The last time we wrote about Don McLeroy, the creationist dentist who was disgraced when the state Senate refused to confirm his appointment as chairman of the Texas State Board of Education, was here: Don McLeroy Interview.
To our delight, the dashing Dark-Ager has been interviewed yet again. We present to you, dear reader, some excerpts from Revisionaries: How a group of Texas conservatives is rewriting your kids’ textbooks, which appears in the Washington Monthly. The bold font was added by us:
Don McLeroy is a balding, paunchy man with a thick broom-handle mustache who lives in a rambling two-story brick home in a suburb near Bryan, Texas. When he greeted me at the door one evening last October, he was clutching a thin paperback with the skeleton of a seahorse on its cover, a primer on natural selection penned by famed evolutionary biologist Ernst Mayr.
That’s a good start. Let’s read on:
With childlike glee, McLeroy flipped through the pages and explained what he saw as the gaping holes in Darwin’s theory. “I don’t care what the educational political lobby and their allies on the left say,” he declared at one point. “Evolution is hooey.”
But McLeroy is far too great a man to be confined only to creationism. His interests are wide-ranging. We continue:
This bled into a rant about American history. “The secular humanists may argue that we are a secular nation,” McLeroy said, jabbing his finger in the air for emphasis. “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.”
Suddenly, we’re frightened. We find that we agree with McLeroy’s last sentence. Let’s not dwell on that. Here’s more:
The jovial creationist sits on the Texas State Board of Education, where he is one of the leaders of an activist bloc that holds enormous sway over the body’s decisions. As the state goes through the once-in-a-decade process of rewriting the standards for its textbooks, the faction is using its clout to infuse them with ultraconservative ideals. Among other things, they aim to rehabilitate Joseph McCarthy, bring global-warming denial into science class, and downplay the contributions of the civil rights movement.
In case you didn’t realize why McLeroy is nothing more than a regional curiosity, the interviewer reminds us:
[W]hen it comes to textbooks, what happens in Texas rarely stays in Texas. The reasons for this are economic: Texas is the nation’s second-largest textbook market and one of the few biggies where the state picks what books schools can buy rather than leaving it up to the whims of local districts, which means publishers that get their books approved can count on millions of dollars in sales. As a result, the Lone Star State has outsized influence over the reading material used in classrooms nationwide, since publishers craft their standard textbooks based on the specs of the biggest buyers. As one senior industry executive told me, “Publishers will do whatever it takes to get on the Texas list.”
But there’s more to it:
Until recently, Texas’s influence was balanced to some degree by the more-liberal pull of California, the nation’s largest textbook market. But its economy is in such shambles that California has put off buying new books until at least 2014. This means that McLeroy and his ultraconservative crew have unparalleled power to shape the textbooks that children around the country read for years to come.
The article then goes into the history of elections that have shaped the BOE. It describes a deliberate campaign by social conservatives to get their people elected. Major contributors are named. This is very useful background, leading up to:
It took more than a decade of fits and starts, but the strategy eventually paid off. After the 2006 election, Republicans claimed ten of fifteen board seats. Seven were held by the ultra-conservatives, and one by a close ally, giving them an effective majority.
This is a long article, with a great deal of information about the coming battle over American history texts. Moving along:
In keeping with the makeup of the board, three of the six people appointed [to a panel of experts] were right-wing ideologues, among them Peter Marshall, a Massachusetts-based preacher who has argued that California wildfires and Hurricane Katrina were God’s punishment for tolerating gays, and David Barton, former vice chairman of the Texas Republican Party. Both men are self-styled historians with no relevant academic training — Barton’s only credential is a bachelor’s degree in religious education from Oral Roberts University — who argue that the wall of separation between church and state is a myth.
One last excerpt:
In mid-January, the board will meet to hammer out the last details of the standards for social studies, the only remaining subject, and the final vote will be held in March, around the same time the first primary ballots are counted. This means that no matter what happens at the ballot box, the next generation of textbooks will likely bear the fingerprints of the board’s ultraconservatives—which is just fine with McLeroy.
So we’ll be keeping an eye on Texas.
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