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Thursday, 18 February 2010 02:26

Texans Riding Dinosaurs May Sound Funny, But the 'Flintstones' Are Threatening to Turn Our Democracy Into an Idiocracy

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BUZZFLASH NEWS ANALYSIS
by Meg White

A majority of Texans do not believe that humans "developed from earlier species of animals," according to a University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll published Wednesday. The article publishing the findings, called "Meet the Flintstones," noted that one-third of respondents believe that dinosaurs and humans roamed the earth at the same time.

As a reader of a progressive site such as BuzzFlash, you may be laughing at the poor fools in Texas. But it's not just Texas Republicans who responded thusly. A whopping 46 percent of self-identified Democrats in the study disagreed with that evolution question as well.

Furthermore, the anti-science disease is spreading geographically. Laugh it up, but in ten years, this story could be about your state. What's going on here, and how are these backward beliefs coming to a public school near you?

In last weekend's New York Times Magazine, the cover story purported to answer the question of just how Christian the founders of America were. And the story did touch on that fascinating, though ultimately unanswerable question. But the larger question was about how the religious right is entering the curricula of the vast majority of public schools in this country via the Lone Star State. Contributing writer Russell Shorto explains the overwhelming influence of Texas (emphasis mine):

The state’s $22 billion education fund is among the largest educational endowments in the country. Texas uses some of that money to buy or distribute a staggering 48 million textbooks annually — which rather strongly inclines educational publishers to tailor their products to fit the standards dictated by the Lone Star State... [it] was one of the first states to adopt statewide curriculum guidelines, back in 1998, and the guidelines it came up with... were clear, broad and inclusive enough that many other states used them as a model in devising their own...

Tom Barber, who worked as the head of social studies at the three biggest textbook publishers before running his own editorial company, says, “Texas was and still is the most important and most influential state in the country.” And James Kracht , a professor at Texas A&M’s college of education and a longtime player in the state’s textbook process, told me flatly, “Texas governs 46 or 47 states.”

The man running this anti-knowledge side show at the Texas School Board is a dentist and creationist named Don McLeroy. Last year, the fight was all about science teachers being forced to stress the weakness of evolutionary theory in the classroom. Now they're working on turning conservative activists into heroes and demonizing liberals:

McLeroy moved that Margaret Sanger, the birth-control pioneer, be included because she “and her followers promoted eugenics,” that language be inserted about Ronald Reagan’s “leadership in restoring national confidence” following Jimmy Carter’s presidency and that students be instructed to “describe the causes and key organizations and individuals of 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.” The injection of partisan politics into education went so far that at one point another Republican board member burst out in seemingly embarrassed exasperation, “Guys, you’re rewriting history now!” Nevertheless, most of McLeroy’s proposed amendments passed by a show of hands.

Finally, the board considered an amendment to require students to evaluate the contributions of significant Americans. The names proposed included Thurgood Marshall, Billy Graham, Newt Gingrich, William F. Buckley Jr., Hillary Rodham Clinton and Edward Kennedy. All passed muster except Kennedy, who was voted down.

A series of Harris interactive polls show that belief in evolution has actually declined over the past decade or two. The consensus in the scientific community is that Intelligent Design and creationism are winning over the American public.

Part of that success undoubtedly comes from the effort to infiltrate school textbooks and curricula. The bottom line is that the religious right found the path to ascension among Texas' school guidelines, and they're not going to stop with Darwin.

So how long until we start seeing the majority of Americans praising Phyllis Schlafly as an American hero while being unfamiliar with the works of some guy named Teddy Kennedy? How long until kids start reciting that we are a strictly Christian nation, and begin defining citizens who practice Buddhism or worship Allah as "un-American"?

How long until law students from Liberty University convince the Supreme Court that the Constitution (which does not refer to Christianity) and the Declaration of Independence (which refers to a creator and "Nature's God") are not distinct documents, and that therefore the United States was founded expressly to allow Christianity to flourish, and not to provide for religious freedom? How long until that court has to start taking Biblical law into account when making decisions of constitutionality?

It begins in our public schools, but it ends up in every nook and cranny of our nation's ideological fabric. The thing that Shorto's piece establishes for me is not whether or not our founding fathers were particularly religious. It says that this is no "slippery slope," but a concerted effort to remake the nation in Billy Graham's image.

The effort to re-write American History 101 in such a light may begin in education, but it ends in embarrassing polls like the one released in the Texas Tribune yesterday. And if we laugh it off, we're sealing the fate of our idiocracy.

BUZZFLASH NEWS ANALYSIS