MSNBC's Chuck Todd Knocks Texas Conservatives for New Textbooks: 'Education by Wikipedia?'

MSNBC's Chuck Todd on Tuesday attacked new standards being adopted for history textbooks in Texas as "odd" and mocked that the state would now be teaching "education by Wikipedia." Evan Smith of the Texas Tribune appeared as a guest and fretted that the school board includes "a conservative, arch conservative bloc."

Todd recounted the changes being made to the curriculum, including "the idea that our Founding Fathers may not have intended a separation of church and state...how government taxation and regulation can serve as restrictions to private enterprise."

Todd derided the story, saying, "...The more you look into it, the odder it gets." He noted that the rise of the conservatism in the '80s would be highlighted and later marveled, "So, is this, essentially, education by Wikipedia? I mean, because, Wikipedia is...when a majority, it seems, accept what the version of a story that might have happened?" [Audio available here.]

Teasing the segment, the anchor worried that the Lone Star State had "gone too far." Smith, who is the editor in chief of the Texas Tribune, pointed out that a majority of the residents agree with the changes.

He condescended, "So, while it may seem crazy to the outside world, at least in Texas, an awful lot of Texans support this stuff."

On Saturday, ABC's World News scolded Texas, worrying that the state was "rewriting history." NBC's Nightly News saw a "whitewash."

A transcript of the Daily Rundown segment, which aired at 9:34am EDT on May 25, follows:

9:29

CHUCK TODD: Plus, as Texas goes, so goes the rest of the nation, apparently. But, in the case of rewriting history books, has the Lone Star State gone too far? We're going to take a look inside this showdown over textbooks next.

9:34

CHUCK TODD: The curriculum in the Texas public schools just got a major rewrite. Critics say the new, more conservative curriculum is revising history and the revised Texas textbooks could soon be seen, actually, in classrooms all over the country. Evan Smith is the CEO and editor-in-chief of the Texas Tribune. So, I have to ask, Texas is not the largest state in the union. Last time I checked, it was California. So, why is it that what Texas does with its textbooks gets, has a better chance of getting replicated in other schools across the country than what California does?

EVAN SMITH (Texas Tribune, editor in chief): Well, it's a better chance. As you'll see in a second, it's not actually going to happen that way we think. 4.7 million high school students in Texas, and what happens in Texas disproportionately affects the textbook industry, because when they make textbooks for Texas, they want to replicate the work elsewhere. Smaller states don't get their own textbooks. Textbooks makers want those books to go elsewhere. So, what happens in Texas, in theory, ends up getting exported to other states. But, you know, the textbook publishers say that's a myth, that it doesn't happen that way.

TODD: Well, we shall see. I want to look at a few of the vocabulary changes that the state of Texas in this commission is recommending. Number one, the expression of the slave trade would be changed to, quote, "Atlantic triangular trade." Imperialism would be replaced with expansionism in describing America's land acquisition. The U.S. government would be called a constitutional republic rather than a democratic society. And then some concepts that they want to teach. Founding Fathers. The idea that our founding fathers may not have intended a separation of church and state, that the free market principles how government taxation and regulation can serve as restrictions to private enterprise. And textbooks must now include conservative resurgence of the '80s and 90s, the National Rifle Association, the Moral Majority. I'll be honest. I don't remember knowing the political parties of our Presidents until I got to college. I don't remember political parties being taught our presidents going all the way back to George Washington. I couldn't tell you till I got to college whether Thomas Jefferson was a Democrat or not.

SMITH: Right. Sure reads like they're stacking the deck, doesn't it? Seems like politics has gotten in the way.

TODD: It does. And why is this so easily has been changed and why hasn't there been- I've heard these complaints before. I had my own parent would complain. I had a father who would complain that is one way it look at the European this and European that. But this seems to be just basic political stuff.

SMITH: Look, the state board of education is elected by the people of Texas. It's a 15-member body and there's a conservative, arch conservative bloc that doesn't have a majority but controls almost a majority of the votes on that board. And there's no question that politics is at least a little bit at work here. The interesting thing though, Chuck, the Tribune had a poll out today that shows that the majority of Texans actually agree with many of the changes you just named, put in by the state board last week. So, while it may seem crazy to the outside world, at least in Texas, an awful lot of Texans support this stuff.

TODD: So, is this, essentially, education by Wikipedia? I mean, because, Wikipedia is sort of, whatever the accepted, you know, when a majority, it seems, accept what the version of a story that might have happened?

SMITH: It might be education by Conservapedia. I'm not sure that Wikipedia has the same political bent that a lot of these changes do. But, the reality is these changes have been put in for now. You have a lame duck series of members who after January are not going to be on the board and the people replacing talk about reopening this debate. And, of course, the Democratic candidate for governor, should he get elected in a red state is also talking about the possibility of trying to undue these changes.

TODD: And what is Rick Perry saying? Is he saying anything or is he, sort of, sat silent, the current governor?

SMITH: Well, Rick Perry appointed the chair of this board the last time. He's appointed the current chair of this board and he has not come out against the changes. And by all accounts, he supports the changes.

TODD: Bu, we haven't heard him say anything publicly either way?

SMITH: Well, not recently. Not since the vote was taken on Friday.

TODD: Very interesting. All right. Evan Smith with the Texas Tribune. Thanks very much for joining us and shedding light on this odd story that, frankly, the more you look into it, the odder it gets. Thanks very much.

Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock is the senior news analyst for the Media Research Center and a contributing editor for NewsBusters.org