The Rehabilitation Of Joseph McCarthy? Texas Textbooks Process Grinds On

January 14, 2010 8:55 a.m.

When we last checked in on the U.S. history textbooks standards setting process down in Texas, the conservative-dominated State Board of Education was mulling one-sided requirements to teach high school students about Newt Gingrich, Phyllis Schlafly, and the Moral Majority.

Now, in the home stretch of a process that will set the state’s nationally influential standards, a liberal watchdog group is worried that the State Board of Education will try to push through changes to claim that communist-hunting Sen. Joseph McCarthy has been vindicated by history, among other right-wing pet issues.

The Republican-dominated board is meeting today in Austin to vote on amendments to the current draft standards.

“The social conservative bloc is pressing for the standards to turn Joseph McCarthy into an American hero,” says Dan Quinn of the Texas Freedom Network, a group that aims to “counter the religious right.”

The conservative effort to turn public opinion in McCarthy’s favor began way back in 1954 — while the Wisconsin senator was still in office — with the publication of William F. Buckley’s McCarthy And His Enemies.

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If such an amendment is proposed, Quinn expects it to come from outspoken conservative board member Don McLeroy, who has been talking up the idea. In a note to curriculum writers last fall, McLeroy encouraged them to “read the latest on McCarthy — he was basically vindicated.”

We last encountered McLeroy in September when he argued that minority groups should be thankful to the majority for granting them rights (“For instance, the women’s right to vote. … The men passed it for the women.”).

A requirement to teach America’s “Christian or Biblical heritage” is one of the other clauses conservatives may try to get into the standards, Quinn says.

What’s at stake here is not just what Texas students learn in high school. Because the state represents one of two largest markets in the country, publishers tailor their books to the Texas standards. Those same textbooks are then sold in smaller states around the country.

The current standards draft (.pdf) has lost some of the biased requirements that had raised the ire of liberal groups. Back in October, a curriculum writing team made up of educators jettisoned the requirements that students be able to “identify significant conservative advocacy organizations and individuals,” including the Moral Majority and Gingrich. Schlafly remains on a list (see page 54) of political leaders, but she is alongside figures like Thurgood Marshall and Hillary Clinton.

But at this stage, the curriculum writing team as well as an expert review board are out of the picture. Now, the board members will have to vote on amendments proposed by their colleagues. The final vote will come in March.

Don McLeroy

It was at this same point in the ’08-’09 science textbook standards process that conservative members began to offer technical amendments about purported gaps in the fossil record, and the impossibility of natural selection, Quinn says. Members who were in favor of teaching evolution became confused in some cases about what they were voting on.

While amendments to the history standards may be easier to understand, McLeroy and the rest of the conservative bloc are at least as passionate about leaving their mark this time around.

He told the Washington Monthly (in a lengthy feature very much worth reading):

“The secular humanists may argue that we are a secular nation. But we are a Christian nation founded on Christian principles. The way I evaluate history textbooks is first I see how they cover Christianity and Israel. Then I see how they treat Ronald Reagan–he needs to get credit for saving the world from communism and for the good economy over the last twenty years because he lowered taxes.”

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