Censorship in Texas
Ms. Smoot is Executive Director of the Texas Freedom Network -- a watchdog group that monitors public education, religious freedom and civil liberties issues.
For decades, a handful of extreme conservative activists have dominated the process that determines what textbooks will be used in Texas schools.
Led historically by local East Texas activists Mel and Norma Gabler and Phyllis Schlafly's Eagle Forum, these groups aim to re-shape books that will end up in classrooms across not only Texas but the country -- books they insist should teach more about Christianity and traditional gender roles, cut "unpatriotic" content about slavery and discrimination, and eliminate environmental issues that reflect poorly on the free enterprise system.
These activists have demanded alarming changes to textbooks over the years:
· Censoring a photo of a woman with a briefcase saying goodbye to her child
· Criticizing a text on slavery for "overkill of emphasis on cruelty to slaves"
· Insisting that the African-American family depicted in a section on 'The American Family' be replaced with Anglos.
Sadly, this year's review of Social Studies textbooks is shaping up to be no different.
In the first of three public hearings on proposed books, members of far-right organizations testified that:
· History books should teach our kids that America was founded on Biblical principals, teach them about the Christian belief in the resurrection of Christ, and that our rights come not from our Constitution, but from our Creator.
· The proposed textbooks overemphasize America's role in slavery.
· "The Koran in all of its teachings is violent and expansionistic."
The grave reality is that today, these organizations wield the power to block a textbook that doesn't align with their personal political and religious beliefs.
Just last fall, they actually banned an environmental science textbook because of its coverage of global warming, which they proclaimed to be "anti-Christian" and "anti-free enterprise."
Perhaps more disturbing is the fact that many of these groups are working directly with publishers behind the scenes and outside the public hearing process to change passages they don't like. Under pressure, schoolbook publishers often allow them to read and comment on proposed books before the books are even submitted to the State Board of Education.
They have already been successful this year at removing one book from consideration entirely -- before the public hearing process even began.
This is censorship.
We are accustomed to hearing reports of political censorship of textbooks in China, Afghanistan and Communist Russia. But most of us never thought this would happen in our country. In the land of the free, students should learn from textbooks that challenge them with information, not books that reflect only a narrow point of view.
How is such a small group of activists able to wield so much power in determining the content of school textbooks for Texas and the nation? Because they are organized and well-funded. Because they have represented themselves as the moral high ground. And because, until now, no one else has organized to challenge them.
The solution is simple: it's time that State Board of Education members and textbook publishers hear from parents and citizens representing mainstream values, instead of just from this small group of self-appointed censors.
Hearings on proposed textbooks will be held throughout the summer and fall, with the final adoption vote on November 14.
People interested in objective, non-ideological Social Studies education should get involved in the textbook review process now!
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Clayton E. Cramer - 9/4/2002
I am somewhat curious to know the source for your claims about the religious beliefs of Franklin, Jefferson, and Washington.
Jefferson was astonishingly reticent about his religious beliefs, and perhaps the strongest evidence concerning what he believed is his decision to create what has become known as "The Jefferson Bible" -- a non-miracle version of the New Testament. You can construct all sorts of models of what Jefferson believed from that, but it's rather like reconstructing an entire dinosaur from a single toe bone--it's only suggestive, not persuasive.
Franklin, at the end of his life, wrote a letter to the president of Yale in which he expressed some skepticism about the Divinity of Jesus, but was careful to emphasize that he didn't want this widely known, didn't consider it real important, and wasn't even all that sure one way or the other.
Washington seems to have been a pretty orthodox Anglican. Like many devout men of the time, he often used the words "Creator" to avoid saying, "God."
Bard Keeler - 8/31/2002
It would seem that the forward charge of the fundamentalists resurgent once again with the usual dgree of bluster. M Young's response to the Smoot article is bluster indeed for while Young accuses Smoot of little documentation, I see little evidence or suggestion of evidence presented in refute. This is not a matter of liberal moaning and groaning. It is a matter of the objectivity of history and maintaining that objectivity as scholars regardless of our political affiliations or persuasions. M Young should also recall the difference between a forum for political discussion and one for scholarly consideration. In this venue, his political castings provide he one clear proof that we have - the anit-intellectualism of the fundamentalist right.
Don Lawrence - 8/30/2002
What Young leaves out and Ms. Smoot is perhaps too polite to mention, is that the would-be censors and those of Young's ilk are following a stealth agenda explicitly laid out in the bigoted and vitrolic writings of Tim LaHaye, specifically his book "Mind Siege". After describing a hilariously distorted Big Brother future scenario in which "we" (the Christian fundamentalists) are horribly persecuted, LaHaye alleges that "they" (the public school teachers, the news reporters, the UN, the college professors, the humanists, etc)have led us into this cesspool of America.
He then uses coded language to describe a very explict agenda we see at work all across the political front today.
"Defund the humanist left" means to discredit hardworking, dedicated public school teachers and suck their money away as vouchers under the guise of improving educational opportunity for the underpriveleged. In fact, the hidden agenda is to get religious teaching re-introduced into the public school system even if it means destroying the system.
"Get involved in local politics" means trying to pack local school boards to prevent programs that teach basic sex education and disease prevention and peer reviewed science to our youth. And it goes on in great detail with a destructive cocktail of right wing politics, anti-intellectualism, and Christian fundamentalism.
It is a horrible but essential book to read. "Nero fiddled while Rome burned" is an apt metaphor for our time. Rome was the technological giant of its day. It withered away because its leaders and citizenry were preoccupied. America can wither away if we do not recognize the destructive intent of the fundamentalists grounded in belief in the supernatural and the hereafter. The pagans are at the gates and they are Christian fundamentalists. They are rich with ill-gotten booty, well organized, and ruthless in their self righteous rage. We must stand against them or be swept into a modern Dark Age. Attempted censorship through the Board of Education is only the first wave.
Don Lawrence - 8/30/2002
It should also be kept in mind that at the time the Declaration of Indepencence and Constitution were written, there were very real penalties in the "civilized world" for explictly denying the existence of God, including death among other things. So, many intellectuals of the time, including Jefferson, Franklin, and Washington, took refuge in an impersonal, "absent watchmaker" formulation of God, calling themselves Deists. "Endowed by our Creator" or "god given" meant something very different to them than it does to the average Southern Baptist today, who would no more accept that they were created by such an impersonal "God" than they would pray to an indifferent "Mother Nature" or "Allah".
don kates - 8/29/2002
I certainly do not wish to be grouped w/ the anti-abortion crowd or other far right opponents of whom Ms. Smoot speaks. But, as a specialist in constitutional law I must correct one of her assertions: whether or not the came from a deity, our constitutional rights absolutely did not come from the Bill of Rights. Its authors, as the Supreme Court has repeatedly recognized, believed that they were guaranteeing pre- existing rights, NOT creating rights. If questioned on the point they would probably have said that these were "natural" rights, but would not have objected to a formulation that described them as "God-given."
M Young - 8/29/2002
Ms. Smoot makes an obvious show that she is as far to the left as those she accuses are to the right. I suppose we should have politically correct text books, maybe promote killing inocent babies through abortion, compassion by releasing murderers early from prison, the benefits of being a homosexual, hug a few trees and all stop wearing deodorant. She has been so misinformed by the "if it feels good do it" liberals that she can't see the middle for the self-centeredness. To even assert that she represents the oppinion of the majority of average Americans is ludicrous. Liberal hope to convince the majority of America that we're on the wrong side and should feel bad and conform to their moaning and groaning. In her article were many accusation, but no hard facts or documented examples for support. The liberals like to talk and they love to make up things much like their past President and Vice-president. Those two were the father of lies and made up statistics. This is the liberals only platform, if you can't prove it, lie about it and back it up with make believe numbers. They assume most Americans are stupid and will accept whatever their told by someone in the media. I've got news for you Ms. Smoot we're not as willing to just accept what you say as truth as you might like.