Jefferson wins! He's back in the textbooks
Fri May 21, 2010 10:37 pm

This "tick-tock" report comes from my colleague Katy Vine, who has been following and writing about the State Board of Education for Texas Monthly.

12:31 – Here we go. Bob Craig makes a motion to add “impact of Enlightenment ideas” back into a standard altered in March to remove references to the Enlightenment and Thomas Jefferson. Craig also asks to strike the Protestant theologian John Calvin (added in March) and restore Thomas Jefferson. Far-right board members pounce.

12:36 – Dunbar rides to the defense of John Calvin, trying desperately to recast him as a political theorist on the order of others mentioned in the standards.

12:39 – Miller defends the absolute necessity of keeping Jefferson in the group of important enlightenment figures, reading comments from SMU history professor Ed Countryman. Board members are taken aback at sudden injection of informed opinion into their debate.

12:42 – It appears the far right faction is set to wave the white flag and allow Jefferson back into this standard. But they are dead set on having Aquinas and Calvin alongside him in this standard.

12:44 – Here is Dunbar’s tortured logic — the definition of Enlightenment necessarily rules out divine, received knowledge in favor of rational knowledge. Ergo, you can’t put political philosophers like Montesquieu and Blackstone in a standard mentioning Enlightenment thinking because they believed knowledge was received from God.

12:50 – Motion fails on a 7-8 vote. Pat Hardy added the eighth vote to the far-right bloc.

12:52 – Mercer immediately follows with a motion to add Thomas Jefferson and James Madison to the same standard. Pat Hardy makes an amendment to strike Madison and keep Jefferson in Mercer’s amendment.

1:04 – Hardy’s amendment to strike Madison passes 8-7. They now return to original motion as amended. It passes without objection. Welcome back, Tommy!

The effort to include Aquinas and Calvin as alongside Jefferson as Enlightenment thinkers is totally nuts. Aquinas lived in the 13th Century, Calvin in the 16th. Both were pre-Enlightenment by several centuries. Aquinas did recognize the importance of natural law, which later became an important part of Enlightenment thinking.

The effort to remove Thomas Jefferson as an Enlightenment thinker was the big mistake of the conservative bloc. They overreached; ordinary Texans who couldn't tell you what the Enlightenment was understood that the attack on Jefferson was an act of hubris by people who were determined to stuff the textbooks with their version of history. Their efforts to tailor history to their personal prejudices brought about the defeat of one conservative board member and the defeat of the handpicked successor to another conservative board member. SBOE chair Gail Lowe could have been a moderating force, but she chose to ally herself with the ultraconservative faction. I expect that the new board that takes office in January will undo many of the actions that the SBOE took today. Lowe never understood that by allowing the attack against Jefferson to go forward, she was sealing the fate of her most outspoken colleagues.

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