Friday, 12 February 2010

Hearts. Snow, and Politics

Chilly enough for you? America is all covered in snow! Stem to stern it’s all chilly here. EXCEPT of course, Houston where it is rainy and at least not-hot. But WE are off to New York City on the morrow where there is loads of snow, and I read chilly breezes are there to be had.

A week of theatre (yes I will write reviews for you), great restaurants, long walks, museums, and loads of romance loom on my horizon. We have a suite at the Waldorf which is always lovely and puts us in good position for finding that morning cafe'. Actually the husband got an early start on the romance part when he arrived home this morning. Ah humm… Isn’t life grand? Yes it is!

Q is coming up from Philadelphia to be our incredibly well informed guide (this is HER period of French history and language) to the Cloisters. She and I will have some nice mother-daughter time over lunch and some shopping I expect.

Go out now and on Valentines Day and hug someone or something – dogs and cats do very well for affection if a human is not handy. It is proven that loving will make you live longer and enjoy it more. So I wish for all of you some love in your life today and the next day and the next…

On the other side - I am incensed to pick up the New York Times this morning and find a photograph of Roman Polanski on the front with an article touting his new film. The man confessed to being a pedophile in 1977 (heinous acts with a 13-year old girl), then left the country to (and this one is “alleged”) abuse another young girl (Natassja Kinski). I don’t think his past, nor his tragedies, nor his talent give him a free pass on this one. How can we as an ethical society ignore his abuse of children in favor of his “talent”? I don’t get it. I’m offended by it.

And on the political front the scary Board of Education of Texas and their wide ranging influence on the textbooks that end up in most of the schools of America. This is a ten page article and well worth reading especially if you are unaware of the influence of this small group of people. I have culled some excerpts for you below, but if you have time I encourage you to read the entire article. It give the phrase “all politics is local” new power…

Texas“…what is the most influential state board of education in the country, and one of the most politically conservative, submitted their own proposed changes to the new social-studies curriculum guidelines,…”
“the meeting was dominated by another member. Don McLeroy, a small, vigorous man with a shiny pate and bristling mustache, proposed amendment after amendment on social issues to the document that teams of professional educators had drawn up over 12 months, in what would have to be described as a single-handed display of archconservative political strong-arming.”
The injection of partisan politics into education went so far that at one point another Republican board member burst out in seemingly embarrassed exasperation, “Guys, you’re rewriting history now!” Nevertheless, most of McLeroy’s proposed amendments passed by a show of hands.
This is how history is made — or rather, how the hue and cry of the present and near past gets lodged into the long-term cultural memory or else is allowed to quietly fade into an inaudible whisper.
The state’s $22 billion education fund is among the largest educational endowments in the country. Texas uses some of that money to buy or distribute a staggering 48 million textbooks annually — which rather strongly inclines educational publishers to tailor their products to fit the standards dictated by the Lone Star State.
The cultural roots of the Texas showdown may be said to date to the late 1980s, when, in the wake of his failed presidential effort, the Rev. Pat Robertson founded the Christian Coalition partly on the logic that conservative Christians should focus their energies at the grass-roots level. One strategy was to put candidates forward for state and local school-board elections — Robertson’s protégé, Ralph Reed, once said, “I would rather have a thousand school-board members than one president and no school-board members” — and Texas was a beachhead.
Since the election of two Christian conservatives in 2006, there are now seven on the Texas state board who are quite open about the fact that they vote in concert to advance a Christian agenda.
But it isn’t merely the case that their Christian orientation shapes their opinions on gay marriage, abortion and government spending. More elementally, they hold that the United States was founded by devout Christians and according to biblical precepts. This belief provides what they consider not only a theological but also, ultimately, a judicial grounding to their positions on social questions.

As Cynthia Dunbar, another Christian activist on the Texas board, put it, “The philosophy of the classroom in one generation will be the philosophy of the government in the next.”
Don McLeroy, “I’m a dentist, not a historian,” he said.…his Christian perspective both governs his work on the state board and guides him in the current effort to adjust American-history textbooks to highlight the role of Christianity.
This” — the Texas board’s moves to bring Jesus into American history — has drawn anger in places far removed from the board members’ constituencies.
“Texas was and still is the most important and most influential state in the country.” And James Kracht, a professor at Texas A&M’s college of education and a longtime player in the state’s textbook process, told me flatly, “Texas governs 46 or 47 states.”

That means what they say goes in the textbooks are the textbooks that are passed out all over the country, not just in Texas.

“The fallout from that fight cost McLeroy his position as chairman. “It’s the 21st century, and the rest of the known world accepts the teaching of evolution as science and creationism as religion, yet we continue to have this debate here,” Kathy Miller, president of the Texas Freedom Network, a watchdog group, says.

...says Gail Lowe, who became chairwoman of the board after McLeroy was ousted and who is one of the seven conservative Christians, 'As we try to promote a better understanding of the Constitution, federalism, the separation of the branches of government, the basic rights guaranteed in the Bill of Rights, I think it will become evident to students that the founders had a religious motivation.”

When it was presented to them by historians,Gail Lowe and the other conservative members ignored the fact that Thomas Jefferson said it was not the place of the president to involve himself in religion, and he expressed his belief that the First Amendment’s clauses — that the government must not establish a state religion (the so-called establishment clause) but also that it must ensure the free exercise of religion (what became known as the free-exercise clause) — meant, as far as he was concerned, that there was “a wall of separation between Church & State.

“As Frances FitzGerald showed in her groundbreaking 1979 book “America Revised,” if there is one thing to be said about American-history textbooks through the ages it is that the narrative of the past is consistently reshaped by present-day forces.
Merely weaving important religious trends and events into the narrative of American history is not what the Christian bloc on the Texas board has pushed for in revising its guidelines. Many of the points that have been incorporated into the guidelines or that have been advanced by board members and their expert advisers slant toward portraying America as having a divinely preordained mission.
The idea that the Bible and Mosaic law provided foundations for American law has taken root in Christian teaching about American history. So when Steven K. Green, director of the Center for Religion, Law and Democracy at Willamette University in Salem, Ore., testified at the board meeting last month in opposition to the board’s approach to bringing religion into history, warning that the Supreme Court has forbidden public schools from “seeking to impress upon students the importance of particular religious values through the curriculum,” and in the process said that the founders “did not draw on Mosaic law, as is mentioned in the standards,” several of the board members seemed dumbstruck. Don McLeroy insisted it was a legitimate claim, since the Enlightenment took place in Europe, in a Christian context. Green countered that the Enlightenment had in fact developed in opposition to reliance on biblical law and said he had done a lengthy study in search of American court cases that referenced Mosaic law. “The record is basically bereft,” he said. Nevertheless, biblical law and Moses remain in the TEKS.
Marshall recommended that textbooks present America’s founding and history in terms of motivational stories on themes like the Pilgrims’ zeal to bring the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the natives.
To conservative Christians, there is no separation of church and state, and there never was. The concept, they say, is a modern secular fiction. There is no legal justification, therefore, for disallowing crucifixes in government buildings or school prayer.
“The founders deliberately left the word ‘God’ out of the Constitution — but not because they were a bunch of atheists and deists,” says Susan Jacoby, author of “Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism.” “To them, mixing religion and government meant trouble.” The curious thing is that in trying to bring God into the Constitution, the activists — who say their goal is to follow the original intent of the founders — are ignoring the fact that the founders explicitly avoided religious language in that document.
The board has the power to accept, reject or rewrite the TEKS, and over the past few years, in language arts, science and now social studies, the members have done all of the above. Yet few of these elected overseers are trained in the fields they are reviewing. “In general, the board members don’t know anything at all about content,” Tom Barber, the textbook executive, says. Kathy Miller, the watchdog, who has been monitoring the board for 15 years, says, referring to Don McLeroy and another board member: “It is the most crazy-making thing to sit there and watch a dentist and an insurance salesman rewrite curriculum standards in science and history. Last year, Don McLeroy believed he was smarter than the National Academy of Sciences, and he now believes he’s smarter than professors of American history.”
“The process of reviewing the guidelines in Texas is very open, but what happens behind the scenes after that is quite different,” Barber says. “McLeroy is kind of the spokesman for the social conservatives, and publishers will work with him throughout. The publishers just want to make sure they get their books listed.”
“I met with all the publishers,” McLeroy said. “We went out for Mexican food. I told them this is what we want. We want stories with morals, not P.C. stories.” He then showed me an e-mail message from an executive at Pearson, a major educational publisher, indicating the results of his effort: “Hi Don. Thanks for the impact that you have had on the development of Pearson’s Scott Foresman Reading Street series. Attached is a list of some of the Fairy Tales and Fables that we included in the series.”
Anyone looking for signs of where the Republican Party is headed might scan the results of the Texas school-board District 9 Republican primary on the morning of March 3. If Don McLeroy loses, it could signal that the Christian right’s recent power surge has begun to wane. But it probably won’t affect the next generation of schoolbooks. The current board remains in place until next January. By then, decisions on what goes in the Texas curriculum guidelines will be history.”

I find this all fascinating and something that we as concerned citizens ignore at our peril.


James Higham said...

Long live the snow but I fear it's almost over now.

jmb said...

Lucky you except for the weather.

The Cloisters is one of my favourite museums and I had my incredibly well informed daughter as a guide.

Enjoy your visit!

Lynn said...

Have a great time, Lady M! It all sounds lovely.

sally in norfolk said...

Have a fab time.... Love is grand :-)

darth sardonic said...

i recommend the book "lies my teacher told me." and i do my part by trying to give my kids a more brutally honest view of history when they ask questions. i shouldn't have to work too hard at it, since the most recent history question no. 1 asked me was, "why did a white man shoot dr. king?" scary shit though, really.

lady macleod said...

There was still a nice dusting here when we arrived and promise of more on Tuesday! Huzzah!
Thank you for coming by.

Lucky me indeed! I think that every day. I know you are ahead of me on museums in the American northeast, but I'm working to catch up! Aren't we lucky in daughters?! (see beaming mothers)
We will enjoy and I will keep you updated.

Thank you! And thank you for coming by.

Love IS grand and we know don't we?! How fortunate are we eh?
thank you for coming by. I'm still waiting for my jam you know...

But how brilliant that No 1 is thinking along such lines to ask such an insightful question. Parenting is not for sissies! I know what a grand job you do - remember I have been reading over there a long time...
Thank you for coming by.