Thank God for the State Board of Education

Thank God for the State Board of Education
by William Murchison - East Texas Weekly - 2/18/2008
It’s pretty insidious. There’s WallBuilders. And then there’s the Discovery Institute. Then there’s the Justice Foundation. Oh — and Texas Eagle Forum and Texans for Better Science Education and the Free Market Foundation and the Texas Home School Coalition. Not to mention the State Board of Education. And the upshot of it all is that these varied organizations, representing just the tip of some Pleistocene iceberg, want to shove Texas back into the primordial ooze, educationally speaking.

Anyway the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund strongly implies as much. The fund – whose tolerance for the political “far right” can be equated with Rosie O’Donnell’s tolerance for non-emotional give-and-take – unloaded this week on the state board for “dragging Texas schools into the culture wars.” A 60-page report, called The State of the Religious Right, 2008, locates the impetus for primordialism in the seven member “faction of far-right religious conservatives” on the state school board.

It appears that the likes of Terri Leo, Gail Lowe, and Dr. Don McLeroy, the board chairman, are yielding with some joy and abandon to pressures from these outside groups to embed God deeper in the Texas public schools curriculum, while dragging Darwin out by his whiskers. “[B]y fabricating so-called ‘weaknesses’ to undermine the science behind evolution,” the report charges, “[right-wing pressure groups] hope to open the door to teaching alternatives – creationism – in the future.” To the obvious impeachment – obvious anyway to Texas Freedom Network – of science and free inquiry. Whence this little farrago of a report.

Well, not so little, actually. It runs more than 60 pages with appendices and end notes and leaves hardly any religious right conspirator untouched, from McLeroy at the state board to Jim Leininger, the San Antonio school choice proponent and financial backer of “religious right” candidates to the board. The beef, overall, is that for religious rightists, on and off the board, the mission is bringing public schools back into line with the quaint norms of yesteryear, before gay rights, abstinence from sex (by pupils), and theories about the origins of life had become the common currency of educational debate.

“During the 1990s,” says the report, in a chapter called “A History of Censorship in Texas,” “the [state school] board’s simmering culture war finally boiled over as a new faction of aggressive, uncompromising far-right ideologues marched to the fore. Outside pressure groups…often attacked textbook passages as anti-Christian, anti-Western, and anti-free enterprise.”

Well, you see where all this is going. The far right decided to recapture the schools for God and country, and it’s been downhill ever since. Along with academic achievement, standardized test scores, classroom order, teacher satisfaction, and various other markers unlinked in any way to the far-right assault on the schools. Down these all have gone. Indeed, the religious right could plausibly argue that the schools, unchallenged from outside, would have gotten worse than they have without the “far right’s” engagement.

Texas Freedom Network’s snit has more to do, deep down, with elitist disdain for people like parents than with any other factor. These parents! Don’t they care for diversity? Don’t they want condom use made more general in our hyper-sexed society? Do they really waste their time worrying about dead people like George Washington and Washington Irving, and their (happily) vanished influence on our lives. Why, let these people have their way, and they’d probably bring back Stephen Foster songs, with all those verboten references to plantations and…you know what else! As for God, who needs him when you have Charles – Darwin, that is?

The scorn of the elitists for ordinary people can get pretty, well, scornful. As it does in the pages of “The State of the Religious Right, 2008.”What’s going on here is, as we all know, or should, is one more attempt to marginalize people who actually give a flip concerning the kinds of knowledge their children take in at school; who don’t – intimations to the contrary – so much want to shut down science teaching as find some constructive way of affirming a divine component to the creation of the universe; precisely the component our civilization affirmed for two millennia, before church-state separation – a random phrase from Thomas Jefferson – became God Almighty in place of the deposed locum tenens.

You may take it for granted. No 60-page report, no board of education vote on textbooks, is going to determine how Texas ultimately comes down on the timeless questions of right and wrong, good and evil, knowledge as power, the universe as divinely shaped ex nihilo or randomly assembled from bits and pieces.

One has just the feeling that the parties set upon in the report by the Freedom Network know this and, frankly, don’t give a durn. Or whatever. They’re in it for the long haul, mindful of the urgent stakes. Maybe more of us from time to time should say thanks to them, for courage and wisdom and prudence in behalf of higher things than political popularity. I do so say it now. Thanks, folks.