Texas Board of Education Using Curriculum Standards To Rewrite History and Eliminate First Amendment Rights

The Texas Board of Education has been trying to rewrite history and spread right wing views with their proposed curriculum standards. This extends even beyond the expected attacks on science from the right. As the right wing opposes separation of church and state they are using their guidelines to rewrite history, including ignoring  the writings of the founding fathers regarding the meaning of the First Amendment, along with rewriting history in several other areas:

New changes a Texas State Board of Education member wants to make to proposed curriculum standards represent a stunning rewrite of American history on issues ranging from religious freedom to civil rights and would politicize public school classrooms, the president of the Texas Freedom Network said today.

“Even at the eleventh hour, board members are trying to rewrite history and promote political agendas in our kids’ classrooms,” TFN President Kathy Miller said. “The education of our schoolchildren should be based on the work of academic experts and scholars, not the political biases and fringe ideas of dentists, realtors and other politicians on the state board.”

Don McLeroy, a Republican board member from College Station, has circulated to board colleagues changes he plans to recommend next week when the board resumes debate over proposed new curriculum standards for social studies. Among the changes McLeroy wants to make:

· Add a standard to the eighth-grade U.S. history course that maintains separation of church and state was not the intent of the Founders who drafted the Constitution and Bill of Rights: “Contrast the Founders’ intent relative to the wording of the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause and Free Exercise Clause, with the popular term ‘Separation of church and state.’”

· Strike from a standard in the high school U.S. history course a 1948 court decision, Delgado v. Bastrop ISD, that barred segregation of students of Mexican descent in Texas public schools. McLeroy proposes replacing that decision with 2009 Supreme Court employment discrimination decision involving white firefighters in Connecticut (Ricci v. DeStefano) and a 2005 decision dealing with the government’s powers of eminent domain (Kelo v. City of New London).

· Change a high school U.S. history standard to downplay the positive impact of Progressive Era reforms and suggest that the work of the era’s reformers like Upton Sinclair, Susan B. Anthony, Ida B. Wells and W.E.B. DuBois created a negative portrayal of America.

· Add a standard to high school U.S. history requiring students to “evaluate efforts by global organizations to undermine U.S. sovereignty.”

· Add a standard to high school U.S. history having students “discuss alternatives regarding long term entitlements such as Social Security and Medicare, given the decreasing worker to retiree ratio.”

George Orwell couldn’t have described a more scary scenario in 1984.

Further Evidence Of The Insanity Dominating The Republican Party

Bradley Byrne is running for the Republican nomination for governor in Alabama but is not conservative enough for those responsible for the above attack ad. Byrne is being attacked and even mocked for supporting teaching evolution in the schools and for saying “there are parts of the Bible that are meant to be literally true and parts that are not.”

Byrne is being attacked for views which would be rather sane coming from a Republican. Rather than defending such views Byrne insists he is as big a kook as those attacking him:

As a Christian and as a public servant, I have never wavered in my belief that this world and everything in it is a masterpiece created by the hands of God. As a member of the Alabama Board of Education, the record clearly shows that I fought to ensure the teaching of creationism in our school textbooks. Those who attack me have distorted, twisted and misrepresented my comments and are spewing utter lies to the people of this state.

Obama Gives Another Excellent Speech, Providing Far Right Another Opportunity To Distort

Barack Obama gave another excellent commencement speech following his recent speech at The University of Michigan, this time at Hampton University in Virginia. Of course to read the coverage from the right wing media and blogs one would get a totally different take on what he said–which ironically is one of the messages of his speech. For an example, compare the reporting at Pajamas Media (along with their off the wall description of liberalism) to the actual text of Obama’s speech (under the fold).

Similar distortions are present on multiple conservative blogs. Once again the danger to democracy from the distortion and manipulation of information by extremist forces can be seen by simply comparing what someone has said to how their words are twisted by the right wing noise machine.

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Barack Obama To Give Commencement Speech At Kalamazoo Central High

Michigan did not get to see very much of Barack Obama during the 2008 campaign. Obama did not compete in the Michigan primary due to Michigan moving up the primary date in violation of party rules. John McCain conceded Michigan during the presidential campaign over the protests of Sarah Palin. Now Michigan is getting more of a chance to see Obama in person during commencement season.

Barack Obama already spoke at the University of Michigan commencement. The White House has also had a competition to have Obama speak at a high school commencement. Kalamazoo Central has won and Barack Obama will be the commencement speaker on June 10.

Other top ranking Obama administration members will be speaking at the schools which were finalists. Will Joe Biden be the booby prize for the losing school?

POTUS In The Big House: Barack Obama Commencement Speaker at The University of Michigan

Hope and change were two big themes at the University of Michigan 2010 commencement in Ann Arbor Saturday morning as President Barack Obama gave the commencement speech. Several of those speaking prior to Obama discussed hope and change, relating it to both national policy and the changes in the University of Michigan football program in recent years.

Governor Jennifer Granholm thanked Obama for supporting the auto industry and other measures to help the economy recover. She also thanked Obama for delivering on many promises such as health care, along with thanking him for coming to Michigan rather than that school to the south.

Prior to speaking, President Obama was awarded an honorary Doctor of Law degree. Obama began by saying “Go Blue” as he admitted he was going for the “cheap applause line to start things off.” He discussed letters he reads to remain in touch with the world outside of Washington, including ones from children:

But it was the last question in the letter that gave me pause. The student asked, “Are people being nice?”

Well, if you turn on the news today – particularly one of the cable channels – you can see why even a kindergartener would ask this question. We’ve got politicians calling each other all sorts of unflattering names. Pundits and talking heads shout at each other. The media tends to play up every hint of conflict, because it makes for a sexier story – which means anyone interested in getting coverage feels compelled to make the most outrageous comments.

He noted that this is nothing new with political conflict being common through our history. Obama cited accomplishments of previous presidents of both parties, and those who opposed them, along with the proper role of government:

Of course, there have always been those who’ve opposed such efforts. They argue that government intervention is usually inefficient; that it restricts individual freedom and dampens individual initiative. And in certain instances, that’s been true. For many years, we had a welfare system that too often discouraged people from taking responsibility for their own upward mobility. At times, we’ve neglected the role that parents, rather than government, can play in cultivating a child’s education. Sometimes regulation fails, and sometimes its benefits do not justify its costs.

But what troubles me is when I hear people say that all of government is inherently bad. One of my favorite signs from the health care debate was one that read “Keep Government Out Of My Medicare,” which is essentially like saying “Keep Government Out Of My Government-Run Health Care.” For when our government is spoken of as some menacing, threatening foreign entity, it conveniently ignores the fact in our democracy, government is us. We, the people, hold in our hands the power to choose our leaders, change our laws, and shape our own destiny.

Government is the police officers who are here protecting us and the service men and women who are defending us abroad. Government is the roads you drove in on and the speed limits that kept you safe. Government is what ensures that mines adhere to safety standards and that oil spills are cleaned up by the companies that caused them. Government is this extraordinary public university – a place that is doing life-saving research, catalyzing economic growth, and graduating students who will change the world around them in ways big and small.

The truth is, the debate we’ve had for decades between more government and less government doesn’t really fit the times in which we live. We know that too much government can stifle competition, deprive us of choice, and burden us with debt. But we’ve also seen clearly the dangers of too little government – like when a lack of accountability on Wall Street nearly led to the collapse of our entire economy.

So what we should be asking is not whether we need a “big government” or a “small government,” but how we can create a smarter, better government. In an era of iPods and Tivo, where we have more choices than ever before, government shouldn’t try to dictate your lives. But it should give you the tools you need to succeed. Our government shouldn’t try to guarantee results, but it should guarantee a shot at opportunity for every American who’s willing to work hard.

Obama discussed the lack of civility and some of the more extreme and absurd attacks:

But we cannot expect to solve our problems if all we do is tear each other down. You can disagree with a certain policy without demonizing the person who espouses it. You can question someone’s views and their judgment without questioning their motives or their patriotism. Throwing around phrases like “socialist” and “Soviet-style takeover;” “fascist” and “right-wing nut” may grab headlines, but it also has the effect of comparing our government, or our political opponents, to authoritarian, and even murderous regimes.

Again, we have seen this kind of politics in the past. It’s been practiced by both fringes of the ideological spectrum, by the left and the right, since our nation’s birth.

The problem with it is not the hurt feelings or the bruised egos of the public officials who are criticized.

The problem is that this kind of vilification and over-the-top rhetoric closes the door to the possibility of compromise. It undermines democratic deliberation. It prevents learning – since after all, why should we listen to a “fascist” or “socialist” or “right wing nut?” It makes it nearly impossible for people who have legitimate but bridgeable differences to sit down at the same table and hash things out. It robs us of a rational and serious debate that we need to have about the very real and very big challenges facing this nation. It coarsens our culture, and at its worst, it can send signals to the most extreme elements of our society that perhaps violence is a justifiable response.

Obama talked about how the echo chamber can lead to greater polarization, advising people to pay attention to sources with other views. For example, he advised fans of Glenn Beck or Rush Limbaugh to read The Huffington Post, and those who read The New York Times to read The Wall Street Journal, even if it makes their blood boil.

Today’s twenty-four seven echo chamber amplifies the most inflammatory soundbites louder and faster than ever before. It has also, however, given us unprecedented choice. Whereas most of America used to get their news from the same three networks over dinner or a few influential papers on Sunday morning, we now have the option to get our information from any number of blogs or websites or cable news shows.

This development can be both good and bad for democracy. For if we choose only to expose ourselves to opinions and viewpoints that are in line with our own, studies suggest that we will become more polarized and set in our ways. And that will only reinforce and even deepen the political divides in this country. But if we choose to actively seek out information that challenges our assumptions and our beliefs, perhaps we can begin to understand where the people who disagree with us are coming from.

This of course requires that we all agree on a certain set of facts to debate from, and that is why we need a vibrant and thriving news business that is separate from opinion makers and talking heads. As Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan famously said, “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.”

Still, if you’re someone who only reads the editorial page of The New York Times, try glancing at the page of The Wall Street Journal once in awhile. If you’re a fan of Glenn Beck or Rush Limbaugh, try reading a few columns on the Huffington Post website. It may make your blood boil; your mind may not often be changed. But the practice of listening to opposing views is essential for effective citizenship.

Obama encouraged the graduating students to be involved in public life. He cited John F. Kennedy speaking in Ann Arbor fifty years ago describing “the ideals behind what would become the Peace Corps.”

Before the conclusion of the commencement ceremony, Barack Obama was called upon again. In his role of Commander in Chief, President Obama swore in the members of the ROTC.

Videos of the speech are available here and here.  The full text is available here.

Go Blue!

The Holocaust Was Not Rated G

There is a protest against the local high school for showing Schindler’s List as part of the state’s requirement to include  the Holocaust in the American History class, which is taught in tenth grade locally:

A winner of seven Academy Awards recently shown in a sophomore history class has struck a nerve with one Grand Haven High School parent.

Last week, sophomores in 20th Century History classes at GHHS watched “Schindler’s List” over the course of three days. The R-rated movie depicts Oskar Schindler’s portrayal of how he first used Jews to start a factory in Poland during World War II, but discovered the horrors they were subjected to under the Nazi regime and begins to save them. It includes scenes with full frontal nudity of men and women, violence, adult intimacy, and profanity.

The mother of a student who lodged the protest is concerned about the language, apparently oblivious to the language which high school students are already exposed to on a daily basis:

As a parent, DeWitt questions why the school’s student code of conduct, which does not allow harassment or profanity on the premises, is not adhered to during the classroom viewing of an R-rated movie.

“If my son were to stand in the hallway and yell profanities, there would be disciplinary action,” DeWitt said. “… Yet they can sit in a classroom for 70 minutes hearing words that the school does not condone. … We don’t use that language at home and we don’t use that language at Grand Haven High School.”

While the intimate adult scenes in “Schindler’s List” were edited out for the classroom viewing, Evink argued that editing out the film’s violence and profanity would alter the historical and tragic lesson that is the Holocaust. She said showing the film in an educational setting provides students with the opportunity to raise questions and discuss their feelings about the film among their peers, as well as discuss how the message relates in today’s society.

This all started with former Republican Governor John Engler. The school district continued making an exception for this R-rated movie with a policy which certainly makes sense:

When “Schindler’s List” debuted in movie theaters nationwide in 1993, Gov. John Engler provided grant money to allow GHHS teachers to take their 10th-grade history students to watch the film at a nearby movie theater, school officials said. The movie has since been shown in the American history class every year, GHHS Principal Scott Grimes said.

While the school district has a policy to not allow R-rated movies be shown in classrooms, films deemed to have an extraordinary educational value are allowed.

“It is our practice to now allow R-rated movies in classrooms,” GHAPS Superintendent Keith Konarska said. “In the case of ‘Schindler’s List,’ an exception has been made because of the tremendous educational value it brings to the classroom. I believe it allows students a better understanding and feeling for what occurred during the Holocaust than what a textbook could.”

When we have a G-rated holocaust we can limit instruction to G-rated shows from the History Channel. Otherwise we should consider movies based upon their educational value, not based upon whether they tone down the language.

Big Brother Is Watching You–Check Out the Webcam

Remember reading in George Orwell’s classic 1984 how television might be watching you? In reality televisions have not been adapted in such a manner but this is not needed with webcams. BoingBoing reports on how a school used webcams to spy on students in their own home:

According to the filings in Blake J Robbins v Lower Merion School District (PA) et al, the laptops issued to high-school students in the well-heeled Philly suburb have webcams that can be covertly activated by the schools’ administrators, who have used this facility to spy on students and even their families. The issue came to light when the Robbins’s child was disciplined for “improper behavior in his home” and the Vice Principal used a photo taken by the webcam as evidence. The suit is a class action, brought on behalf of all students issued with these machines.

If true, these allegations are about as creepy as they come. I don’t know about you, but I often have the laptop in the room while I’m getting dressed, having private discussions with my family, and so on. The idea that a school district would not only spy on its students’ clickstreams and emails (bad enough), but also use these machines as AV bugs is purely horrifying.

What is amazing, beyond the invasion of privacy, is that the school officials apparently did not even think they were doing anything wrong as they demonstrated their actions in using the webcam pictures as evidence.

President Barack Obama To Deliver Spring Commencement Address At University Of Michigan

From Michigan Today:

President Barack Obama will deliver the spring 2010 commencement address at the University of Michigan, President Mary Sue Coleman announced today. The ceremony will be held on May 1 in Michigan Stadium. Obama will receive an Honorary Doctor of Laws Degree, and he will be the fourth sitting president to visit U-M in Ann Arbor, following George H.W. Bush, Gerald R. Ford and Lyndon B. Johnson; former president Bill Clinton spoke at the 2007 commencement.

Go Blue!

Republicans Believe The Darndest Things

The Daily Kos/Research 2000 poll of self-identified Republicans which I mentioned yesterday is now officially out. Among the low-lights, a plurality believe Obama should be impeached. A majority believe Obama is a socialist, gays should not be allowed to teach or receive government benefits, oppose teaching sex-education in the public schools, believe schools should teach “that the book of Genesis in the Bible explains how God created the world,” and that abortion is murder. There are also significant numbers who either believe or are unsure about a number of other absurdities.

Random Thoughts (Today’s Facebook Status Updates)

Old conventional wisdom from the right: “Everything was Clinton’s fault.” New conventional wisdom from the right: “Everything is Obama’s fault.” As for Bush, ignore the crashed economy and “We did not have a terrorist attack on our country during President Bush’s term.”

Every authoritarian movement has its propaganda organ. Orwell had the Ministry of Information. The USSR had Pravda. The Republican Party has Fox News.

Republicans once again try to blame Democrats for problems they created. New right wing talking point is that 2011 budget shows Obama is a bigger spender than Bush. They ignore the facts that Obama’s budget is honest while Bush fought two wars off the books, has to pay for unfunded programs started by Bush,has to pay t…he interest on Bush’s deficit, and has to cope with the Bush recession.