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Saturday, October 15, 2011

SYSK: Curriclum battles harm education

A bunch of Intelligent Design believers got elected to the Kansas State Board of Education, and suddenly we’re all debating Darwin again. Then Texas–one of the biggest textbook markets in the country, whose size gives it the power to shape curriculum choices far beyond its borders–decides that American History as traditionally taught is biased. So schoolchildren across the country will now learn, among other things, “about the conservative resurgence of the 1980s and 1990s, including Phyllis Schlafly, the Contract With America, the Heritage Foundation, the Moral Majority and the National Rifle Association.” If anything, these skirmishes should remind us all to pay attention to the compositions of our state Boards of Education–they are powerful enough to create quite a kerfuffle if captured by extremists of any stripe.

The truth is that some of us never stopped debating Darwin. I have taught biology for fourteen years and I have had students challenge me on it every single year, even in liberal San Francisco. The fact is that only 16% of Americans believe in secular evolution, (the idea that humans evolved from other life forms without any divine intervention). It should be no surprise that some of the overwhelming majority of doubters would fight for their version of reality to be portrayed in school textbooks. Also, many of the backers of Intelligent Design, and other creationist schemes, have substantial financial backing to pay for political campaigns (including school boards) and advertisements. The Discovery Institute, for example, has an annual budget of $5 million, most of which is used to promote Intelligent Design schemes.

Like the adage that history is written by the victors, the textbook industry is controlled by the biggest, most powerful publishing houses, each of which has a stake in perpetuating the American Dream mythology and the conflation of capitalism and democracy. Therefore, textbooks, especially history books, will always downplay, manipulate and censor the history of unions and working people, extol the virtues of capitalism, and glorify the histories of the rich and powerful, regardless of who is on the school boards.

From the blog Modern School, by Michael Dunn

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