Teaching Our Children What it Means to be an American in 2011
The battle over what our children are to be taught about what it means to be an American is ideological; it is between "the left" and religious conservatives, and the left-right divide of our country runs right down the middle of public education.
According to the conventional wisdom of today's left-leaning intellectuals, any religious conservative involved in politics is up to no good. To them, they are dumb, callous and racist; any proposals they offer must be bad and self-serving. Without thought, they ignore their arguments and with smug arrogance they claim the moral high ground of caring and compassion.
But for conventional wisdom of yesterday's founding fathers, the exact opposite was true. Those political giants of the founding era were ethical monotheists; they believed in an omnipotent God who cared about right and wrong. Today, they would be labeled religious conservatives. This is easily demonstrated by the fact that today's left-leaning intellectuals have the same regard for our founding fathers as they do for them. The fundamental principles that the founders believed in, they believe in.
Since conventional wisdom can change, we must change it back. Our hope is the children of today. They will be the future intellectuals of tomorrow. We must provide them with a "founding father" education. Henry Grady Weaver described it in The Mainspring of Human Progress:
"Before he was sixteen, the philosophy and history of the entire European past had been pounded into his head. Thus when he was old enough to begin thinking things out for himself, he had in his own mind a storehouse of knowledge, covering thousands of years of human experience. Also he was drilled in logic and the accurate meaning of words as a protection against fallacies of fancy rhetoric!"
To get education right, you have to leave "the left" behind; to adopt sound education policy one must overcome the opposition of the left.
In March 2009, the board adopted our new science standards. Despite all the hysteria and fears of evolutionary dogmatists, there has not been one challenge to any of the new standards. The American Association for the Advancement of Science's journal Science reported that "New science standards for Texas schools strike a major blow to the teaching of evolution…" And, they are right.
The controversy over science standards was actually the result of an attempted hijacking of science for ideological purposes by evolutionists. Their agenda was much more about worldviews than biology. The new standards reflect real science and challenge students to study some of evolution's most glaring weaknesses in explaining the fossil record and the complexity of the cell.
Board detractors still misrepresent the science standards. They should heed the warning of Richard Feynman, famed physicist, who in an important speech on scientific integrity stated "the idea is to give all of the information to help others to judge the value of your contribution; not just the information that leads to judgment in one particular direction or another." Mission accomplished. Integrity restored.
It is absolutely critical that children learn what real science is because science has become "the left's" big hammer for getting their way. Shortly before November's elections, President Obama said that in today's politics: (1) facts, (2) science, and (3) argument do not "win the day" anymore, and that we cannot think clearly because we are scared. In other words, the leftists were losing because the American people are too dumb to accept what the left calls facts and were too dumb to bow down to the altar of what the left calls science.
It was science that U. S. District Judge Vaughn Walker used as justification to reject thousands of years of human experience and wisdom as he single-handedly and arbitrarily overturned California's constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. He cited evidence that "studies show" that two of the same gender can raise well-adjusted kids. This blind acceptance of what "science says" undermines our ability to think; we just need to accept what the "studies show".
This is why the victory in the science standard's debate that restored scientific integrity is so important. It will help children understand what real science is and its proper role in society; it will help prevent "science abuse" of the left.
After this victory in science, the board proceeded to adopt new history standards. The battle over evolution had received national attention, but it was nothing compared to the attention focused on Texas as the conservatives stood up for true American history.
For a free society, history is everything. Thus, the greatest problem facing America today is that we have forgotten what it means to be an American. On July 4, 1776, Thomas Jefferson charted the course for a new nation: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights."
Interestingly, it is here in the Declaration of Independence that we can clearly establish that our nation was founded on biblical not secular principles. Secularism says there is no truth, there is no God and that we just evolved. The Declaration clearly states that truth exists, there is a Creator and that we are created.
Four score and seven years later, Abraham Lincoln declared that we were "a new nation, conceived in Liberty" and "the last best hope of earth."
Ten score and five years after the Declaration, Ronald Reagan observed: "Freedom and the dignity of the individual have been more available and assured here than any other place on earth."
The theme is freedom. These men understood America and the principles upon which she stood: self-evident truths; liberty, with its twin corollaries of limited government and individual responsibility; the embrace of Judeo-Christian values; and "a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence."
Every one of these founding principles is undermined by a philosophical foundation of evolution. What students learn of history is filtered through how they understand science.
The science and history battles were remarkably similar; we faced the same opponents-the left-and fought over the same philosophical issues. Thus, science and history are a lot more correlated than you might think. It is noteworthy that Darwin published The Origin of Species eighty-three years after the Declaration. Providentially, our founding fathers were not intellectually crippled by an evolutionary worldview. Today in Texas, our children do not have to be crippled either.
The changes attracted national attention because they challenged the powerful ideology of the left and highlighted the great political divide of our country. The left's principles are diametrically opposed to our founding principles. The left believes in big, not limited, government; they empower the state, not the individual; they focus on differences, not unity.
This divide was clearly exposed on March 23, 2010 as the left celebrated health reform that Vice President Biden said "charts a fundamentally different course for the country" - an unmistakable rejection of Jefferson's original course. But the Texas board, emulating Jefferson, adopted standards to ensure that our children understand how free societies rose to greatness and how they can fall. Education is the last best hope for the last best hope of earth.
The left doesn't like the new history standards. The Dallas Morning News editorial board, just a few weeks ago, stated that the top priority for our State Board in 2011 should be to revise the standards. They stated: "The standards were so controversial that they sparked protest in Texas and around the country… Among the bizarre revisions: the board super-conservatives insisted on making Joe McCarthy look as if he was onto something about communist infiltration…." It sounds like they need to go back to college. Opps, it sounds like they have been to college.
What were the standards like before? Individually, the left's standards do not seem so bad; but taken as a whole they paint a negative view of America; they have an overemphasis of multicultural issues; they are obsessed with the differences of race, class and gender; thus, they turn America into "E Unum Pluribus"-"out of one many" instead of "E Pluribus Unum"-"out of many one." And, most importantly, they ignore the Judeo-Christian contribution to Western civilization and they ignore the contribution of the free enterprise system.
Again, for a free society, history is everything. Thus, it is imperative that we teach our children what it means to be an American. William B. Allen of Michigan State, in a memorable address stated:
"The founding era and the founding fathers are not just a topic of instruction for us; it is most important first to understand, that they are the meat we feed upon. Understanding it means that we cannot accept, in any instance, the argument that they are inaccessible to us (Did you hear that Ezra Klein?) any ore than we can accept the argument that we can live without our hearts. Therefore, our task is not to ask whether we should regard the founders with tender care and understanding; our task is to find the means to do so."
The good news is that Texas is finding "the means to do so". Explicit standards require that children be taught the founding documents, American Exceptionalism, and the national mottos of "In God We Trust", and "E Pluribus Unum."
A significant new standard brings some much needed clarity to the commonly misunderstood phrase "separation of church and state."
The left, in its attempts to remove God and religion from our society have twisted the clear meaning of the First Amendment's protection of religious liberty. It's time to clear up the confusion about where we find the phrase "separation of church and state." The answer is simple; it is in our new history standards; it is in there so that our children will know that it is not in the Constitution. Ironically, the very language in our Constitution to guarantee us religious liberty has been used to deny us that freedom. The Constitution codified for us what Christianity, through the "Great Awakening", had already given to our country-the disestablishment of religion. It was as Wesley and Whitefield traveled up and down and across established church boundaries that Christianity disestablished itself.
What we have in America, in the Constitution, is not the "separation of church and state"; what we have is the disestablishment of religion.
David Brog, in his recent book In Defense of Faith, convincingly describes how the left's attempts to purge religion from our society would purge the moral high ground from where they preach. The source for the moral power on which the foundation of our country is based is the radical Judeo-Christian idea that all men are created in the image of God. Our whole idea of liberty, of the Declaration's "all men are created equal", and of the importance of the individual is grounded in this great truth. The left, who rejects this biblical principle but stand on its foundation, pat themselves on the back and claim to stand for compassion and caring. But, how compassionate and caring is it to take a young child, a self-governing creature of God, and tell him he is the product of blind purposeless processes and just a helpless victim-totally dependent upon the state?
It is the conservatives who stand on the moral high ground. We must not concede "compassion and caring" to the left. It is our policies that favor human flourishing.
The free enterprise system is the dominant economic theme of our new history standards; it is also built upon the radical Judeo-Christian idea that man is created in the image of God. This idea has led to limited government-what Dennis Prager refers to as: the bigger the individual, the smaller the government-and to the development of personal responsibility. The free enterprise system makes better people. The free enterprise system rewards hard work, diligence and competence; it punishes laziness, cheating and freeloading. Our new history standards teach the benefits of free enterprise; they highlight the failures of planned economies.
Contrast this with what the left has taught our children in our universities about free enterprise. Think of what they must have taught Goodwin Liu, President Obama's nominee to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, a young. Mr. Liu, commenting on the nomination of Chief Justice John Roberts, stated that "free enterprise, private ownership of property and limited government" are "code words" for a hostile ideological agenda. To Mr. Liu, these principles we cherish are not even real! What kind of mind marginalizes, trivializes, and ignores these great ideas that have made America exceptional? It is the leftist mind. It is a mind that struggles to marshal a true argument and discredits their opponents with insults and personal attacks. And, it is a mind that has not been taught real science and real history.
The State Board has also shined the light of truth on world history; we recently passed a resolution for fairness and accuracy in regard to the coverage of world religions. For example, one world history book, as presented for adoption, was filled with bias about our Judeo-Christian heritage. Two of the greatest turning points in world history are the Jewish revelation of an omnipotent God that cares about right and wrong-ethical monotheism-and the Christian Christmas story of the Incarnation. So, how biased is a world history book that does not mention Judaism or Christianity in its Table of Contents, while Islam is cited 26 times? And, how can the origin of Christianity not even be mentioned in the introductory comments of relevant divisions and chapters of the book?
This last September, the magazine Foreign Policy ran a story entitled "The World's Worst Textbooks". Of course, the desire to avoid being ethnocentric meant they had to include some United States texts. Guess what they included? Texas history standards, of course. And what standards did they highlight? They were: "Explain how Arab rejection of the state of Israel has led to ongoing conflict." And "Evaluate efforts by global organizations to undermine US sovereignty." This is good; this means a lot of different people are taking notice. The debate over our standards is a good debate to have. In a real debate, we win. The best problem with leftism is that if they really understand a Conservative very well, they will become a conservative.
I began my talk discussing a Dallas Morning News story about how school districts are teaching their teachers grammar. The story even says the teachers are learning "the details of sentence diagramming." Did you ever think you would live to see the day that diagramming sentences would be taught again? In the introduction, I asked a question that I never did answer. The question was: "Why now? What has happened to motivate these schools and teachers to learn grammar?"
The answer was also in the story. The story says:
In 2008, the state board rejected the recommendation of a professional educators' coalition that said grammar is best taught as part of the process of teaching writing. Instead, the board voted to return in part to an earlier model that includes specific grammar instruction at specific grade levels.
That vote left the Texas Education Agency and every school district in the state scrambling to figure out how to meet the revised guidelines.
That vote was two and a half years ago and now our Texas children are learning grammar. It takes time, but the pendulum has swung. The new science standards are being taught today and next year our new history standards enter the classroom. I look forward to reading more news stories about teacher workshops in both science and history and how school districts are "scrambling to figure out how to meet the revised guidelines."
I would say that the odds that our new history standards will help teach our children what it means to be an American are pretty good. This past year, America awoke from a long hibernation of complacency. Mainstream America wants their children to know about what it means to be an American. When our students learn English like it used to taught, when the dogmatic teaching of evolution is not undermining the founding principles of our country, and when our children's minds are filled with a great storehouse of knowledge of Western Civilization, then maybe "this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom-and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."
Link to development process documents. http://www.tea.state.tx.us/index2.aspx?id=3643
Link to final standards. http://ritter.tea.state.tx.us/rules/tac/chapter113/index.html