The Fight Against Reality's Bias in Education

As I'm sure you're aware, the Texas state school board recently decided to take the Fox News approach to education, and history in particular; in order to counter the supposed "liberal bias" in their schools, the state board mandated things like forcing teachers to cover the inaugural addresses of both Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis, to try to "downplay" Jefferson (hey, "downplaying" important historical figures sure does sound familiar), and to pretend that the separation of Church and State does not exist. As a proud American citizen I find this, in a word, embarrassing.

Yet what you may not know is that this is only part of an ongoing conservative effort to skew what our children are being taught in school -- and that this is the same strategy the right used to convince people that the media has a "liberal bias". The strategy is called "playing the ref". For those who don't follow sports, allow me to explain: to "play the ref" all you have to do is complain (loudly and obnoxiously) every time the "ref" (in this case the textbooks, reality or the media) rules against your favor. If you do this often and loudly enough, the "ref" will think twice in the future about doing anything you don't like. This is especially effective in situations when the other team is not employing the same strategy.

"Playing the ref" is what organizations such as "The New Renaissance in Education" are all about. Though ostensibly a group of educators concerned about the state of America's educational system today, this group is, in fact, made up of the same kinds of people who were crusading to include religion in science classes and to airbrush Jefferson out of our history textbooks. Their complaints allege that our current curricula is "agenda-driven" and go on to claim that "this agenda is too often anti-free market, pro-government power, anti-Western, anti-American exceptionalism, anti-military, and anti-traditional. It does not reinforce, and often attacks, the core principles of our Founding Fathers and the Judeo-Christian principles that have guided our country since its inception." In other words, the curriculum doesn't coincide with their worldview (which is ironic, because neither does reality).

Am I being a little bit harsh? Perhaps. But I really do believe that they need to learn some history (and perhaps sit in on a few English classes too, judging from the egregious spelling and grammar mistakes in their proposed "curricula") . More importantly, they need to learn that just because they want the US to be founded on "Judeo-Christian values" doesn't mean it was; just because they want our schools to preach anti-gay hate doesn't mean they should; just because they think that thinking critically about our founders means hating America doesn't mean that's true. True value is not derived from intensity of feeling.

I recognize that I am likely preaching to the choir here, but I think that it would do us well to actually delve into their curriculum some more. One of my favorite examples is "America's Philosophical and Intellectual Roots" in which the authors attempt to imply that the only way to "individual rights, and religious, economic and social freedom" is through "Christendom". The same theme arises later when, in one line, they connect "Hobbes TO Bentham to fascism and socialism" -- ignoring the vast differences between pretty much every single philosophy listed. Next comes their explanation of American liberalism: "From Rousseau's Social Contract TO General Will TO Nietzsche and Marx TO despotism and fascism." But I guess it wouldn't be a radical conservative group without deliberately misunderstanding what socialism is. Or, in this case, any philosophy at all.

Yet while we can all have a good laugh at what most of us recognize as a ridiculous attempt to rewrite history in a way that conforms with one specific group's worldview, we should remember that these people pose a very serious threat to the integrity of the American educational system. (And it should be remembered that when our children are being taught such a skewed version of history, we all lose -- liberals and conservatives alike.)

By cloaking an ultra-right-wing agenda in words like "balance" or "fairness" they appeal to an American sense of justice and fair play. They are playing the ref -- and without any other team on the field to play the same game, they'll win before we realize what's going on.