WASHINGTON (ABP) — A Baptist preacher who leads a national interfaith organization has written leading publishers around the country to urge them to reject changes made to standards for teaching about social studies, history and economics in Texas.
Welton Gaddy, president of the Interfaith Alliance, said March 22 that recent amendments adopted by the Texas state board of education emphasizing Christianity's influence on the founders and downplaying political reasons for the separation of church and state will give students a picture that is "historically inaccurate."
Gaddy, who also serves as pastor for preaching and worship at Northminster (Baptist) Church in Monroe, La., said through amendments to the teaching standards, a conservative voting bloc on the Texas board "proposes to teach our children not that we are a pluralistic democracy, founded as a safe haven for minorities and the freedom of religion, but instead the fallacious notion that we are a 'Christian nation,' founded upon and governed by Christian beliefs."
"I know that the state of Texas is a major consumer of your textbooks, but I call upon you to reject these erroneous, ill-advised changes and maintain your commitment to an accurate education of superior quality for our nation's children," Gaddy wrote. "I urge you to ensure that they receive a better education, one that is not shaped by narrow-minded opinions that are being passed off as fact."
Texas and California are the two largest purchasers of textbooks nationwide. As such, their teaching standards historically have influenced what is taught in other states, as publishers sought to gear books toward the largest markets.
Some observers say that in today's publishing world, changes adopted in Texas may not have as much effect on the rest of the country as some critics fear.
Jay Diskey, executive director of the school division for the Association of American Publishers, told E-School News, a website that covers technology for educators, the notion that Texas curriculum automatically hops state borders is "a bit of an urban myth" and that nearly all states require or expect publishers to align to their own standards.
Patte Barth, director of the Center for Public Education at the National School Boards Association, said that while there is still a large demand for traditional textbooks, there has been a movement to put more textbook type material on-line, where it is cheaper and easier to adapt to state and local standards.
Despite that, Gaddy said the Interfaith Alliance, which represents 75 faith traditions as well as Americans who have no faith tradition, isn't taking the matter lightly.
"At this point we are working to ensure that other children across the country are not taught an inaccurate history of our country," Gaddy said. "We understand that textbooks will not be uniform, but it simply is incorrect to state we are a Christian nation founded upon and governed by Christian beliefs. Unfortunately, this is just one of multiple inaccuracies that will now be included in Texas textbooks."
Gaddy said changes include removing Thomas Jefferson from curriculum that covers the Enlightenment period and rejecting language articulating that the Founding Fathers protected religious freedom by barring the government from favoring or disfavoring any one religion over another.
"The Texas SBOE members certainly are entitled to believe whatever they want about our country and its history," Gaddy said. "The problem arises when their religious beliefs begin to essentially rewrite history for our children."
"Separation of church and state was a core tenet of our nation's founding," he said. "Whether you like him or not, Thomas Jefferson was a leading thinker during the Enlightenment. It's almost unfathomable to think that Texas schoolchildren won't learn these basic facts now. We urge the publishers to ensure that other children still will."
Bob Allen is senior writer for Associated Baptist Press.