You’ve Got (Stupid) Mail!: Texas School District Debunks Religious Right Curriculum Claims

Religious Right blowhards love to spread wild stories about things that are supposedly being taught in public schools.

If you’re like me, your email inbox often contains items of a questionable nature. Despite spam filters, I still get the occasional message from a Nigerian government official offering me millions or notice that I’ve won a European lottery that I never entered.

But as far as I’m concerned, chain emails of a political nature are the worst: Here’s proof President Barack Obama’s birth certificate is a fake! Join this plan to bombard the ACLU with Christmas cards! Mitt Romney can still be president if one-third of the states refuse to cast ballots in the Electoral College!

Who takes this junk seriously?

Apparently some members of the school board in Irving, Texas, do.

Tea Party cranks have been circulating an email all over the state accusing Texas public schools of using a curriculum called CSCOPE that is supposedly anti-Christian and biased toward Islam. Allegedly, the curriculum states that the Boston Tea Party was a terrorist act.

CSCOPE does exist. It’s a comprehensive curriculum focusing on four core content areas that align with Texas education standards. Many schools in Texas use it.

The Irving Independent School District is one of them. Officials at the Irving schools received a copy of the email and got in touch with Region 10 Education Service Center, the firm that administers CSCOPE. Region 10 assured the officials at Irving ISD that there was nothing to the charges.

That wasn’t good enough for some members of the Irving School Board. One trustee, Steven Jones, insisted that someone from Region 10 appear before the board and address the issue in person.

The Dallas Morning News reports what happened next: Jan Moberly, Region 10’s director of instruction, told the board that she got so tired of seeing the email that she hired a “very socially and fiscally conservative” former social studies teacher who “watches Glenn Beck on a regular basis” to examine the curriculum and write a report on it.

“I asked her to look for anything she would consider the least bit controversial,” Moberly told members of the board. As the Morning News put it, that involved “reading through every textbook and cross referencing each religious reference with the CSCOPE guidelines.”

The result was a 72-page document listing every religious reference in the CSCOPE curriculum, which covers all grades from kindergarten to high school.

What did that Glenn Beck-loving social studies teacher find? Well, it turns out that Christianity got twice as much attention in the curriculum as any other religion. (Surprise!)

Islam was a distant second – but many of the references were not positive. In fact, the social studies teacher noted that if there was any bias in CSCOPE it was “bias against radical Islam.”

And that claim about the Boston Tea Party? It’s nowhere in the current version of the curriculum. An old lesson did contain this reference, but there’s more to the story. The idea was to help students understand how the British might have viewed the event, the point being that two factions might look at the same occurrence and interpret it in radically different ways.

Religious Right blowhards love to spread wild stories about things that are supposedly being taught in public schools. I recall writing a story back in the 1990s about a curriculum in a North Carolina community that was heavily focused on the humanities.

An exceedingly dense fundamentalist minister was too dim to understand the difference between the humanities and humanism and stirred up all manner of fuss. The school district retained the curriculum, but it had to spend a lot of time and money responding to baseless attacks.

As a public school parent, I support everyone’s right to know what’s going on in those classrooms and to expect transparency. If your children attend public schools, you’d be foolish not to be familiar with the curriculum.

So by all means, speak up. But get your facts right first, or you’ll end up looking silly. The Religious Right needs to learn that its assertions might carry more weight if they were anchored in reality instead of folkloric chain emails.