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Free enterprise

“Balancing” the past

The Republican majority on the Texas Board of Education has revised the state’s social-studies curriculum so as to make Republicans in history look better, to call “into question, among other things, concepts like the separation of church and state and the secular nature of the American Revolution”, and to ensure that students will learn about “the Moral Majority and the National Rifle Association”. ((Thanks to richard.))

“We are adding balance,” said Dr. Don McLeroy, the leader of the conservative faction on the board, after the vote. “History has already been skewed. Academia is skewed too far to the left.”

History has already been skewed, you see. So it’s only right to skew it back. Indeed, perhaps deliberately skewing it back will restore it to an essentially unskewed state? Or perhaps the argument is that the curriculum has been skewed too far towards the truth, and that needs to be “balanced” with lies. Lies weigh as much as the truth, you know. Sometimes even more!

In economics, the revisions add Milton Friedman and Friedrich von Hayek, two champions of free-market economic theory, among the usual list of economists to be studied, like Adam Smith, Karl Marx and John Maynard Keynes. They also replaced the word “capitalism” throughout their texts with the “free-enterprise system.”

“Let’s face it, capitalism does have a negative connotation,” said one conservative member, Terri Leo. “You know, ‘capitalist pig!’ ”

This is a surprising pre-emptive move, but one can admire the thinking behind the preference for free-enterprise system: after all, everyone loves what is free (except perhaps for free radicals?), and everyone loves the USS Enterprise.

In the field of sociology, another conservative member, Barbara Cargill, won passage of an amendment requiring the teaching of “the importance of personal responsibility for life choices” in a section on teenage suicide, dating violence, sexuality, drug use and eating disorders.

“The topic of sociology tends to blame society for everything,” Ms. Cargill said.

Yes, the clue’s in the name, isn’t it? Sociology blames society for everything, just as criminology blames criminals for everything, virology blames viruses for everything, and geology blames the world for everything?

  1. 1  democracy_grenade  March 25, 2010, 12:38 pm 

    Arse: I considered submitting an MSNBC version of this story for treatment over a week ago. Those plaudits should be mine.

    I think that the use of “free-enterprise” is the most interesting aspect of this story linguistically. I hadn’t heard the quoted comment re: “capitalist pig”, though — that’s a beaut.

    The MSNBC article contains this quotation:

    “Some board members themselves acknowledged this morning that the process for revising curriculum standards in Texas is seriously broken, with politics and personal agendas dominating just about every decision,” said Kathy Miller, president of the Texas Freedom Network, which advocates for religious freedom.

    The reference to “politics… dominating every decision” is fascinating in light of the tendency for conservative commentators to decry vaguely “liberal”/leftist curriculum reform with the charge of “politcal correctness”. In my years of studying History, I’m not sure I’ve ever encountered an “apolitical” reading or narrative, or produced one myself. I’m not sure what an apolitical curriculum would entail. (Or perhaps the emphasis is on “dominating” — some minimal recourse to politics is acceptable, anything above that threshhold is vitiating. Cf. “they are going overboard” in the NYT piece.)

    I much prefer the criticism quoted in the NYT that Republican reformers are “pretend[ing] this is a white America and Hispanics don’t exist.” But perhaps assailments of “political correctness” have made such arguments rather more difficult to express? It’s quicker to go for the headshot by excoriating one’s opponents for “playing politics”.

    Or perhaps the argument is that the curriculum has been skewed too far towards the truth, and that needs to be “balanced” with lies.

    A lot of this is about exclusion and/or relative emphasis, though, isn’t it? Rather than just, like, advocating the teaching of falsehoods. If the Republican faction wished to teach children that all prominent Mexican-Americans throughout history have been secret Islamo-Commu-Fascist double-agents, then that would (hopefully) be relatively easy to shout down. Refusing to give any substantive treatment to Latino Americans (just to continue with this example) is subtler, and harder to deal with: it’s difficult to establish objective criteria to determine an event or person’s significance. And even harder to make statements about what is(n’t) significant without entering the popularly unpopular realm of “the political” — a realm which, in much popular discourse, seems unfortunately to be populated entirely with “liberals”.

  2. 2  richard  March 25, 2010, 3:08 pm 

    I think Cargill’s on to something cleverly stupid with this “topic of sociology” business, though.
    Oh, dammit. Here.

  3. 3  Tom Cruise  March 26, 2010, 11:49 am 

    ‘Capitalist’ is a bit foggy, though, isn’t it? It is quite hard to find two people who mean the same thing by it. For some people it just means ‘anything to do with markets’ and for many more it just means ‘anyone in politics I disagree with (the SWP version)’. Mind you, something similar could be said these days for ‘socialist’.

  4. 4  richard  March 26, 2010, 3:28 pm 

    In the US, “socialist” is a thoughtform.

  5. 5  femt  April 11, 2010, 9:35 pm 

    Agh – what’s happened – I miss your posts – you’d become one of my few mustfeeds

  6. 6  Sam F  April 13, 2010, 5:20 am 

    Seconded. I recommended this blog to several friends but it seems to have gone into hibernation just as I passed on the good news. More, please, and soon…

  7. 7  Alex Higgins  April 13, 2010, 10:37 am 

    @femt, Sam F

    This happens from time to time as Steven gets up to other things… like writing books with secret titles etc.

    Maybe a return soon from the UnUnspeaker?

  8. 8  Colin Danby  April 15, 2010, 2:10 am 

    “Capitalist” has a precise meaning from political economy: a capitalist firm is a firm in which the owners of the capital get the profits (or absorb losses), and workers are paid a wage. This also lets us distinguish between production and exchange: a capitalist firm is a way to make stuff; a market is a way to allocate stuff.

    This is Smith and Ricardo as much as Marx, and shouldn’t have any political or ethical judgment implied. I’ve found, though many undergrads think “capitalist” means “greedy and opportunist;” some believe it is etymologically derived from “capitalize on” meaning “to take advantage of.”

    “Free-enterprise system” is the really vague term, though — it has no precise use in any economic analysis I can think of, and its use is a pretty clear signal that you’re getting a political harangue.

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