The benefits of illegal proposals

James E. Clapp jeclapp at WANS.NET
Tue Feb 29 00:45:01 UTC 2000

Dennis R. Preston wrote:

> boards in Kansas and Texas (I hope y'all
> Kansans and Texans take care of this slur on your own...)

Jeez, Dennis, I was just following your lead!  You're the one who brought up the
Kansas Board of Education (your posting in this thread dated 2/24/2000).  I
added Texas simply because its state Board of Education is famous for its huge
influence in the textbook industry and for being a major takeover target of the
religious right.  (Details below.)  As a born and bred Iowan who still returns
there every year for a visit, I actually *like* the Midwest.  And anyway, my
full phrase was "Kansas or Texas or anywhere else."

> Hmmmm. This is a very interesting response. Since teachers in US public
> schools aren't qualified to teach a subject, let's not do it.

Math and physics, which you mention, and even history and biology (though those
are trickier), don't raise constitutional issues and religious hackles the way
courses in religion would.  I realize the courts have said that, in principle,
there would be no constitutional problem with an objective presentation of
comparative religion; I was just saying that, as a practical matter, I seriously
question whether a course that is genuinely religiously neutral (including
neutral in regard to religion vs. nonreligion) is possible in most primary and
secondary schools in the United States.  I doubt that the agnostic teacher of
that good course in Buddhism you referred to was teaching in high school with
Board-of-Education-approved textbooks.

> There seems to be some confusion between what I am calling "comparative
> religion" and "teaching religion" - the furthest thing from my mind.

That was intentional.  I'm afraid that most primary and secondary teachers in
the United States--even with the best of intentions--would have trouble making
this distinction, and would consciously or unconsciously mix a good deal of
indoctrination in with their teaching.

> I envisioned a course in which the nature of various religions was
> examined but also one in which the social and psychological
> characteristics of religious belief in general were explored as well.
> I was wool-gathering about an ideal world, but, it seems to me, none
> of that ideal ever gets implemented if we don't reach for it from time
> to time.

If such a thing were possible, I might even sign up for the course myself!  But
as you say, it's pretty idealistic.  You and I agree that it would be nice to be
able to give all children a course such as you envision; but we probably also
agree that it will be a good while--I'm guessing two hundred years--before this
becomes a realistic goal.

James E. Clapp

Addendum--Notes on the Texas Board of Education, perennial religious

Time magazine, April 30, 1984:

   When Texas talks, textbook publishers tend to listen.  As one of the largest
purchasers of school textbooks ($65 million this year), the state has regularly
exerted a strong influence on the content of books used by schools across the
country.  After the Texas board of education accommodated Fundamentalist
Christians in 1974 by requiring that evolution be taught as "only one of several
explanations" of the origins of mankind, some publishers began to alter their
texts to make them more widely acceptable. For instance, in the 1981 high
school biology book published by Laidlaw Bros., a division of Doubleday, the
word evolution did not appear, even in the glossary or index.

   In 1982 the People for the American Way, a liberal group that wages First
Amendment campaigns, began pressuring the Texas board to rescind its 1974 rule.
They were joined last month by a powerful ally: Texas State Attorney General Jim
Mattox concluded that the rule was unconstitutional because it was motivated by
"a concern for religious sensibilities rather than a dedication to scientific
truth." Two weeks ago the Texas board of education repealed the controversial
measure. . . .

The Washington Post, August 8, 1999:

   In 1997, the Texas Board of Education proposed replacing all biology books
in the state with new ones that did not mention evolution. The move was
considered to signal a national trend because Texas is the second-largest
purchaser of textbooks after California. The proposal failed by a slim majority.

The Dallas Morning News, March 7, 1998:

   . . .  the Texas Christian Coalition, Texas Eagle Forum and
American Family Association of Texas are working for a new majority on the
board. . . .

   "We are not where we want to be, but you look at the people who now sit on
the State Board of Education . . . we can praise God for this happening, not
only in Texas, but all over country," Ralph Reed, former executive director of
the Christian Coalition, said on a visit to Texas last year.

The New York Times, November 5, 1998:

   In his first official action after the election, Mr. Bush reappointed Mike
Moses as education commissioner. The Governor and Mr. Moses have had a stormy
relationship with a group of extreme right-wing Christian conservatives who have
tried to take control of the Texas Board of Education.  The group failed to
achieve a majority in Tuesday's elections. The quick reappointment of the
commissioner was a way for the Governor to stick a finger in the group's eye.

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