If Texas’ State Board of Education approves a batch of new textbooks this week, millions – inside the state and nationally – will soon learn that Moses was a fundamental influence on American democracy.
Only he wasn’t.
Critics say the 43 social studies textbooks up for review this week – written to meet educational standards approved by the Board in 2010 despite controversy that they were teaching religious dogma, like creationism, as fact – are riddled with errors and Christian biases.
On Tuesday, the Board held a public hearing and preliminary vote. Dozens of historians protested the textbooks and the board refused to give early approval to the textbooks before seeing publishers final changes this week. The board may still approve the textbooks on Friday when they take an official vote, but the preliminary hearing’s result indicates the Board may also have some concerns.
And the outcome of Friday’s vote won’t just affect Texan students, either.
“Unfortunately, if that’s what’s students are going to be learning in Texas, students around the country will be learning it soon enough,” said one critic of the textbooks, Dan Quinn of the watchdog group Texas Freedom Network (TFN). Because Texas is so large—it educates nearly 5 million students—the state’s textbooks are often marketed around the country by publishers.
The textbooks celebrate Christianity – downplaying things like bloody conquests – and overstating in particular the role of Moses and Judeo-Christian thinking in the foundation of American democracy.
The University of Texas’ Jonathan Kaplan, a Middle Eastern studies professor at the University of Texas who earned a PhD studying the Old Testament at Harvard, testified at Tuesday’s hearing and called the textbook’s perspective a “gross exaggeration.” He was quickly dismissed by Board members who said they felt Moses had greatly influenced the Founding Fathers and American democracy as a whole, even if he was not a Founding Father.
Later in the hearing, another professor, Jennifer Garber, testified on the same issue, delivering a letter signed by dozens of historians that says the “textbooks exaggerate and even invent claims about the influence of Moses and the ‘Judeo-Christian tradition’ on our nation’s founding and on Western political traditions.”
The TFN— which monitors state conservatives’ influence, particularly in textbooks—had ten academics review all 43 textbooks up for approval this week. In the textbooks, the academics say they found a laundry list of inaccuracies. They found the textbooks also assume that all students are Christian, villify Islam, and muddle other religions’ explanations, among other problems.
And that’s not all: after protests by several groups, a lesson from a McGraw Hill textbook that questioned humans’ role in climate change was removed on Monday. A spokesman for McGraw Hill declined to comment.
“The spread of international terrorism is an outgrowth of Islamic fundamentalism which opposes Western political and cultural influences and Western ideology,” one textbook reads, disregarding a myriad of well-documented causes of terrorism as well as entire groups like the Irish Republican Army that had nothing to do with Islam. (Some testimony from the public actually pushed for more extreme views on Islam to be included in the texts, too).
In another instance, a textbook suggests that “states rights” were a fundamental cause of the Civil War alongside slavery, though TFN’s academics write that the notion didn’t appear until well after that war and the war’s full focus on slaves was well documented.
At least four textbooks include instances that Islam, crediting it for all the world’s terrorism, despite the fact that there are many terrorists and terrorist groups with nothing to do with Islam and millions of peaceful followers of the religion.
“The [State Board of Education] and these textbooks have collaborated to make students knowledge of American history a casualty of the culture wars,” wrote one reviewer, Dr. Emile Lester, an associate professor in the Department of Political Science and International Affairs at the University of Mary Washington in Virginia, after reviewing seven textbooks.
Quinn credited the textbooks inaccuracies to “pressure from the State Board of Education” and the “politicized curriculum standards” they passed in 2010. Indeed, towards the end of the hearing, the State Board Education chair Barbara Cargill noted that the standards themselves outlined Moses as a key influencer to the formation of the democratic government.
When someone suggested including another version of Moses’ influence on the founding fathers, the Christian, far-right group Texas Values’ Jonathan Saenz quipped, “You mean Moses deniers?”
Board members contacted by msnbc did not return request for comment by press time.