You must have noticed that the National Education Association, the New York Times, ABC, NBC, CBS, left-wing bloggers, and even the Dallas Morning News went ape in March over the outcome of textbook deliberations in Texas.  It seems that the state board of education, dominated by political and social conservatives, prescribed changes in model curricula developed by a committee of teachers and scholars that is dominated by political and social liberals.

The shock, the raw anger, the outrage over the board’s intervention suggest the deeper question that troubles Texas and, for that matter, the rest of America: To whom do our public schools belong?  The people of Texas have established a school system, and they support it with their tax dollars.  Having paid the bills, do they have the right to say what is taught in their own schools?  Or must they surrender that right to a group of “experts” who are presumed to know more about what children should believe than parents and other ordinary citizens?  That question is complicated by the fact that today we are in the midst of a polarizing “culture war” that makes rational dialogue on many issues all but impossible.

In setting up their unique curricula-adoption system, Texas answers that question.  It has established a committee of experts to construct model curricula for math, history, social studies, and other subjects.  Then the state board—which is elected by the people—reviews each curriculum and may or may not mandate changes.  In effect, the experts have the first crack at the problem, but the elected representatives of the people have the last word.

The March meetings were held to develop guidelines for publishers to follow in preparing textbooks.  In May they will come back with finished products for a final decision by the board.  Texas is the only state that buys books for over 8,300 schools, and when the board submits its order, it writes checks that total an estimated $600 million.  In addition, over the years, Texas-approved materials have been widely adopted by school districts in other states, a fact that has made publishers doubly interested in the Texas adoption process.  The possibility of such megabucks provides a sufficient incentive for their reps to listen carefully to what the board said in March.

Needless to say, the intervention of the board and these brutal economic facts have angered the politically correct crowd, not only because the experts believe the values they promote are uniquely true, but because they believe those who disagree with them are evil.

The left has complained bitterly about the mere mention of conservative activists and groups such as Phyllis Schlafly’s Eagle Forum, Newt Gingrich’s Contract With America, and Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority.  The board’s majority recommended these additions to offset a plethora of references to leaders and organizations of the left.  Agree with them or not, these three conservatives have made an enormous impact on the politics of contemporary America.

The board also mandated the inclusion of Friedrich von Hayek and Milton Friedman, both Nobel laureates in economics.  Hayek and Friedman are known as advocates of a free-market economy.  Before the board’s recommendation, students only learned about Karl Marx, John Maynard Keynes, and Adam Smith.  Again, the board was insisting on balance, something their opponents clearly held in contempt.

Left-leaning board members also wanted to replace the traditional b.c. and a.d. with b.c.e. (Before the Common Era) and c.e. (Common Era).  The majority voted to keep the older abbreviations, perhaps because “Common Era” is a largely meaningless phrase invented by ideologues who regard the intrusion of Jesus into world history as a calamity better ignored.

In the same spirit, the experts had replaced Christmas with Diwali—a Hindu festival celebrating, among other things, the homecoming of Rama.  (The United States is 0.4 percent Hindu.)  The board restored Christmas.

None of these additions or subtractions required experience in the classroom or an esoteric expertise.  It didn’t take an Ed.D. to stack a textbook with “progressive” heroes and heroines any more than it took a 10-5 majority to include a few conservative icons.  All it took in both cases were strongly held opinions.

Of course, with their newly acquired power, the members of the conservative board went beyond the bounds of fair play when they refused to highlight a handful of Mexicans who stood with Bowie and Travis in defense of the Alamo.  One presumes they were just as dead as the white folks when the smoke cleared.

And if, as charged, contemporary artist Santa Barraza was removed from a textbook because one of her paintings featured bare breasts, then the spirit of Savonarola rides the range, since the breasts in her extremely primitive portraits look more like tractor tires than erotica.

Few conservatives want textbooks filled with churchy platitudes.  History is too complex, too exasperatingly human to jump through doctrinal hoops.  But the secularist censorship of the nation’s religious past needs to have its rear end paddled.  That’s what was happening down in Texas.  Let’s hope the paddling doesn’t get out of hand.