United Farmworkers founder César Chávez is an unfitting role model for students, and former Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall is not an appropriate historical figure. So say “expert reviewers” in their report to the Texas State Board of Education, which recommends removing the two U.S. leaders from the social studies curriculum taught to its 4.7 million public school students.
The ranting of these extremists has the potential to turn into mass censorship—Texas is such a mega-purchaser of textbooks that the state’s required curricula drives the content of textbooks produced nationwide.
The Texas Freedom Network, which monitors actions by religious reactionaries on the state’s school board, points out that two of the “expert reviewers” are unqualified to be on the panel and were appointed mainly because of their background as religious ideologues.
David Barton, founder of the conservative Christian advocacy group WallBuilders, and the Rev. Peter Marshall, an evangelical minister from Massachusetts who runs Peter Marshall Ministries, were appointed to the state school board in March.
The Texas Freedom Network describes Barton and Marshall this way:
Barton, former vice chairman of the Texas Republican Party, is a self-styled “historian” without any formal training in the field. He argues that separation of church and state is a “myth” and that the nation’s laws should be based on Scripture. He says, for example, that the Bible forbids taxes on income and capital gains. Yet even such groups as Texas Baptists Committed and the Baptist Joint Committee have sharply criticized Barton’s interpretations of the Constitution and history.
The Peter Marshall Ministries website includes Marshall’s commentaries sharply attacking Muslims, characterizing the Obama administration as “wicked,” and calling on Christian parents to reject public education for their children.
Chávez, of course, devoted his life to organizing migrant farmworkers, among the most exploited and voiceless of any workforce. Marshall, the grandson of a slave, in 1967 became the first African American Supreme Court justice and was instrumental in shaping the landmark 1954 school desegregation case, Brown v. Board of Education.
As an editorial in Go San Angelo puts it:
This struggle has less to do with the quality of education than it does with religion and social values. The [state school board] has become a battleground in the endless and tiresome culture wars. Texas has witnessed one fight after another over matters like language arts standards, public school Bible classes, the adoption of mathematics textbooks, trying to dilute the treatment of evolution in the state’s biology classes.
Clearly, the Texans opposed to teaching students about Chávez and Marshall think those who stand up for the rights of workers and people of color are a threat. Because for those wielding the power, they are.