AUSTIN, Texas — The Texas Board of Education has approved a number of proposed textbooks that had generated controversy this year over their assertion that the Scriptures were influential in the founding of the nation.
The 10-5 vote on Friday was completely along party lines, with all Republicans in favor and all Democrats in opposition. In all, 89 books and software programs were approved, with six, created by Worldview Software, being tossed. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt also withdrew a book at the last minute.
As previously reported, opponents of the textbooks took issue with a number of factors, including its linking of terrorism to Islam, its challenge to the contention that humans are responsible for climate change and its assertion that the laws of Moses were an influence on America’s Founding Fathers. Others are cited as influencing the founding of the nation include Thomas Acquinas, John Calvin and English judge William Blackstone, known for his respected “Blackstone’s Commentaries” on the law.
“We are deeply concerned over the ahistorical nature of those representations,” Jennifer Graber, a religious studies professor at the University of Texas at Austin, remarked at a meeting last Tuesday, stating that the textbooks “exaggerate and even invent claims” about Christianity’s influence on the founding of the nation.
She especially took issue with the suggestion that Moses had anything to do with America’s founding.
“I think for many of us who are academic historians, it’s a very ahistorical connection to make,” she told NPR. “Moses is not someone who is quoted in the founding documents.”
But the Republican members of the board didn’t see the reference as an issue.
“Moses was not a Founding Father. However, I believe he did influence our Founding Fathers,” said board member Ken Mercer.
The consideration of the textbooks comes after the adoption of new curriculum standards in 2010, which was stated to be an effort by the board to counter the liberal bias that they perceived to be prevalent in schools.
“I don’t think there is any reason to fear these books,” board member Thomas Ratliff stated Friday, according to Reuters. “I think by and large they are going to be very good books.”
But others expressed displeasure after learning that the books had been approved.
“What we saw today shows very clearly that the process the State Board of Education uses to adopt textbooks is a sham,” Kathy Miller, president of the liberal Texas Freedom Network, told reporters. “This board adopted textbooks with numerous late changes that the public had little opportunity to review and comment on and that even board members themselves admitted they had not read.”
“The standards suggest that slavery was only the third most important contributing factor to the Civil War, which we all know is ridiculous,” she said.
“[L]et us not forget the religious character of our origin,” American statesman Daniel Webster declared during his famous “Plymouth Oration” in 1820. “Our fathers were brought hither for their high veneration for the Christian religion. They journeyed by its light and labored in its hope. They sought to incorporate its principles with the elements of society, and to diffuse its influence through all their institutions, civil, political or literary.”
“Let us cherish these sentiments,” he continued, “and extend this influence still more widely, in the full conviction that [it] is the happiest society which partakes in the highest degree of the mild and peaceful spirit of Christianity.”