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 Modifying a curriculum to make it only two decades out of date instead of seven isn’t the problem.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.

Sign up for the email edition

Stay up to date with everything happening as Washington University returns to campus.