Saturday, July 19, 2008

Texas, Our Texas

As someone who grew up, but no longer lives, in Texas, I have conflicted feelings about my home. It's a big, beautiful state with a range of environments—deserts in the west, woodlands in the east, rolling plains in the middle and beaches to the south. Due to its great size, there are probably as many people living the quieter rural life as there are urbanites. The people tend to be friendly (or at least polite) and generous.

On the other hand, Texas is hot in the summer (and I mean hot—maybe not hot like Arizona is year-round, but really hot in July and August). There's a lot of poverty across the state and not a lot of social services to alleviate it. And those friendly people, especially the fair-skinned ones, can be downright unfriendly or worse when someone's complexion is darker or their language accented with anything other than a twang.

Two stories in the Times today caught my attention and reinforced my contradictory opinions: the first, about wind farming West Texas, made me proud of my birthplace; the other, about Bible classes in public schools, made me shake my head in disbelief once again.

The wind farming story is a no-brainer: I can't imagine that harnessing a clean, cheap, renewable energy source has any downside. Of course, that won't stop TXU from looking for ways to raise their fees for that electricity as soon as they start delivering it—have you ever heard a utility say, "We're doing so well with this, we just don't need any more money from our customers!"—but, for the moment, Texas is making enormous progress toward weaning us all off fossil fuels. It's a laudable move and the people of Texas should be proud that their state is helping lead the way for the rest of the country.

The second story, however, shows how the Evangelical Right continues to trample on the Constitution in pursuit of its agenda. In this case, however, I think they've left themselves open to be hoisted by their own petard: there are no guidelines for how their bible classes are to be taught. The best thing about this fact is that there will certainly be some overzealous Evangelical who will go too far and violate the separation of church and state, which will lead to the courts having to put an end to something that should never have been approved in the first place.

At the same time, however, the lack of curriculum they provide actually leaves these courses open to being a true educational experience. I've no doubt that the zealots who got this approved can't imagine that there's any way to teach these classes other than how they would do so in their Sunday Schools—that's the myopic result of being certain that yours is the One-True-Religion. They probably don't even know any Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Hindi, Buddhists, atheists, agnostics, Wicans, Druids or Native American spiritualists (or at least they don't think they do). Suppose a teacher with a different agenda were to get control of one of these classes? Or, worse still, someone who was willing to keep an open mind about spirituality and belief?! For most evangelicals, that's the most terrifying scenario of all: kids capable of thinking for themselves. Clearly, if that were to happen, those souls are lost to secular humanism forever.


millvallison: mary allison tierney said...

found your blog on a whim - my maiden name is Rowell and I'm visiting relatives deep in the heart of hot summertime Texas - relying on sketchy hotel wifi in Longview. I spend a good deal of time en route schooling my 3 kids about keeping an open mind about their cousins beliefs and reminding them we are visitors to a foreign culture (we're from San Fran) and to be respectful. It's always an educational trip for them!

Barry said...

Thanks for coming by, Mary—I'm sorry it's taken me so long to respond... It's like those e-mails still in my inbox that I really WILL respond to when I have a few spare minutes because I don't want to just dash something off will-he-nil-he... and then several weeks (or even months) have passed and I still haven't. Anyway, enough of that. I'm glad you visited and hope you'll visit often!

It used to surprise me (and still surprises many of my friends) that Rowell is a relatively common name; I think it's because most of my friends know only me or my family. And yet, I've never lived in a city where I was the only Rowell in the phone book—frome Fort Worth (where I grew up), to Denton (most of college), to Austin (a year of grad school) and now in NYC (21 years and counting). I don't know how many Rowells there are in New York now (this being 2008, we don't have a phone book around anymore), but the last time I looked there were around 20 or so—and if I'm related to any of them at all, it's very distantly!

The most renowned Rowells of which I know are Victoria (an American television actor), George Rowell (a British theater historian) and Galen Rowell (a American photographer).