Last night I attended a talk put on by the Columbia Chapter of Americans United for Separation of Church and State at the Multnomah Arts Center in Portland. The speaker was Steven K. Green, of Willamette University in Salem. An historian and professor of law, Green is the Director of the Center for Religion, Law & Democracy and author of The Second Disestablishment: Church and State in Nineteenth-Century America. His talk addressed the textbook issue in Texas:
The battle in Texas over social studies textbooks has been so fierce it has gained national attention. The majority on the Texas Board of Education questions the concept of the separation of church and state and is making numerous changes to the textbooks to reflect this view. Texas is such a large purchaser of textbooks that it influences textbooks across the nation. Professor Green, who has both a PhD in American History and a law degree, recently went to Texas to testify at the Texas Board of Education hearings. He will share his perspective on this important issue with us.
It was interesting to hear about this issue – the “simplifying & sanitizing of our history” – from someone involved, from someone who has argued with dentist-turned-head-of-board-of-education Don McLeroy (at least he is now no longer part of it, although still pushing his revisionist agenda). It was interesting to hear about largely creationist tactics being employed, like the quote-mining of significant American figures in history, making their statements sound as if they advocated for a “Christian nation” (Green had another term for this, not quote-mining, but I can’t recall what it was). One question that came up was whether or not, in this digital age and access to information online and e-books, the decisions in Texas would really affect all that much what goes on in other states regarding textbooks.
Today there is a rally in Austin, TX, “Don’t White Out Our History,” against the changes being made to the curricula standards. If you know anyone near there, let them know.
One benefit to me moving to Portland is that I can enter into established freethinking/skeptic/humanist/secular communities, many of which are easy to stay informed about through Meetup.com. In Bozeman, despite the history of science-minded students, paleontology students, and others who despised pseudoscience, a community was lacking. Paleo students began a skeptic group, but nothing happened with it besides hosting a lecture by Kevin Padian about intelligent design (and I was out of the state at the time). Other Bozemanites have recently revived a freethinker group, but I was too busy in my last semester at MSU to get involved with meetups or film showings.
So, Portland, thank you.