Religion, race at center of debate over how history is taught
By Sally Krutzig
Was Moses a major inspiration for the Founding Fathers? He is according to one Texas textbook set to be published later this year. Texas textbooks are stirring up controversy once again. The Texas State Board of Education is on track to approve new social studies textbooks this November. Yet the Texas Freedom Network (TFN) believes these books to contain misleading, one-sided and inaccurate content.
This controversy started in 2010, when Texas approved new standards in social studies texts. The standards gained national notoriety when the media touted them as having an underlying right-wing agenda. Four years later, the new textbooks are set to be printed. TFN, a Texas-based, non-partisan watchdog group, took it upon themselves to find out whether the texts contained any biases. TFN hired three Ph.D. scholars and seven University of Texas doctoral students to search through 43 proposed textbooks for any historical distortions. The watchdog group published their findings earlier this month.
According to this report, these textbooks held a number of controversial statements. The questionable topics ranged from religion to racism to taxation.
“In all fairness, it’s clear that the publishers struggled with these flawed standards and still managed to do a good job in some areas,” TFN Education Fund President Kathy Miller said in a TFN press release. “On the other hand, a number of textbook passages essentially reflect the ideological beliefs of politicians on the state board rather than sound scholarship and factual history.”
Religion was an especially prominent subject mentioned in the reports. The TFN report stated that textbooks were often oriented towards Christians. Under a table with the heading “Where did the Founders get their ideas?” Moses is listed first. He is followed by John Locke, Charles de Montesquieu and William Blackstone. According to the textbook, Moses influenced the founders through the Ten Commandments with the idea that “a nation needs a written code of behavior.” TFN scholars, however, believe the text to be exaggerating Moses’ role in the founding of the U.S. government.
Much of the TFN’s disapproval revolves around subtle wording. The report believes that several world history and geography books portrayed the religion of Islam in a negative light, while shining positive light on Christianity. They cite texts that highlight violence in the spread of Islam: “In the centuries after Muhammad’s death, Muslims spread their religion by conquest” (“World Cultures and Geography” by Cengage Learning).
In the text, “Active Classroom: World History,” published by Social Studies School Service, one sentence which TFN found concerning reads: “Much of the violence you read or hear about in the Middle East is related to a jihad.” TFN believes this statement blames Islam rather than recognizing the many factors that can lead to Middle-Eastern violence.
On the other hand, the report believes that the texts usually soften any mention of violence in relation to the spread of Christianity. For example: “When Europeans arrived, they brought Christianity with them and spread it among the indigenous people” (“Social Studies Techbook World Geography and Cultures” by Discovery Education). One chapter of “World Geography” simply states, “The Spanish brought their language and Catholic religion, both of which dominate modern Mexico” (“World Geography” by
The final vote for which books will be used will be held in November.