Thomas Frank: don’t mess with the Texas Board of Ed.

The Kansas Board of Education is, of course, famous for debating the teaching of evolution in public schools.  As recently as 2005, the Board decreed that schools must include Creationism or Intelligent Design in their science curriculum— only to be overruled again in 2007.

The Culture Wars continue to play out in public education, now most notably in Texas, as conservatives on its school board just voted to change the state’s education standards for teaching Social Sciences. The New York Times reports that the changes stressing the superiority of American capitalism, questioning the Founding Fathers’ commitment to a purely secular government and presenting Republican political philosophies in a more positive light.

Texas is especially important because its school district is so large a market for text book publishers that its standards could affect the content of text books nationwide.

“We are adding balance,” said Dr. Don McLeroy, the leader of the conservative faction on the board, after the vote. “History has already been skewed. Academia is skewed too far to the left.”

Noting that the board briefly banned the works of Eric Carle (author of one of George W. Bush’s favorite children’s books, “The Very Hungry Caterpillar”) Thomas Frank weighs in on this week’s column in the Wall Street Journal (nonsubscribers look here.)

To its critics, the proceedings appear like a sort of Texas inquisition, in which buffoons who believe they’re authorities hand down half-baked opinions from overstuffed chairs.

To others, however, the whole thing is probably a bold blow against the tyrannical subtlety of liberalism. When the Texas education board insists that the word “expansionism” (not “imperialism”) be used to describe the overseas deeds of the McKinley administration, when it instructs textbook writers to always use the term “free-enterprise” and never the term “capitalism,” it isn’t doing so because it feels solicitude for imperialists or the big-money set.

Heavens no. Board members are doing it to vindicate the little guy, to wrest the language away from an intellectual elite. As Don McLeroy, one of the leaders of the board’s conservative faction, put it in last year’s debate over evolution, “somebody’s got to stand up to experts.”

Read the entire column here or find it here.

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