Hoya Photo 3“We as a nation were intended by God to be a light set on a hill to serve as a beacon of hope and Christian charity to a lost and dying world.” Thus was born America, and unto her was rendered glory and favor, and the pagan nations of the world bowed in reverence and submission.

Or so lawyer and author Cynthia Dunbar would have you believe. The declaration is hers from her 2008 book, “One Nation Under God.” Two years later, Dunbar, also an assistant law professor at Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University School of Law, sits on the Texas State Board of Education and has found herself at the center of a new controversial chapter in our nation’s culture wars.

Two weeks ago, a new social studies curriculum that smears history and economics textbooks with a conservative veneer was approved by the board by a 10 to 5 vote along party lines. The over 100 amendments to the already 120-page original curriculum question the concept of separation of church and state, promote the influence of Christianity on the American Revolution and pair the violent philosophy of the Black Panthers with Martin Luther King Jr.’s civil disobedience. They also add Newt Gingrich and Phyllis Schlafly over Ted Kennedy and Dolores Huerta to a list of important American figures.

Other changes included ordering teachers to include “how the later release of the Venona papers confirmed suspicions of communist infiltration in U.S. government” during the McCarthy era, changing the word “capitalism” in their texts with “free-enterprise system” because of the former’s bad connotation, and replacing Thomas Jefferson with St. Thomas Aquinas, John Calvin and William Blackstone on a list of influential thinkers whose works inspired the late 18th and 19th century revolutions.

While the changes themselves are unsettling, the decisions of the Texas Board of Education become exponentially more frightening when considering the board’s power. Each year, Texas buys and circulates 48 million textbooks, and, in response, eager publishing companies adjust their books to the state’s standards. This means that textbooks nationwide can often be filled with material along Texan guidelines. As Tom Barber, a former director of social studies at some of the biggest textbook publishers in America, said, “Texas was and still is the most important and most influential state in the country.”

In essence, the revisionist history of these 10 conservative board members becomes detrimental to the education of American children from sea to shining sea.

Republican board member David Bradley told the Houston Chronicle that “a cultural and political shift in Texas” has given the board the opportunity to apply the majority’s conservative approach to culture, government and education, but a history dictated by majority and subject to such shifts is ignorant at best, malicious at worst.

At the same time, the unthinking secularity that these far-right Christians rail against is just as dangerous. Emeritus professor at the University of Chicago Martin Marty – whom The New York Times Magazine called “the unofficial dean of American religious historians” – argues instead for an objective middle ground.

“In American history, religion is all over the place, and wherever it appears, you should tell the story and do it appropriately.”

Teaching that story appropriately means acknowledging the important role religion has played and continues to play in our country. From the Mayflower Compact and the Pilgrims to the Moral Majority and Jerry Falwell, Christianity has been an integral and influential part of American government, society and culture.

As descendants of the European Christian tradition, the founding fathers were affected by its teaching as much as by the Enlightenment’s rationalism, and it is a telling fact that the majority of American presidents have been Christian, at least in name. Many of our country’s great beacons of learning, schools like Yale and Georgetown, were or are religiously affiliated. But to overhype or distort Christianity’s role – especially at the expense of other peoples and ideologies as the board is doing – is wrong.

America is not and never will be one body or one people, but a whirlwind of authorities and minorities, questions and characters, forces and struggles that celebrate and share our common essential values. In the current moment, ideological differences threaten to tear this country apart. Politicians on both sides of the aisle have spoken out against uncompromising partisan rhetoric. Curriculum-based culture wars like the one being waged in Texas lie at the heart of that ideological hazard.

Like ethnic, regional and religious diversity before it, ideological difference is what fuels American creativity and infuses our populace with passion. If we are not careful, however, it will be our undoing as party lines and political dissension breed antagonism and hatred, destroy our national heritage and blur the boundaries of history, reality and our American identity.

Conor Finnegan is a sophomore in the College. He can be reached at finneganthehoya.com. On the Road appears every other Friday.

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