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CULTURE DIGEST: Social studies standards under review in TX; TN OKs Bible course; …

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–The Texas Board of Education, with its considerable conservative bloc, is set to address social studies standards in March, possibly meaning the rest of the nation’s public schools could teach more about the influence of Christianity on the nation’s history.

As The New York Times Magazine noted in an extensive article recently, Texas has been influential in the textbook market because the state buys or distributes 48 million books annually, and textbook publishers cater to the specifics set by the board.

Last year the 15-member board of education drew criticism when it dealt with science standards because some board members wanted to require teachers to cover “strengths and weaknesses” of the theory of evolution. The conservatives were one vote short of that goal, but The Times said the finished document “nonetheless allows inroads to creationism.”

Next the board will take up the adoption of new social studies standards for the state’s public schools — guidelines that could affect students around the country from kindergarten to 12th grade for the next 10 years.

Don McLeroy is a Republican board member who was the chairman until Senate Democrats blocked his confirmation by citing religious interference, and he is pushing for students to study Christian religious influences on the Founding Fathers as well as the history of conservative groups from the 1980s and 1990s.

Other board members want textbooks to include religious revivals among the major events leading up to the American Revolution. Already they’ve approved less controversial changes such as adding the study of more Hispanic figures to the elementary curriculum and requiring that fifth-graders learn the capitals of all 50 states.

But it’s the standards involving Christianity that threatened three conservatives’ seats on the board beginning with the state’s primary elections March 2, including McLeroy’s.

While the conservatives have been accused of attempting to revise history, they say they’re trying to free it from liberals who influenced the reporting of history for too long.

“Remember Superman?” McLeroy asked a Washington Monthly reporter. “The never-ending battle for truth, justice and the American way? Well, that fight is still going on. There are people out there who want to replace truth with political correctness. Instead of the American way they want multiculturalism. We plan to fight back — and, when it comes to textbooks, we have the power to do it.”

TENNESSEE APPROVES BIBLE COURSE — The Tennessee Board of Education in late January approved guidelines on how to teach the Bible in public high schools, enabling students to “acquire an understanding and appreciation of the Bible’s major ideas, historical/geographical contexts and literary forms.”

The move in Late January came in response to legislation passed in 2008 supporting the adoption of state curriculum standards for teaching about the Bible at the high school level.

Students who choose the elective class will be allowed to use the biblical translation of their choice as a text, and they will study the Bible in its historical, sociological and cultural contexts as well as its impact on later cultures, societies and religions.

Teachers, the guidelines say, must be “cognizant of student rights to their personal views,” and all lessons should be planned “with attention to helping students develop a greater sense of their civic roles as responsible citizens.”

Students will analyze biblical narratives, read biblical poetry, identify diverse interpretations of biblical texts, describe ways the Bible has impacted literature, art, music and thought, and demonstrate knowledge of historical, geographical, social and cultural contexts of biblical literature in the ancient world. They also could be asked, according to the guidelines, to discuss Abraham Lincoln’s use of the Bible or Martin Luther King’s use of biblical imagery.

The Tennessean newspaper in Nashville noted Jan. 29 that some school districts for years have offered courses on the Bible using their own standards. The board of education, though, did not specify whether such districts could continue to use their own or whether they would be asked to convert to the state’s curriculum.

“We think we’ve gotten this curriculum written to meet all guidelines that would uphold court challenges,” Brenda Ables, a social studies specialist who served on the committee, told The Tennessean. “Those schools who had their own curriculum and were already teaching it will continue to do so until somebody tells them they can’t.”

Kent Richards, an Emory University professor who worked with the committee, said now the state must focus on properly training educators to implement the course.

“One of the important things is that teachers are teaching the Bible and not professing some religion or professing that the Bible is the only road to take,” Richards said. “That’s what every school and every attorney is concerned about, not crossing that line.”

AFA LIFTS PEPSICO BOYCOTT — The American Family Association has lifted its boycott of PepsiCo after monitoring the company for several months and finding that donations to the Human Rights Campaign and Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays were not repeated in 2009.

AFA launched the boycott last year after PepsiCo made $500,000 donations to the two gay activist groups, but now the pro-family organization says it is satisfied that the company has withdrawn its major financial contribution to such groups. More than 500,000 people signed AFA’s Boycott PepsiCo Pledge, the organization said.

“Although a few minor issues remain, AFA will continue to monitor PepsiCo,” Tim Wildmon, AFA’s president, said in a letter to supporters Feb. 12. “We feel we have made our point. Boycotts have been a last resort for us at AFA, and the PepsiCo boycott was started to address issues of concern to us — especially the promotion of the homosexual agenda in the culture.

“… AFA will continue to challenge major U.S. companies to remain neutral in the culture wars rather than to use their resources to promote controversial issues,” Wildmon said.
Erin Roach is a staff writer for Baptist Press.

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