Moses, Texas, and Social Outrage

Yesterday, I saw a post on Facebook in the form of a blog entry which claims Texas has voted to list Moses among the Founding Fathers in their new educational standards. I have learned to be skeptical of sensational blog posts, especially if I’m moved to immediate outrage by it’s headline, so I went looking for an actual source. I found one on NPR which shows a vote on Texas education standards did take place last Fall, right about the time the blog post was first written. Unfortunately, the blog post sensationalized the content of the actual vote. This actually serves to undermine it’s critique of the real problems which were included in the standards.

No, Moses was not suddenly included among the Founding Fathers in Texas’ education curriculum 1. On the other hand, Moses is listed among the key influences of the Founding Fathers.

Generally speaking, I suppose you could make a case for inferring Moses must have been an influence upon the Founders. After all, even though very few of the Founders believed in anything approaching Orthodox Christianity, these were by and large religious people – and their religious background would have been nominally Christian.

From a historian’s standpoint, however, stretching history to say Moses was a key influence is troubling at best. Moses really doesn’t play into the actual writings of the founders – he is neither cited in their letters nor brought up in the record of debates as far as I can tell. His absence does seem odd, now that I think of it, given the way the founding debate revolved around the desire to escape tyranny. A frequent ploy, and special favorite of Patrick Henry, was the threat of slavery to England should the war be lost 2. The point is, despite the obvious opportunities for Moses to be tied to the American plight, he doesn’t seem to have been drafted. “God” and “Providence” we’re certainly employed in the Patriot cause, Moses was excused.

So, I guess the vote back in November was a “victory” for conservative Christians. Being as it’s based on a reading of history which is stretched so far as to be considered a lie, though, I don’t consider it a victory for either Christianity or education. Equally at fault, however, is the blog which is first linked on this page. It brilliantly paints who the bad guys are, but only by twisting the truth in a way reminiscent of how Moses ends up in a list of key influencers in the first place. It rallies the troops around a lie, when there are plenty of legitimate problems with the standards 3.

The point is, I really don’t care if you are conservative or liberal, when you see an incredible statement in any forum do some actual research before you type in a snarky reply or forward the link on. If you do, you may actually be able to contribute something valuable to our public discourse. Something other than the shriek of outrage.

  1. Though, I admit it’s a catchy blog headline. 
  2. Given the percentage of enslaved people in the Colonies at the outbreak of hostilities, to say the Founders had a blind-spot at this point of their rhetoric is a fantastic understatement. 
  3. Moses as a key influence is only the tip of the iceberg. Climate change receives some dubious treatment, and slavery is downplayed as a key cause of the Civil War (to be honest, at this point both the folks who want to downplay it and those who want to make it the cause are wrong. Slavery was a huge issue, and became the main right many of the confederate states felt they were fighting for was slavery, but it wasn’t the only issue. The sentiment was also more prevalent sentiment in the deep South. Virginia, for example, had been toying with various emancipation proposals before the raid on Harper’s Ferry).