As goes Texas . . .

Texas’ conservative school board wants history textbooks that declare the U.S. was founded by devout Christians, reports the New York Times Magazine. Because of the state’s huge book-buying budget, publishers tend to give Texas — and most other states — what the board wants.

Recently, however — perhaps out of ire at what they see as an aggressive, secular, liberal agenda in Washington and perhaps also because they sense an opening in the battle, a sudden weakness in the lines of the secularists — some activists decided that the time was right to try to reshape the history that children in public schools study. Succeeding at this would help them toward their ultimate goal of reshaping American society. As Cynthia Dunbar, another Christian activist on the Texas board, put it, “The philosophy of the classroom in one generation will be the philosophy of the government in the next.”

Digital learning and print-on-demand may end the days of one textbook for many states, note Tom Vander Ark and Eduwonk guest-blogger Sara Mead.

About Joanne


  1. Richard Aubrey says:

    I guess that would count the Pilgrims. The Cavaliers along the Tidewater were pretty Church of England, and there were one or two places for Catholics.
    So, yes, I’d agree.
    The founding fathers of 150 years later have been characterized as Deists, sometimes accurately and sometimes falsely in order to de-emphasize Christianity.

  2. Michael E. Lopez, Esq. says:

    My initial reaction to this (rather long!) article is more or less the same as Richard Aubrey’s. To wit:

    “Yes, that is what they are trying to do to the history standards… but is it incorrect?”

    I’m inclined to say “no” on the balance.

  3. Joy Hakim, in her History of US series, does a wonderful job of discussing the religious beliefs of those first arrivals largely in a secular fashion. It’s a shame that the schools are forced to use those boring textbooks. There are so many really wonderful real books available. They should use the 10 volume Hakim books over two year, 6th and 7th grade would be perfect. Her history of science books look really interesting as well.

  4. The iPad, or something similar, is the future of textbooks.

  5. So the question then is who gets to indoctrinate the kids with their own, special brand of history, or science or even math with education being relegated to a subordinate status.

    Well, that was part of the reason for the founding of the public education system so things are as they should be.

  6. The most encouraging aspect of this whole story is Joanne’s observation that, “…digital learning and print-on-demand may end the days of one textbook for many states.”

    US curriculum should no longer be held hostage by the sectarian-crazed School Board of Texas or any state. After all, this country was founded on religious freedom. The pilgrims left England in the seventeenth century and endure untold hardships to escape the dogma of the Church of England, to worship as they pleased. So why, almost four hundred years later, should we still be fighting this same battle? WE SHOULDN’T!

    Again, Governor Perry can continue to pursue his quest for secession while Texas can simultaneously realize its odyssey back over the past several centuries into oblivion. Good luck to him and Sam Houston.

  7. Richard Aubrey says:

    Paul Hoss.
    I don’t see the “fight”. The question is whether the US was founded by committed Christians. Yes. No. Maybe.
    The Pilgrims came here to be able to worship in their own way. Not to be able to not worship in their own way.
    Seems “yes” has it.

  8. Hockey Mom says:

    These Texans are confusing two separate things. The founders had a variety of beliefs ranging from traditional Christian (of various denominations) to Deist to who knows what. BUT, the Constitution does not privilege any denomination and does not permit state support for any particular type of observance.

  9. I’d support a robust treatment of some Founders’ religious devotion if we also gave a robust treatment of Jefferson’s rewriting of the Bible that took out the miracles and other dubious stuff, and Ben Franklin’s frank rejection of the Revelation, and of the Enlightenment and its main figures (Voltaire, Diderot, Locke, etc.) This was an age when a non-Christian (e.g. Jefferson) could be elected president! How things have changed.

  10. The NYT article makes it seem as if the Christianists hold the Declaration of Independence as strong proof that we’re a Christian nation (because it mentions God) –but wasn’t this document written by Jefferson, a Deist?

  11. Richard,

    I’m not sure the country was founded by committed Christians. A more neutral interpretation might be; this country was founded by a group of pilgrims seeking religious freedom from the Church of England.

    The larger issue here, no state should be mandating its religious beliefs on anyone. “While the Free Exercise Clause clearly prohibits the use of state action to deny the rights of free exercise to anyone, it has never meant that a majority could use the machinery of the State to advance its beliefs…on its citizenry”1

    Abington School district v Schempp.

  12. Michael E. Lopez says:


    Did the pilgrims have anything to do with the country’s founding?

    I tend to think that the answer is “A little, but not as much as you might think.”

  13. Richard Aubrey says:

    The first question is whether the founders were devout Christians. The Pilgrims were, their desire to worship differently than they were allowed in Britain notwithstanding. They wanted religious freedom in order to worship and the northern colonies had various religously-oriented laws governing behavior for decades. In fact, they chased out Roger Williams because he was worshipping the wrong way–RC.
    Wanting relgious freedom is different from being agnostic.
    The first amendment has both an establishment clause and a free-exercise clause.
    Saying the founders were devout Christians has no connection with either.
    What that means for the present is a different issue.

  14. If you read _Of Plymouth Plantation_ (William Bradford’s account of the Plymouth colony), you can’t help but be struck by the much more significant role that religion played in the people of that time. Even the venture capital folks back in England whom Bradford corresponded with were constantly referencing God and God’s treatment of the colonies and so forth. They may not have been devout Christians, but they certainly tried their best to act like it. There’s also no denying that the religion in question was Christian in nature (and what we would call “fundamentalist” these days). You just can’t read the account any other way: people were expelled back to England for behaving in non-Christian ways.

    Now Plymouth wasn’t the only colony, but other colonies were pretty religious too (I seem to recall that Plymouth got a preacher from one of the other colonies when theirs died).

    I don’t see any way to deny that most of the first colonists were devout Christians and that a major part of their motivation in coming to the New World was religious freedom.

    Of course, a proper history text would also mention the more Deist leanings of many of the founders (who came along much later) and would also mention that the pilgrims themselves were rather intolerant of conflicting beliefs. I would think it would also at least mention the Great Awakenings:

  15. The history of our country is based on more than just the religious preferences of those writing the Constitution. Remember, there were state constitutions long before the national, many segments which were taken from the states. Consider this statement from the Mass.

    A Declaration of the Rights of the Inhabitants of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

    Article I. All men are born free and equal, and have certain natural, essential, and unalienable rights; among which may be reckoned the right of enjoying and defending their lives and liberties; that of acquiring, possessing, and protecting property; in fine, that of seeking and obtaining their safety and happiness.

    Art. II. It is the right as well as the duty of all men in society, publicly and at stated seasons, to worship the Supreme Being, the great Creator and Preserver of the universe. And no subject shall be hurt, molested, or restrained, in his person, liberty, or estate, for worshipping God in the manner and season most agreeable to the dictates of his own conscience, or for his religious profession or sentiments, provided he doth not disturb the public peace or obstruct others in their religious worship.

    Art. III. As the happiness of a people and the good order and preservation of civil government essentially depend upon piety, religion, and morality, and as these cannot be generally diffcused through a community but by the institution of the public worship of God and of the public instructions in piety, religion, and morality: Therefore, To promote their happiness and to secure the good order and preservation of their government, the people of this commonwealth have a right to invest their legislature with power to authorize and require, and the legislature shall, from time to time, authorize and require, the several towns, parishes, precincts, and other bodies-politic or religious societies to make suitable provision, at their own expense, for the institution of the public worship of God and for the support and maintenance of public Protestant teachers of piety, religion, and morality in all cases where such provision shall not be made voluntarily.

    And the people of this commonwealth have also a right to, and do, invest their legislature with authority to enjoin upon all the subject an attendance upon the instructions of the public teachers aforesaid, at stated times and seasons, if there be any on whose instructions they can conscientiously and conveniently attend.


    And they continued to pay the salaries of ministers for about 50 years after the National Constitution was passed. Even Thomas Jefferson allowed church services to be conducted in the capital justifying them by saying that nobody was forced to attend them.

  16. Yes, the first colonists were devout Christians. It’s impossible to understand the pattern of settlement in New England, for example, if you try to ignore religion.

    They didn’t follow the bible as interpreted by Pat Robertson, however. I suspect they would have many doctrinal differences with current-day Midwestern Fundamentalists. The first colonists were people who had lengthy debates about religious doctrine _for fun_. There was no settled answer to the quesiton of what Christianity meant. (There still isn’t.) They expelled people from their settlements over religious questions (see Roger Williams and Anne Hutchinson.) Towns split over the question of which pastor should lead worship. They were congregationalist, because the congregation decided. Neighboring towns were entirely capable of answering religious questions differently.

  17. What Texas and its supporters here are missing is that the TX School Board isn’t simply trying to get texts to neutrally describe the religious views of the founders (i.e. “descriptive”), but want to go further and indoctrinate children into thinking this is “normative.” Of course the vast, vast majority of the early settlers and founding fathers were “Christian”… others more fundamentalist, others a lot less so. That is a descriptive statement, without judgment. However, TX clearly wants to go further, and imply that because many of the early settlers and founders were some kind of Christian, then that should be normative.

  18. jab, by, “then that should be normative,” do you mean, “everyone in the US should be a Christian?”

    If so, I think you overestimate the effectiveness of textbooks, and public school education. In a battle between the schoolhouse and popular culture, my money’s on Lady GaGa.

  19. Cranberry,

    I never said it would be effective… but that sure is hell what they are trying to do.

  20. Richard Aubrey says:

    “should be normative” Can you cite the exact wording?
    I think “is normative” is descriptive. That the textbook is trying to teach the kids “should be” requires pretty serious evidence.
    That said, we have had a pretty good run for several centuries and our cultural norms have a huge responsibility for that. As Thomas Sowell said, cultures vary and differences have consequences.
    It might not be advantageous to assume that we could start acting according to, say, Somalian cultural norms and still have the society we have today.
    I have a niece in the LA area who goes on ad nauseum about multiculturalismityness.
    Yet she will not put her money in a Nigerian bank, does not want the LAPD to recruit from the Mexico City Police Academy, and when she has health issues, she does not go to the clinic staffed by graduates of the Addis Abbaba College of Medical and Veterinary Science.
    She is, like so many of her type, a restaurant multiculturalist. No more than that.
    Unfortunately, people like her make it difficult to speak openly about such things as cultural norms.

  21. Richard,

    From the article:
    “As Cynthia Dunbar, another Christian activist on the Texas board, put it, “The philosophy of the classroom in one generation will be the philosophy of the government in the next.””

    As for your anecdote about your niece, who cares? As much as you rail on about liberal talking points, you sure has heck got the conservative ones down pat.

  22. Also, normative does not equal descriptive.

  23. I think the case can be made that our Founding Fathers and our government was influenced more from the Scientific Revolution and the Enlightenment than Christianity.

  24. Richard Aubrey says:

    We were founded before the scientific revolution and before the Enlightenment. The American Revolution was generations later.
    The establishment clause and the free exercise clause may have been a matter of the Founding Fathers looking at the history of religious control or influence in the state(s). Certainly had a good view of the history of the issue.
    Lenin, and Dewey, both said they wanted control of the classroom in order to influence society.
    Shouldn’t everybody have a turn?
    The anecdote about my niece is to demonstrate that even self-proclaimed multiculturalists don’t really mean it. And they’d be horrified if they had to live with it. They just like to pat themselves on the back for their broad-mindedness.
    And did I rail about liberal talking points?
    Have you seen my niece anecdote in the conservative talking points.
    “normative” is different from “descriptive”.
    My question is whether the textbook says the US “should be” or “is” normatively Christian.

  25. The Scientific Revolution started in the mid 1500’s, the Enlightenment soon after… up until about the time of the French Revolution.

  26. Anecdotes are useless apart from data… they may illustrate data… but in of themselves are useless… so you have a hypocritical niece… are we to generalize that to all liberals? To most? To a plurality? Who knows, but your anecdote certainly doesn’t prove anything other than the fact that she is individually a hypocrite.

  27. The textbooks shouldn’t say either:
    (1) that the U.S. should be normatively Christian; nor
    (2) that the U.S. is normatively Christian.
    Descriptively, yes… it is a fact that the vast majority of early settlers and Founding Fathers were some form of Christian, ranging from fundamentalist to Christian-influenced Deist.

  28. Richard Aubrey says:

    In my experience, every multiculti lib is a hypocrite. For one thread of that issue, see Phyllis Chesler on western feminists and Sharia.
    You have a problem with describing the US as “normative” anything?
    What the hell. We’re indoctrinating kids with the crumbling hoax of global warming. I was told a number of times in HS that socialism was the way to go.
    Fair play means the Christians get a turn or we quit with the indoc altogether. I know you wouldn’t like that.

  29. Oh sorry, Richard, for a minute I thought I was discussing this with someone rational. My mistake… back to your Glenn Beck rant.

  30. Since the desire to “catch ’em young and train ’em right” is probably reflexive no special interest group is going to willingly give up the option. Inherent in the indoctrination function of the public education system is the political struggle to decide on what particular flavor of indoctrination is currently favored.

    It’s obvious that when one group has too much say or the struggle gets too rancorous educational considerations are jettisoned. After all, it’s more important to shove your beliefs down kid’s throats right now then to concern yourself that ten or fifteen years later they’ll be enjoying the benefits of the resulting, lousy education.

  31. Richard Aubrey says:

    Got any actual response?

  32. Richard,

    When you make idiotic statements like all liberals are hypocrites, there really is no point in continuing the discussion.

  33. Richard Aubrey says:

    Let me be clear. To repeat what I said, all multiculti libs are, in my experience, hypocrites.
    multiculti libs are a subset of libs, probably only about 99.5% of them.
    I also said, “in my experience”. Now, there may well be a multiculti lib who actually thinks FGM is a Good Thing as applied to herself or her daughter. Find one. She won’t be a multiculti lib hypocrite.
    Or that blowing up girl’s schools in Pakistand or Afghanistan is a charming local custom which should be seen in its context, and, if it happened here, not to be judged either. She wouldn’t be a hypocrite, especially if the school was blown up when her daughter was in it.
    Or that there’s nothing wrong with a culture which disrepects women so much that the metro or subways have women-only cars to protect women from groping. Especially if she tells her daughter that being groped is a cultural phenomenon that came to this country from some culturally relative, multiculturally authentic ancient and worthy culture. And the kid should feel guilty for being annoyed. Then she won’t be a hypocrite.
    See, thing is, unless you’d like this stuff applied to YOU, you’re a hypocrite.
    And multiculti libs don’t.

  34. Richard,
    I just skimmed your little Glenn Beck/Rush Limbaugh rant… it’s not even worth my time to compose a critique. Normally, debate is good and leads to better policy, but only with someone who debates in good faith and doesn’t construct ridiculous strawmen based off silly stereotypes of what you think liberals believe. Keep that in mind the next time you complain when some ignorant liberal compares all conservatives to fascists.