Just when we thought the Texas Board of Education couldn’t get any scarier.

For about five minutes, I had a little flutter of hope in my heart when Don McElroy was given the boot from the Texas Board of Education. He was an infamous creationist stooge, and every time I heard his name, I cringed. While I’m not Texan myself, I’m well aware of the influence that Texas has on the contents of school text books, and the worse science standards get in Texas, the more harm it does to children throughout the united states.

I should have known it wouldn’t last. Somehow the governor managed to dig up a candidate nearly as horrifying to head the board, Gail Lowe. She’s a prominent part of the conservative bloc on the board, and oh yeah, she’s a creationist. Quite an outspoken one, actually.

I weep. Considering that McElroy was trumpeted as an embarrassment to the state of Texas, I’m not sure how the governor thinks this will be an improvement. Though I suppose once he gets around to seceding from the union, we won’t be able to make fun of him any more.

This is all a prelude to the latest cringe-inducing education news coming out of Texas. They’ve set their sights on the teaching of history. Please go read, and then pick your jaw up off the floor and come back.

Seriously, are you kidding me? De-emphasize Thurgood Marshall, who led the charge in Brown v. Board of education, one of the most important Supreme Court decisions in the last century? Particularly when you consider that the argument for changing the standards seems to amount to this: “We’re in an all-out moral and spiritual civil war for the soul of America, and the record of American history is right at the heart of it.” (Rev. Peter Marshall)

That’s very, very scary. Thurgood Marshall, by helping desegregate schools, by chipping away at “separate but equal” throughout his career, is not a moral role model? His contributions deserve LESS emphasis? The man was a freaking SUPERHERO.

Considering the tired old argument about the Bible being the basis for the Constitution has been dragged out by this people, I think that says sad things about the education standards when they went through school. And since there’s further justification made by beating the dead horse of American exceptionalism, I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. Coming soon: a return to the concept of manifest destiny!

You can make a lot of arguments regarding how scientific the study of history can truly be. I recently did a semester of British history at university, and it really opened my eyes to how skeptical – and just a bit scientific – you can be in regards to history education. That’s not something that you’ll find in K-12 any more. It involves giving the students historical sources, and helping them read and understand through the framework of what the world and people were like at that time. One of the best lessons in skepticism I ever had was reading The History of the Kings of Britain by Geoffrey of Monmouth and turning a skeptical eye on many of his more hilarious claims. (My personal favorite: At one point, the British invade Rome and sack it.*** No, really.)

I suppose that it’s too much to ask for US History to be taught like that in public school. But at the very least, could we refrain from directly misleading or lying to the kids if we’re not going to teach them how to understand history in a skeptical fashion?

History is written by the winners, indeed.

*** So, for example, this is how I’d start looking at his claim in a skeptical fashion:
– When did Monmouth write this? If it’s not a first hand account, how long after the fact is it?
– What are his sources? Are they reliable? Do they even exist?
– If this actually happened, what evidence should there be? If the Romans were too embarrassed to chronicle it, were there other countries around where the citizens would either not care and take note of it as good world gossip, or delight in the fact that Rome just got burnt to the ground?
– Are there any accounts written by British historians that repeat Monmouth’s claim that aren’t sourced either from him or directly from his source?
– What motive could Monmouth have if he were making up something this ridiculous? What was going on in Britain around the time he wrote this?

…and so on.

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