AUSTIN, Texas A proposal for a new social studies curriculum in Texas public schools removes a mention of Christmas in a sixth-grade lesson, replacing it with a Hindu religious festival, a change that's riled conservatives who say it's another battle in the "war" against the Christian holiday.
"It's outrageous that the war on Christmas continues in our state and in our nation," said Jonathan Saenz, a lobbyist for the conservative Free Market Foundation. "This effort to mislead students about current society is shameful and must be stopped."
The draft proposal being considered by the State Board of Education won't be formally adopted until next May for the 2011-2012 school year. The standards will remain in place for the next decade, dictating what is taught in government, history and other social studies classes in elementary and secondary schools. The standards also will be used to develop state tests and by textbook publishers who develop material for the nation based on their largest market, Texas.
The standards currently instruct sixth-grade students to be able to explain the significance of religious holidays such as the Christian holidays of Christmas and Easter, the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, and the Jewish holidays of Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah. The proposal, which is set to be debated during a hearing this week, removes the words Christmas and Rosh Hashanah. Diwali, a Hindu festival, is added.
In a note explaining the change, members of a review committee wrote "the examples include the key holiday from each of the five major religions."
David Barton, a Republican activist serving on a team of experts appointed to advise the board, argued in his recommendations that Christmas and Rosh Hashanah should remain in the standards.
"America is not equally divided among these five religions," Barton wrote. Mentioning Christmas and Rosh Hashanah "does not promote either Christianity or Judaism; rather, it simply acknowledges with accuracy the religious culture of America as it actually exists that these holidays have been awarded their place in the culture by the people themselves."
The curriculum does not prohibit teachers from mentioning other cultural or religious holidays in their classrooms. The sixth-grade course is focused on world geography and cultures.
"This is just a cynical attempt to use religion as a weapon to mislead the public and divide Texans over something as important as our children's education," said Kathy Miller, president of the watchdog group Texas Freedom Network, which opposes initiatives pushed by Christian conservatives. "If I were their teacher I would send the Free Market Foundation to detention."