To Live and Kick Ass in Austin?

Okay, Skepchick readers, I have had enough. I’ve reached the end of my golden rope of tolerance and optimism, and have fallen past the branches of mere cynicism and frustration, landing with a thud on a hard patch of pissed off.

You all know I followed closely and blogged about the Texas State Board of Education’s moronic refusal to listen to biology professors and an expert panel of scientists when adopting the science standards for Texas school children, leaving the door open for creationist bullshit to slip into the education materials. Well, water-head former State Board chairman, Don McLeroy, and his over-Jesused fucktard buddies on the board are now pushing to load the history curriculum with several extra helpings of Christian delusion.

The conservative reviewers [of the history curriculum] say they believe that children must learn that America’s founding principles are biblical. For instance, they say the separation of powers set forth in the Constitution stems from a scriptural understanding of man’s fall and inherent sinfulness, or “radical depravity,” which means he can be governed only by an intricate system of checks and balances.

Folks, I can’t take it any more. Despite my checkered past, despite the fact that it would be nearly impossible for a man of questionable character such as me to get elected, despite the fact that most Texans will want to draw and quarter me when they discover I don’t believe in any deities, I’m going to have to run for a seat on the Texas State Board of Education. Someone has to be the person at the board meetings who stands up and says, “Are you fucking kidding me?”. And I’m goddamn ready to give it a shot.

Now, in regard to the article (by the way, big hat tip to Skepchick reader, kevin, for alerting us to it), I realize that history is a very different kind of discipline than science. Unlike science, much of history is open to interpretation, and even many of us here are guilty of incorrect interpretations of it from time to time. For example, the United States DID NOT WIN THE SPACE RACE of the Cold War era, though many American adults think otherwise.

But once again, the conservative board members are ignoring much of what the history experts are telling them, and instead are listening to their own hand-picked advisers. And among those hand-picked history advisers is the Rev. Peter Marshall.

Rev. Peter Marshall? Reverend???? (And no, he’s not the former host of Hollywood Squares.)

“We’re in an all-out moral and spiritual civil war for the soul of America, and the record of American history is right at the heart of it,” said Rev. Marshall.

Does that sound like something an expert on history would say? Hell, does that sound like something anyone who wears big boy pants would say? I mean, come on. There’s no “soul of America”. There hasn’t been a soul of America since Ray Charles died. And what the hell is a “moral and spiritual civil war”? Isn’t that an oxymoron double word score or something? 

No, of course it’s not. It’s simply the language of a man who has no idea about what goes on in the world outside his church. And he’s advising the board on how our children should be educated.

But the problem here runs even deeper than the good reverend’s naive worldview. Two of the advisers picked by the creationist cabal want to remove or de-emphasize references to several historical figures who have become liberal icons, such as César Chávez and Thurgood Marshall (no relation to the reverend).

And this in particular  is not an interpretive issue. It’s not even a factual issue. It’s a blatant political issue.

These people are historical figures who had huge impacts on the progress of the human race. You can’t remove them from history books because they had different political philosophies than you, or because they have come to be associated with people who have different political philosophies than you. Where would such a process ultimately lead? Who the hell would be left in the textbooks?

The kids in a state already struggling with poor academic performance records would know even less. And as always, that is precisely the biggest worry in all this. I mean, we all know better. We keep asking questions and checking multiple sources from as many viewpoints as possible. The school children coming up in the fog of the current State Board may not be able to ever see through it, if it keeps getting thicker and thicker.

“America is a special place and we need to be sure we communicate that to our children,” said McLeroy. “The foundational principles of our country are very biblical…. That needs to come out in the textbooks.”

On some level, the irony that men like McLeroy, while setting history guidelines, demonstrate such a profound lack of historical knowledge is delicious. Unfortunately, the stupid burns the tongue, leaving me to wretch at the sour taste in my mouth.

The good news is, as always, there is opposition to the creationist cabal. The emphasis on Christianity as a driving force is disputed by some historians and guideline reviewers, who focus instead on the economic motivation of many colonists and the fractured views of religion among the Founding Fathers. You know, factual things.

“There appears to me too much politics in some of this,” said Lybeth Hodges, a professor of history at Texas Woman’s University and another of the curriculum reviewers.

Some outside observers argue that curriculum analysts should be trained academics. “It’s important to have trained historians establishing the framework,” said David Vigilante, associate director of the National Center for History in the Schools at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Once again, let’s hope those rational voices are heard and their ideas passed along to Texas school children and students across the US.

In the meantime, I suggest reading the entire Wall Street Journal article. It’s fairly comprehensive and touches on most of the major elements of this issue.

Maybe the Wall Street Journal will shine a good light on this scoundrel when I throw my hat into the ring for a good old Texas State Board of Education election smack-down.

Sam Ogden

Sam Ogden is a writer, beach bum, and songwriter living in Houston, Texas, but he may be found scratching himself at many points across the globe. Follow him on Twitter @SamOgden

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  1. I very nearly ran for town council before I moved away and went to university and became the incredibly brilliant, accomplished, hilarious man you “see” before you now. I decided against it because running for office is such a mind-numbing, soul-crushing experience, that I decided if I was going to have that done to me, I might as well get a degree out of it. If you run, you’ll be in for a tedious, vitriolic fight. But I think you’re way-tough enough to take it, and dish it out too.

    Quoth the Beach Boys:

    “A do run-run-run, a do run-run”

    (it was either that or a Forrest Gump reference, and nobody wants that)

  2. @Gabrielbrawley:

    Each board member is elected from and represents a region/district.

    The bad news is, the board member from my region was only recently re-elected (last fall). But she is one of the “creationist cabal” I keep referring to. So, I’m going to keep watching, and keep this fire burning, and see how things play out.

    I have actually talked in earnest with a couple friends of mine who are more “upstanding” than I am about running. You know, they are family men and women with education backgrounds who loosely identify as religious, but who are whip smart and way more progressive than the dolts on the board now. They stand a better chance of getting elected than I do. But since they won’t commit, I’ll have to do what I can myself.

  3. I wonder if Rev. Peter Marshall has ever heard of the Treaty of Tripoli. It’s rather unambiguous on the point of us being a secular country.

    If you decide to run, Sam, I wish you godless speed!

  4. Steve, making a stab at running for my local school board has been on my list for the last few years – sadly, my background is like yours. However, I still plan on giving it a shot (or at least, not taking it off my list).

    But I’ll tell you what – if you seriously throw your hat in the ring, I’ll donate the first $100 to your campaign.

  5. I adore you for this. I am a teacher in NC, and the ramifications of the Texas school board’s decisions don’t just affect Texas – other states follow suit, particular with textbook adoptions.

    I really think that I want to get onto the school board one day, once I’ve taught for a loooooong time, so I can tackle some social justice issues in a position that actually carries some weight.

    Teachers are steeped in politics, but pretty much have to do what they’re told, keep their heads down, and not rock the frakkin’ boat. (I completed my first year in June and my skeptical, free-thinking tongue nearly got me fired more than once…)

    Also, religion in schools? It’s already THERE! The number of teachers at my school that talk about God and Jesus as if they are BFFs and go partying every Sunday is ridiculous. I’m so sick of hearing about it… but if they found out I was atheist, they’d find some way to make my life even more miserable, so I suffer.

    For the children.

  6. Go for it! As things get closer, remember to set up some way for us who are lucky enough to live north of insanity to pass along monetary support.

  7. @Sam Ogden: Let me know when you set up your campaign comitte and get your tax status worked out. I don’t think it would be a 501 c 3 since it will be a political campaign. When you are able to accept campaign contributions I will contribute. At least $100 unless I am just drowning in debt. I know it aint much but I don’t have much.

  8. @Gabrielbrawley:


    But before you guys start offering up money, remember I did just call a sitting board member a water-head and some of his colleagues fucktards on a public blog. That’s probably not going to endear me to the conservative voter base.

    On the other hand, I guess you could say I’m already developing my campaign rhetoric.

  9. @Sam Ogden: I’m not even sure there is a curse sufficient to express my disgust at the state of the Texas Board of ‘Edumakation’.

    I advise two things. One, run for the position, it can’t hurt anything. Two, make this latest shenanigan as public as possible. *blink* Hell, now that I think about it, this is brilliant.

    You see, lots of people have opinions about stem-cells and evolution and sciency things because they all ‘know’ that science doesn’t necessarily fit with ‘God’. So they re willing to support the creationist idiots, (or at least ignore them), on those topics. History though? this is excellent. Sure, very few people know their history, but enough know that re-writing it is a bad idea that it’s easier to defend. It also doesn’t bear the stigma of being a science. So get this public and push for only experts in a field to be able to set curriculum. *grins* Then make that law apply to all curriculums, (say.. including science).

    Let the creationist pick a two front war to fight. This may be the chance to turn things around.

    Oh, sure, I may be overly hopeful, but at least it’s an action plan.

  10. Please, please run. And then get the entire skeptic/atheist/freethinking community to publicize it. Imagine the folk in Texas having a choice like that!

    I think every skeptic should run for their local school board, but it’s exceptionally needful in Texas, where theirs is state-wide.

  11. @davew: Is godless speed faster than god speed?

    Seriously, I hope you do run, and wish you all the best, though I can’t vote seen as I’m English!

    Can’t say I’d run for office over here. The requirement for pretty much all elected officials to swear an oath of allegience to the queen rules me out there.

  12. I’ve been thinking of running here in Arlington. Our representitive, aside from being a former conestant on The Aprentence, isn’t bad but you can tell this is just a stepping stone for him. If it came down to it, though, I would probably encourage my wife to run as she actually has classroom experience.

  13. @ other Amanda

    Hey I am a School Board Member in NC and I know exactly what you mean about the Jebus in the schools. I have had my trials and tribs with some folks over that also. Ah but we keep on fighting the good fight.

  14. Where would such a process ultimately lead? Who the hell would be left in the textbooks?

    It seems like they want to include any historical figure who is both white and male, and cut out all the rest.

  15. For instance, they say the separation of powers set forth in the Constitution stems from a scriptural understanding of man’s fall and inherent sinfulness, or “radical depravity,” which means he can be governed only by an intricate system of checks and balances.

    I always thought that, historically speaking, most of the churches favored a separation of church and state because it was thought that: (1) an incestuous relationship between the church and the state would actually corrupt the church; and (2) adopting a state church (e.g., England) would impinge on the religious freedom of other churches (by that time, there were many denominations) … I do know that most of the individuals who signed on to the Constitution with the Bill of Rights did not exactly have the same things in mind that we do in 2009 … Any historians out there to clear this issue up? Just intellectually curious.

  16. I believe that skeptics should fight just as hard for good history instruction, good humanities instruction, and an overall good education as we do for good science instruction. Let’s show Texas historians our support.

  17. Go for it man, but I was raised by these people, and you have to understand, to the hardcore creationazis, this is NOT rewriting history. This correcting history that has already been re-written. If I were you I would be as entertainingly offensive as you can muster. There is no point in defusing a bomb that has already gone off. To them, you are already Satan’s tool (snicker) so really take your non-deist identity to the max to pick up contrarians.

  18. I WISH Sam was in Austin. I’m here but no Sam. =(

    Sam, go for it! I try to stay up on the BOE meetings and have even attended a few since they convene a block or two from my office. However, since I work for the state at a highly visible agency I have to maintain complete neutrality in public in regards to anything political…especially during a legislative session. Sucks, but I love my job. Austin is fantastic, but as liberal as the town is (so liberal that the lege has been slowly stripping its power at the state level), it still has enough conservative wackos who commute in for jobs that my state agency is overrun with prayer email lists and *shudder* Limbaugh talk radio.

    Ok, how did I miss A.S.S.? So there…

  19. @Ashley.Ele:

    Well, I lived in Austin for many years back when the world was young. And I, too worked for the state while a student at UT. I moved to Houston to do some writing for local publications when the world was a little less young, and have been here since. Dell offered me a job a couple years ago, and I turned it down because the pay was significantly less than I’m getting here, but you can be sure that making a difference like one could on the TSBE would get me back there, no matter what the pay.

  20. @Ashley.Ele:
    Come and visit us (A.S.S.) soon! Our next official meeting will be the first Thursday in August, so… the 6th, I think.

    Or if you’re interested, stop by the Human Decency Project site in the next few days to learn more about the upcoming joint HDP / ASS project – a sort of “critical thinking for dummies” pamphlet.

  21. @Sam Ogden: When the world was young? Your avatar looks about 20. ;-) Austin has changed and the hipster infestation is pretty severe, but enough remains to make it all still loveable. Heh, my ex made a sickening threat against me last week and all it took was a reminder that it’s my family name on the courthouse (specifically the jail) to get him to shut up and start behaving again.

  22. History certainly is a skeptical issue. I wonder how long it will be until they start pushing Holocaust denialism in Texas schools.

  23. @m.m.c.: Will do. It’ll have to be in August though. I’m closing on my house (selling) and negotiating what is turning into a pretty ugly divorce. However, I am interested in the Human Decency Project (loved the plug for EFF!) so I’ll be in touch once things settle out a bit. =)

  24. If you really do run, let me know if I can help in any way (Houston resident and fellow member of Space City Skeptics here).

    I’d also love to hear your explanation as to why the U.S. did not really win the space race, though. ;-)

  25. You have my total support (I’m in Houston).

    One thing to remember, since the SBOE political races are pretty much invisible to the normal voter, make this race loud and obnoxious! There are rumors of others who want to run — even if you don’t win, make sure that a creationist doesn’t. Publicize the race, and the viewpoints of your opponents. Let’s make sure that the voting public realizes what they are voting (or not voting) into office.

  26. @ Andrew Nixon and DaveW: let’s try,
    “If you decide to run, Sam, I wish you light speed!” LOL

    As to this: “America is a special place and we need to be sure we communicate that to our children,” said McLeroy. “The foundational principles of our country are very biblical…. That needs to come out in the textbooks.”

    Ok let’s assume the moron is right. (not) So what if America was founded by christians? Or on biblical values? Or tangentally on christian ideas?
    Who lives here now? Are we all christians? Do only christians come up with good ideas for morality and law? Why would it be necessary to even emphasize WHERE the ideals come from? The ideals themselves are most important. Yes, roots should be noted and taught, but not as the most important part.

    That’s what drives me crazy about these jerks. They use the ‘christian nation’ bit as just one more way to act better-than-thou.
    WOW! Lookie at US! We thought up all this cool shit so that proves, once again, that we are better than you!

  27. I think it would actually be awesome to have a history textbook with a section on the actual writings of the founding fathers on religion. From what I understand, Adams and Washington were fairly conventional church-goers; Jefferson believed Jesus was a good moral philosopher, but all the miracles of the Bible were strictly imaginary; Franklin was a deist who couldn’t stand most of the preachers he knew; and Tom Paine would have fit in nicely in a TAM meeting. In other words, they were all over the map – JUST LIKE PEOPLE ARE TODAY.

    Whenever anyone starts a sentence with “the Founding Fathers wanted…” you should stop them immediately and ask “WHICH founding fathers?” These were men who spent most of their adult lives arguing vehemently with one another. Their greatest inspiration to us should be the way they forged this country DESPITE their huge disagreements.

  28. @Sam Ogden: I live in Houston and would definitely like to see you on the TSBE.

    And, even though I’ve barely spoken two words to you and you probably don’t remember me and I’m arleady married to another man and you don’t seem like the marrying type….I’ll marry you.

    I won’t be on the TSBE, but I’ll be in a position to influence . Can we have too many skeptics influencing Texas Education? I could be your skeptical Jackie Kennedy. Plus, I have a four year old son. That’ll make you look family friendly.

    I don’t know who your skeptical Marilyn Monroe would be, but that’s for you to figure out.

  29. FYI: I live in District 6, which is the district Terri Leo represents. She is one of the conservative board members who wants Jesus and the Lord thy God in everything educational. She was also just re-elected, and her current term isn’t up until 2013. Some of the members come up for re-election in 2011, but I would have to take up residence in the contested district to run.

  30. @BruceGee1962: Whenever anyone starts a sentence with “the Founding Fathers wanted…” you should stop them immediately and ask “WHICH founding fathers?”

    That and – why do Americans even care what the founding fathers wanted? What possible bearing does that have on anything anymore? Why do they assume this one bunch of guys had it all figured out for all situations for all people for all time forevermore??? A bunch of them owned slaves for chrissake, so I think we can all safely say that the Founding Fathers didn’t have it all figured out.

    It’s truly baffling to me… I don’t think anyone in Canada gives two purple shits about what John A. MacDonald wanted when he became the first PM (mostly because I assume most Canadians don’t know who he is).

  31. Well Sam you make it clear when you have made your decision and I will support you on my facebook page and will donate as much money as I can afford to. If you run you should call on all of the different webs to support you. You could, possibly, amass a nice campaign fund.

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