WaPo's Birnbaum Mischaracterizes New Texas Education Standards

Perhaps Washington Post reporter Michael Birnbaum needs to brush up his reading comprehension skills. Either that or his bias is coloring what should be straightforward reporting.

Here's how Birnbaum opened his page A16 article in the May 22 paper:

The Texas state school board gave final approval Friday to controversial social studies standards that minimize the separation of church and state and say that America is not a democracy but a "constitutional republic." 

Really? The second point is ludicrous to describe as "controversial." The U.S. system of government is not direct democracy but a representative republic regulated by a constitution, hence a "constitutional republic."  As to the first allegation in Birnbaum's lead paragraph, this writer did some homework and found the actual text of the newly-approved standard in question, which applies to government courses:

Examine the reasons the Founding Fathers protected religious freedom in America and guaranteed its free exercise by saying that Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, and compare and contrast this to the phrase “separation of church and state.” 

The notion that that standard "minimize[s]" the notion of "separation of church and state" must be read into the text of the actual newly-approved standard, it certainly isn't logically concluded from it.

Later in the article, Birnbaum insisted that "the new standards... draw an equivalency between Jefferson Davis's and Abraham Lincoln's inaugural addresses." Here's the actual language of the newly devised standard:

Analyze Abraham Lincoln’s ideas about liberty, equality, union and government as contained in his first and second inaugural addresses and the Gettysburg Address and contrast them with the ideas contained in Jefferson Davis’s inaugural address.

That standard is for U.S. history classes taught to 8th graders, who are certainly old enough to learn about and critically evaluate the political philosophies undergirding the civilian leadership of both the Union and the Confederacy. 

What's more, although Birnbaum left it out of his story, the Board of Education also passed a new learning standard that called on students in sociology courses to "[e]xplain instances of institutional racism in American society." That hardly sounds like a conservative "whitewashing" of American history to me.

Indeed, for all the heated debate over history standards, the Board approved by a 14-0 vote new standards on the high school economics curriculum. That fact also went unmentioned by Birnbaum, although he noted that "references to capitalism" in the social studies curriculum were "replaced... with the term 'free-enterprise system.'"

So here's your homework assignment, dear reader: What grade would you give Birnbaum were you his editor? Leave your remarks in the comments field.

Ken Shepherd
Ken Shepherd
Ken Shepherd is the Managing Editor for NewsBusters