Staff editorials need help messing with Texas

| Staff Columnist

Student Life’s March 24 staff editorial, “Condemning the new state of Texas textbooks,” seemed to misrepresent the changes to textbooks, and thus curriculums, in Texas public schools. Lacking a lot of detail and misrepresenting some aspects of the story, the editorial comes off as critical but uninformed. The real story needs to be broken down a bit further before criticism of the changes can be warranted.

The staff editorial points out two specific examples, the introduction of what the piece calls “alternative economic theories” and the removal of Thomas Jefferson from the curriculum. Unfortunately the staff writers were deceptive in their presentation of the economics alterations and chose to let the alarming Jefferson changes fall by the wayside for the rest of the article.

Placing quotation marks around the word “alternative” shows that the writers not only were skeptical about the quality and content of the additions to the economics curriculum, but also didn’t bother to look up what those additions represent. In actuality, the works of Milton Friedman and Friedrich von Hayek are going to augment the curriculum currently containing studies of Adam Smith, Karl Marx and John Maynard Keynes. Perhaps there is room for debate, but is adding two Nobel laureates to the curriculum really a bad move?

Hayek and Friedman were two of the most influential economists in history, and their works have drastically altered the way business cycles and monetary policy are viewed. Friedman’s magnum opus, “A Monetary History of the United States, 1867-1960,” was required reading in two high-level economics courses last spring at Washington University, and at least one other class worked through some of Hayek’s writing a week ago. If a top-notch university’s economics program requires study of the two theorists pejoratively mischaracterized as “alternative,” why is it wholly inappropriate for their works to be studied at the college-preparatory level? Modifying a curriculum to make it only two decades out of date instead of seven isn’t the problem.

Where the Forum section’s staff editorial dropped the ball was in addressing the more revisionist aspects of the curriculum changes. The article mentioned dropping the study of Jefferson as an important figure in 18th-century thinking, but that’s only a fraction of the changes. The Texas Board of Education’s real damage that was overlooked by the editorial is the Jesusification of the curriculum. The move by the board in Texas is reminiscent of a ploy to promote creationism, presented as “intelligent design,” in a Pennsylvania school district.

The staff editorial ought to have come out stronger against the right-wing Christian motivations for the changes. Now, according to The New York Times and other news sources, textbooks will be stripped mostly of references to historical Latino figures and are going to be devoid of references to LGBT activists and issues. Additionally, the justification for the removal of a Founding Father from the curriculum was board member Cynthia Noland Dunbar’s misgivings about the idea of separation of church and state, an ideal heavily promoted by Thomas Jefferson.

Student Life’s staff editorials need to have a bit more background if they want to drive home a point. Instead of “condemning the state” of the curriculum revisions without providing supportive evidence, questions like “Who is behind this?” and “What were their motivations?” ought to be addressed. It’s not misrepresenting economists that made the story. It’s not even the removal of Thomas Jefferson from the curriculum, although that’s more on the road to relevance. Instead it’s the insidious religious influences that are creeping into the classrooms that deserve the editorial space. Student Life’s condemnation ought to be focused there, not on the superficial symptoms of the problem.

  • Richard Jesse Markel

    I’m now a forum editor (or was selected to be and soon will be one), ergo I’ll keep on saying what I have to say. Whether it sparks dialogue or sparks fires, I say what I have to say. I’m glad you read my columns even if you disagree with my positions.

  • a student

    Maybe the editorial would have been more successful if it looked like Facebook’s news feed.

    Seriously, though, StudLife’s staff editorials are very frequently bad, but you know something’s really rotten in the state of Denmark when one of the paper’s own writers calls out the editorial staff not in a meeting, but on the same Forum page where the editorials appear. I very rarely agree with Richard’s columns, but I sure hope the editors keep letting him write them after this.

  • AJ Sundar

    I don’t think the staff-ed specifically attacked any points that the bill supported in particular. Rather, the ed was about how Texas basically dictates nationwide textbook policy, and that individuals should be aware of the changes and understand that, for better or worse, it affects the entire nation and should be dealt with accordingly. In fact, reading over the staff-ed again,there was only one portion of a sentence that mentioned changes to economics at all. There were 4 changes implemented that we discussed: different economic theory, a new section in US history on American conservatism, the replacing of the enlightenment ideals with theologians, and the axing of Thomas Jefferson. There were several more points raised as well, but we feel that the ones mentioned were enough to give readers a feel for whether they were for or against the bill – any additional points would only be reinforcing one’s own opinion on the matter.

    All of those points were mentioned in brief in one sentence because those specific changes were not the focus of the staff-ed. The point wasn’t to try and convince people to support or disparage the specific textbook changes – most people will have already made up their minds on that issue – but to come out against how Texas gets a de facto license to use state policy to guide national policy. Ultimately we feel that this is the root of the issue, as if these changes, no matter how absurd, are purely on a Texas state level, then the controversy isn’t nearly as important nor wide-reaching. Thanks for the well-written article, as it does expound upon some of the finer points that we didn’t have time/space to attend to.