June 17, 2024

“Truth” in Texas Textbooks

Snippet from a Texas Social Studies textbook in 2014

Once again, my wife and I testified before the Texas State Board of Education in Austin; this time regarding the content of our Social Studies textbooks. To their credit, the board is now considering removing some things that we told them four years ago should not have been included in the first place.

They want to promote American exceptionalism, which means they don’t want to teach any of the mistakes our country has made. They don’t want students to know that America ever made any embarrassing errors. Instead they want our country to be seen as “a shining beacon of what it means to be God-blessed”. So they minimized the impact of racism in the civil rights movement and eliminated slavery among the causes of the Civil War. Instead they referred to slaves as “workers” and praised them for “accepting Christianity”, as if they had a choice. The board had already sought to remove ethnic references and role models and they still want to promote Confederate President Jefferson Davis on equal standing with Abraham Lincoln. Back then, I saw the changing language in our Social Studies textbooks as a Religious Right White Wash of ‘Murican history that had been going on for the last decade at least.

Of course the biggest concern for me was that they were were also ignoring and erasing the one thing that made America exceptional, our founding as a secular nation. Ours was the first such country in the world. The reason so many people wanted to come here from everywhere else was because America was seen as a land of equal opportunity specifically when it came to religion. Because being the first secular nation, the United States was at that time the only country where your religious faith or lack thereof legally didn’t matter. Because we didn’t have a state religion.

The Founding Fathers wisely erected a secular government that didn’t promote or endorse any religion and wouldn’t prohibit anyone’s religion either, because they knew we can’t have freedom of religion without having freedom from religion first.

The Religious Right can’t understand or accept that, and they don’t want to teach it either. Texas legislators have already proposed a number of bills promoting Christianity and at least one to prohibit Sharia law. Neither would be permitted or necessary if they’d just respect and back the First Amendment.

But they don’t want a secular nation or religious freedom. Instead they want a state religion and they want to restrict or prohibit other faiths, showing deference for their own. And they want to pretend that it’s always been that way. So while we and our friends at the Texas Freedom Network were trying to reason with the board, there was also a Religious Right activist there giving testimony to “refute” us.

Amy Jo Baker is a 40 year veteran teacher, specializing in history. She has a PhD in education and was Director of Curriculum in San Antonio. She founded an organization called “Truth in Texas Textbooks“, but what she means by “truth” is really misleading misrepresented misinformation promoting religious propaganda. She doesn’t want students to know that America was ever a secular nation, nor that its founders weren’t all Christian. Instead she wants students to believe that Moses was a real person and the primary influence of the Founding Fathers, that our Constitution was based on “a covenant between God and Moses”, and that our laws came from the Bible or were based on the Ten Commandments; none of which is true at all. So she is NOT really advocating truth in Texas Textbooks.

Because of Dr. Baker’s credentials, I knew no one would listen to lil’ ol’ me presenting objectively verifiable facts of the matter. Only people with degrees can cite these facts, apparently. So I assembled a panel of experts to join me on video to evaluate Dr. Baker’s testimony and the responses from the board.

Dr. Robert Price,
Professor of Theology and Biblical History,
Council for Secular Humanism’s
Center for Inquiry Institute

Rob Boston,
Director of Communications
Americans United for
Separation of Church and State

Dr. Ed Buckner
interm executive director of American Atheists,
Author of In Freedom We Trust:
An Atheist Guide to Religious Liberty

Dr. Andrew L. Seidel, BS, JD, LLM
Constitutional Attorney
Director of Strategic Response with
Freedom From Religion Foundation

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