Whither goest Texas...

>> Monday, September 21, 2009

Browsing the internet over lunch (nachos at a local Mexican restaurant called Tequilas, yes, they were tasty, thank you), I found myself stumbling across a series of articles about ongoing sessions of the Texas Board Of Education, which is deliberating revising their textbook standards again. The story wasn't exactly what I was expecting from the headlines I was looking at--usually this kind of thing ends up being about the science curriculum and whether you can say "Darwin" without "balancing" the account with the story of the Sun and Spider-Woman the tale of the frost giant, Ymir the story of Father-Of-All and the Sun Mother Bible class the rival scientific doctrine of intelligent design proposed by many respectable scientists as an alternative to evolutionary THEORY. No, it turns out that the hoopla is because it appears that the Republican-controlled committee feels that "conservatives" are inadequately represented by liberal-leaning textbooks.

This isn't unimportant nationally: when it comes to school textbooks, whither goest Texas and California, so goest the rest of the nation. These two states are the largest purchasers of educational materials in the country, and so textbook publishers will generally tailor their materials to meet the standards of one or both states and basically tell school boards in the other forty-eight states to pretty much get stuffed, buy the book they have on sale or use whatever materials they have warehoused (or revert to an oral-history-based mode of education where teachers memorize and recite entire textbooks like ancient bards reciting epic sagas, whatever, look are you going to buy the damn book or not?). (As an aside: having had the chance now and again to compare newer texts to older ones, I'm not sure forcing school districts to re-use their older materials is that bad a deal. Certainly when it comes to evolution, older textbooks tend to be better; it's not that there aren't tons of scientific progress between editions, but that the newer editions frequently not only fail to mention the progress but they whittle down the previous text so that the older books actually end up covering the subject in more depth, even if some of that deeper coverage is out-of-date.) So the ramifications of the Texas process will inevitably ripple outward.

Thing is, I'm having a hard time getting incensed about this particular story. I have to be honest, what TPM reports sounds less like a nefarious attempt to indoctrinate schoolchildren than it does the desperate last gasps of dinosaurs struggling to maintain some kind of relevance in a world that's passing them by.

Put it this way: pleading for equal time is something that you do when you're in a minority and nobody is listening to you. That's not to say equal time isn't always deserved, but honestly: if you really represent America's core values and a majority sentiment with the full weight of American history behind you, why are you so desperate to be heard? Even if one were to concede some kind of nefarious attempt to force feed children liberal dogma or something, wouldn't the pervasive and fundamental truths of your fundamentally American culture wash that out every time your child walked out the schoolhouse doors?

I think the thing that dooms the whole project to comedy is Kate Klonic's piece at True/Slant: "Schlafly: Textbooks standards could offset the 'bias to the left'". Here we learn that part of the conservative Texas' BOE agenda is restoring Phyllis "I Didn't Know She Was Still Alive Either" Schlafly to her proper pre-eminence as an American historical figurehead. Which forces one to wonder, is Phyllis Schlafly really the best they could come up with? Seriously? Of all the conservative women in American history, surely someone would have suggested Clare Boothe Luce or even Ayn Rand for inclusion in a history textbook before Schlafly's name was picked at random off a Google search results page.

And of all the conservative American women they could be focused on, isn't this the one that would be like manna from heaven so far as liberals are concerned? Maybe I over-estimate the pluckiness of young women, but it seems to me that presenting a woman whose singular accomplishment was sending elected officials homebaked pies to show her opposition to the principle "Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex" as an icon of American womanhood is about as good a way as any to radicalize a generation of young women. Regardless of how you might feel about some civil rights leaders--Malcolm X is and always will be a polarizing figure--the one thing you really can't deny about them is that they were standing against oppression, which ties neatly into the American national mythos. It's awfully hard to sugercoat Ms. Schlafly as anything other than someone who stood up for oppression. It even sounds bad in bald terms: "Phyllis Schlafly opposed the Equal Rights Amendment." It has "Equal Rights" right there in the title. You might as well say she opposed puppies and hugs.

No, no, I'm not the least bit opposed to teaching little girls who Phyllis Schlafly is. (I am, however, opposed to typing her name one more time in this damn post. Lady, your husband's ancestors should have bought a damn vowel. You know what's a good name? Stewart.)

I'm not sure schools can do a worse job of teaching history, and I'm not sure the Texas BOE hearings reveal any acceleration in what's been a death-spiral for a while now. But there it is. Am I wrong to be amused? Should I be afraid? Should I be very afraid?

16 comments:

Leanright,  Monday, September 21, 2009 at 2:21:00 PM EDT  

I'm with you. Ayn Rand is the woman whom conservatives look up to the most. She is a brilliant representation of our core political beliefs, aside from the whole "Atheism" thing.

Honestly, she one of my most respected writers. As if you couldn't have guessed.

vince Monday, September 21, 2009 at 4:12:00 PM EDT  

Honestly, American history textbooks at the high school level (and even at the lower college level) have been crap for a very long time. Loonies in both California and Texas have been more interested in pushing an agenda than presenting history as accurately as possible, and the truth be damned. God forbid that any flaws in someone either side considers a hero be exposed - they must be perfect (or as close as they can be made in the textbooks.)

History books can never be perfect, and historians have biases. The best acknowledge those biases, admit when there are multiple interpretations of evidence or when evidence is thin.

I understand why Ayn Rand holds fascination for some conservatives, particularly in her strong support of laissez-faire capitalism, her opposition to state intervention into personal, social or economic affairs, and her strong opposition to Communism. Rush Limbaugh is a fan, or at least has been know to quote her on his radio show.

Yet in the majority of her philosophy Rand is the antithesis of modern conservatism. As Leanright noted, she was an avowed atheist. As she wrote in the "About the Author" section of Atlas Shrugged: "My philosophy, in essence, is the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute"

Rand would also strongly oppose conservatives continued attempts to have the state define what constitutes marriage, as well as attempts to control schools. Further, she would be appalled at modern conservatism's antagonism towards science.

Leanright,  Monday, September 21, 2009 at 5:59:00 PM EDT  

I really cannot comment on what Rand would say about gay marriage. Good point, though.

I've spoken with a few who've criticized her as not being altruistic. Rand doesn't believe in Altruism as a requirement of the individual. That does not mean that good manners and good will are evil in her mind, just that it should be and individual choice to do so. If anyone has not done so, read the Galt speech in Atlas Shrugged. Aside from the atheistic rhetoric, it's a masterpiece of conservative thought.

Sorry Eric, I know she was a very small piece of your post, but I just got so excited when you mentioned her name!

http://aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/altruism.html

Jeri Monday, September 21, 2009 at 10:33:00 PM EDT  

Hmmm... what do the conservative majority think of Elizabeth Dole? Before some of her strange grandstanding during her recent attempt at election, I thought she was pretty awesome, for a Republican. ;)

Eric Tuesday, September 22, 2009 at 9:21:00 AM EDT  

A lot of North Carolinians (even a few conservative ones I know) thought of her as a carpetbagger, so (politics aside) not sure I could give fair comment. I'm glad, however, that you mentioned her: there was several reason I didn't, but she did cross my mind as a possible example.

Anyone else care to chime in on Liddy Dole?

Leanright,  Tuesday, September 22, 2009 at 11:11:00 AM EDT  

Ms. Dole WAS born in North Carolina and did attend Duke U. Not to mention that she certainly was an upgrade over Jesse Helms, I would guess. I can't think she was TOO much of a carpetbagger, but I don't live in NC, so can't say too much about her senatorial career. She's a pretty damn bright woman though.

From the conservative perspective, we've always got Jeanne Kirkpatrick.

Eric Tuesday, September 22, 2009 at 1:04:00 PM EDT  

Dave, Mrs. Dole spent most of her life and career outside of North Carolina, and at the time she first ran for Congress she hadn't resided in the state for several decades. She wasn't even registered as a voter here when Senator Helms announced his retirement. During the election, the amount of time Mrs. Dole had spent in NC during her term in office was a campaign issue: while Senators are expected to spend large amounts of their time in D.C. or on various affairs-of-state (joining American delegations overseas, etc.), Mrs. Dole was in NC roughly nine months in six years and in one of those years she infamously spent only 13 days in the state.

To say she was a step up from Senator Helms is, of course, damning with faint praise.

Leanright,  Tuesday, September 22, 2009 at 1:14:00 PM EDT  

Perhaps she's no MORE of a carpetbagger than, say, Hillary Clinton?

This isn't one of those "They did it first" FIRST defenses, I promise!

Random Michelle K Tuesday, September 22, 2009 at 1:31:00 PM EDT  

Hey! I was born in North Carolina! Can I be a senator there?

Eric Tuesday, September 22, 2009 at 1:44:00 PM EDT  

Believe it or not, Dave, I nearly invoked Secretary Of State Clinton myself. I really don't see how more New Yorkers didn't feel like Clinton was a carpetbagger, but there you are. Apparently not.

Michelle, I think you may have spent more time in NC this year than Liddy did in '06, so I'm going to say yes.

Leanright,  Tuesday, September 22, 2009 at 2:09:00 PM EDT  

I'm sure many New Yorkers DID feel that way, but simply didn't care. She is the wife of beloved Bill Clinton. She could have run for Senator in ANY blue state and won.

Leanright,  Tuesday, September 22, 2009 at 3:32:00 PM EDT  

Perhaps the next great conservative woman just announced her candidacy for governor of California today. Meg Whitman made the announcement this morning in Fullerton, California.

www.megwhitman.com

Nathan Tuesday, September 22, 2009 at 8:39:00 PM EDT  

Actually, we most certainly DID see Hilary as a carpet bagger...one who would slide into important committees and get anyone's ear at the drop of a hat. Some Senators are more equal than others the minute they show up and a lot of New Yorkers wanted someone with clout.

We'd probably have imported her from Iceland if that's what it would have taken.

P.S. I forget the name of the sacrificial lamb the Republicans put up against her, but if he had miraculously won, he'd still be looking for the Senator's private dining room...and nobody'd tell him.

Leanright,  Tuesday, September 22, 2009 at 10:24:00 PM EDT  

It was either Rick Lazio or Jeanine Pirro. Not so sure. Lazio took over when Giuliani dropped out of the race. Am I correct?

Nathan Wednesday, September 23, 2009 at 1:57:00 PM EDT  

You could be correct. I'm way too lazy to look it up.

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