CSCOPE Blues: Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Curriculum

**Warning: This post contains selections from textbooks that include potentially offensive language.**

Just when conservative Texans thought it was safe to go back to their public schools, they are told that a new curriculum will pervert their children’s values.

The culprit this time is CSCOPE, a curriculum “management system” designed in 2005-2006 and currently used in many Texas school districts.  The goal of the system was to streamline curricular decisions and align classroom teaching with state tests.

Recently, the curriculum has come under conservative fire.  Conservatives in Texas accuse the system of being President Obama’s plan to teach “our children how wonderful socialism is and that communism is even better.”  Nationally, pundits such as Glenn Beck have blasted the teaching system as a smear campaign against the nation’s founders.  The liberal Texas Freedom Network has publicized local attack ads that have accused CSCOPE of delivering “Communist, Marxist, Progressive, Leftist Dogma, Propaganda, and Indoctrination at the expense of taxpayers!”


Source: TFN Insider

The Texas Freedom Network complains that such accusations veer dangerously into the “bizarre” and “paranoid.”  TFN writers point out that many Christian schools in Texas have adopted CSCOPE.  The curriculum system, the TFN argues reasonably, has long been used without a whisper of protest, even in conservative private schools.

Unfortunately for liberals like me and the TFN crew, animosity against CSCOPE is about more than just one set of classroom lessons.  This conservative crusade is about more than just CSCOPE, but involves a long and intractable history of suspicion against curricular systems in general.  Throughout modern American history, conservatives have worried—often with a great deal of justification—that curriculum systems hoped to do more than educate children.  In many cases, curricula have hoped to inject dramatic cultural change into America’s schools.

Many of the accusations, like the newspaper ad from Marble Falls and Burnet, seem outlandish and irrelevant.  But such sentiments often reflect the rightward edge of a widely held notion that school culture seeks to pervert the morals of the young.  In those cases, reasonable protests like that of the Texas Freedom Network do not make much of an impact.  Once a curriculum has become an object of conservative ire, the issue has grown beyond the details of any specific school lessons.  It has become a fight over the cultural control of American schools.

We saw this same dynamic in the 1970s.  When the school district of Kanawha County, West Virginia considered a new set of textbooks, wild rumors spread about the content of those books.  In some cases, distributed fliers included materials that were not in the books under consideration.  One flyer included instructions on the use of condoms from Sol Gordon’s Facts about Sex for Today’s Youth (1973).  In that book—again, not part of the series under consideration—Gordon explained sexual ideas in a frank manner.  The circulated flyer included excerpts meant to highlight this frankness.  “Some ‘street’ words for vagina,” Gordon wrote,

Are ‘box,’ ‘snatch,’ ‘cunt,’ ‘hole,’ ‘pussy.’  It is not polite to say any of these expressions.  However, since they are sometimes used, there is no need to be embarrassed by not knowing what they mean.

Many parents in Kanawha County objected to this sort of language.  The fact—as many liberals protested at the time—the fact that such language did not appear in any of the new textbooks did not change the political discussion.  Conservative parents objected as much to the tendency of school books in general as to the content of any specific books.  As conservative leader Elmer Fike wrote at the time of the controversy, “You don’t have to read the textbooks.  If you’ve read anything that the radicals have been putting out in the last few years, that was what was in the textbooks.”

This sense that textbooks and school curricula might set out deliberately to change the morals of young people has a longer history, too.  The source of the cultural danger may have shifted, but at the start of the Cold War conservatives fretted about the threat from subversive communism in school books.  One pamphlet from 1949 Chicago asked, “How Red is the Little Red Schoolhouse?”

Cover imageA decade earlier, Harold Rugg had to defend his popular textbook series from charges of socialist, collectivist subversion.  As Rugg complained, many of his critics had never read the books themselves.  Conservatives, Rugg charged, would say, “I haven’t read the books, but—I have heard of the author, and no good about him” (Rugg, That Men May Understand, 1941, pg. 13).

Seventy-plus years later, Rugg’s books do not seem particularly subversive.  But just as CSCOPE’s critics bundle every anti-American rumor into the Texas curriculum system, so Rugg’s critics blamed him for every anti-patriotic sentiment of the day.

Most important, once school materials get a reputation for left-leaning propagandizing, whether it is Rugg’s books in 1940, or the Interaction series in Kanawha County in 1974, or the CSCOPE materials in 2013, the books seem sure to attract ferocious and effective political attack.  Sometimes, as in the newspaper ad from Marble Falls and Burnet, these attacks seem far-fetched.  But behind even such far-fetched notions lies a germ of uncomfortable truth.

Curriculum developers often DO want to introduce culturally challenging and provocative ideas into America’s schools.  Howard Rugg wanted his books to help along a sweeping “social reconstruction.”  One of the editors of the book series under consideration in Kanawha County dreamed that the controversial books might lead to “further innovations in schooling” [James Moffett, Storm in the Mountains, 1988, pg. 5].

Though CSCOPE insists it is “not designed to show favor toward any special interest group/ organization,” conservative critics can claim some justification for their worries.  For generations, curricula have been introduced to public schools that HAVE hoped to show favor to certain ideas.

CSCOPE might offer an ideologically balanced, pedagogically efficient way for Texas school districts to streamline their teaching systems.  But once it has acquired the reputation for leftist indoctrination, the writing is on the wall.

No matter how fervently the Texas Freedom Network or other supporters might protest, history has shown that in cases like this, among conservatives, school curricula are guilty until proven innocent.

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  1. The rants I’ve heard from Ginger Russell and other Tea Party people is that they basically don’t want anything taught other than The Bible and Supply/Demand. They don’t want any discussion of Destroying the Ecosystem, or recognizing non-Christians as human beings. That’s the gist I get from pages and pages of her rants. These people are extremist in the extreme.
    The response I wrote is mostly for my own entertainment.

  1. CSCOPE and the Dustbin of History | I Love You but You're Going to Hell

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