December 1, 2013

In her recent book about the John Birch Society, Claire Conner writes extensively about how important it was to the JBS to challenge textbooks used in public schools. Her story is intensely personal, detailing how painful it was to have to go to school with orders from her parents to challenge teachers on every minute point in her textbooks, and how they made her refuse to complete assignments on topics they didn't agree with.

That was fifty years ago. Meet Don McLeroy, member of the Texas Board of Education, evolution denier, and history rewriter. Washington Monthly has a profile that describes just how radical McLeroy's approach is.

“The secular humanists may argue that we are a secular nation,” McLeroy said, jabbing his finger in the air for emphasis. “But we are a Christian nation founded on Christian principles. The way I evaluate history textbooks is first I see how they cover Christianity and Israel. Then I see how they treat Ronald Reagan—he needs to get credit for saving the world from communism and for the good economy over the last twenty years because he lowered taxes.”

That's right out of the JBS playbook right there. You would think that if Ronald Reagan's policies were so great for everyone, there'd be no need to rewrite history, but alas.

There's more, too:

Views like these are relatively common in East Texas, a region that prides itself on being the buckle of the Bible Belt. But McLeroy is no ordinary citizen. The jovial creationist sits on the Texas State Board of Education, where he is one of the leaders of an activist bloc that holds enormous sway over the body’s decisions. As the state goes through the once-in-a-decade process of rewriting the standards for its textbooks, the faction is using its clout to infuse them with ultraconservative ideals. Among other things, they aim to rehabilitate Joseph McCarthy, bring global-warming denial into science class, and downplay the contributions of the civil rights movement.

Also classic JBS dogma. Call them whatever you want in today's parlance, but they are the spawn of an ultraconservative right-wing group guided by fear, delusion and hate.

McLeroy has heavy backing from one of the major right-wing benefactors in Texas politics: James Leininger. Leininger is one of the primary backers of the Texas Public Policy Foundation. TPPF is part of the State Policy Network, state-based think tanks funded by the Kochs and their billionaire boys network. Leininger's baby is the TPPF, which employs such stellar thinkers as Josh Treviño, the guy who forgot to disclose that he was a paid blogger for the Malaysian government.

As a consequence of that association, one of McLeroy's associates influencing Texas textbooks is a hard-right militia member:

McLeroy has flexed his muscle particularly brazenly in the struggle over social studies standards. When the process began last January, the Texas Education Agency assembled a team to tackle each grade. In the case of eleventh-grade U.S. history, the group was made up of classroom teachers and history professors—that is, until McLeroy added a man named Bill Ames. Ames—a volunteer with the ultra- conservative Eagle Forum and Minuteman militia member who occasionally publishes angry screeds accusing “illegal immigrant aliens” of infesting America with diseases or blasting the “environmentalist agenda to destroy America”—pushed to infuse the standards with his right-wing views and even managed to add a line requiring books to give space to conservative icons, “such as Newt Gingrich, Phyllis Schlafly and the Moral Majority,” without any liberal counterweight. But for the most part, the teachers on the team refused to go along. So Ames put in a call to McLeroy, who demanded to see draft standards for every grade and then handed them over to the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative think tank founded by his benefactor, James Leininger.

This wouldn't be so gawdawful if California were working on its own version of textbooks, because the two largest influencers of public school texts are Texas and California. But California deferred all updates until 2014 because school budgets were already stretched as far as they could go, giving Texas a leg up on the process.

Brace yourselves, then, because it's likely that John Birch influence, including rants against communists, high praise for Ronald Reagan, derision and scorn for all things environmental and science-based, will find its way into textbooks nationwide, which will be the realization of a long-cherished John Birch dream.

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