers protected religious freedom in America by barring the government from promoting or disfavoring any particular religion above all others.”
McLeroy’s amendment on muckrakers gets to the core intent of much of the board’s work so far: downplaying the darker sides of American history while playing up patriotic interpretations. The existing standard calls for students to “evaluate the impact” of muckrakers, who were early investigative journalists who exposed abuses on such topics as industrial monopolies, child labor, working conditions and food safety.
McLeroy’s rewrite: “Contrast the tone of muckrakers … versus the optimism of immigrants including Jean Pierre Godet as told in Thomas Kinkade’s The Spirit of America.”
In his justification for the change, McLeroy writes: “The words of Godet and immigrants like him were, 'I love America for giving so many of us the right to dream a new dream.' Such words were as lost on the muckrakers as they are on many modern historians obsessed by oppression.”
Speaking of oppression, another of McLeroy’s amendments seeks to replace a court case addressing the segregation of Mexican school children in Texas — Delgado vs. Bastrop ISD — with a case, Ricci v. DeStefano, asserting white firefighters in New Haven, Conn., were the victims of discrimination because they were denied promotions when the results of a test they had passed were thrown out because no black applicants passed.
“Delgado dropped as it was not a Supreme Court case,” McLeroy writes in his rationale.
Another proposed change adds a new wrinkle of the ongoing controversy over the treatment of red-baiting McCarthy. McLeroy has been coy about whether he believes McCarthy was right in his witch hunt-style tactics in pursuing suspect communists in America, but has consistently sought to emphasize that infiltration of the government by communist spies was a bigger threat than many today believe. His newly edited amendment reads: “Describe how the extent and danger of Soviet agent infiltration of the U.S. government as revealed in Alger Hiss’ guilt and confirmed later by the Venona Papers, McCarthyism, the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), the arms race, and the space race affected/reflected Cold War tensions.”
In two additional amendments, McLeroy takes on the threat of “global organizations” to the country and the problems presented by “long term entitlements” such as Social Security and Medicare, “given the decreasing worker to retiree ratio.” Both entitlements emerged from Roosevelt’s New Deal, which McLeroy and some other board conservatives generally regard with disdain.
The amendments are not formally under consideration until McLeroy puts them up for a vote at the meeting, but they provide insight into the intent of social conservatives to continue aggressively pushing an ideological agenda that has sparked a national backlash. The board, starting next Wednesday, is scheduled to consider the standards, which after many months of controversy are expected to come to a final vote next week. The standards act as an outline for the writing of state standardized tests and textbooks. Though media outlets have consistently reported that the standards will have nationwide impact on the national textbook market, because of the size of the Texas market, others call the contention an “urban myth,” no longer true because of rapid changes in publishing technology and the politics of state standards.