3.13.2010

Texas and the Rewriting of History

To listen to those on the Left, the curriculum debates in Texas are a travesty. A whitewash of the true history of the United States - with emphasis on the white. In the coming days and weeks, the entire 120 page guide will be posted for public comment and we will all be able to learn just how bad everything is.

Unfortunately, if this NY Times story is any indication, I think it's much ado about not very much. I would assume, based on the tone of the piece that the Times would look for the worst amendments and the most egregious examples of conservative or Christian overreach, but the examples they use aren't that bad. I wouldn't say that they are necessary, but not patently offensive either.

I'll give my opinions of the amendments after the jump, but first I want to make one point about high school social studies in general. In terms of US history, all students need to be given a good grounding in the founding of the country and the literature of the time. The Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and Common Sense should be required reading. As well as select speeches from Patrick Henry, George Mason and the Federalist Papers - these are vital to the understanding of our nation's identity. However, the foundation of the events that took place should be done in middle school. The same thing for the Civil War and Reconstruction. High School students should have a focus on 20th century history and it will necessarily be broad - mostly due to time constraints of the school year.

Now, about those amendments, and you may be surprised by some of my comments...



The first "charge" against conservatives on the board in racism. "Efforts by Hispanic board members to include more Latino figures as role models for the state’s large Hispanic population were consistently defeated, prompting one member, Mary Helen Berlanga, to storm out of a meeting late Thursday night, saying, 'They can just pretend this is a white America and Hispanics don’t exist.'" It would be helpful if they expanded on this. What did the board reject? Is there no mention whatsoever of Hispanics? Given the history of Texas, I would doubt that a complete purge was underway. Without the specifics of the charge, this seems little more than a throw away to set the reader against the board's actions.

The next charge: "To that end, they made dozens of minor changes aimed at calling into question, among other things, concepts like the separation of church and state and the secular nature of the American Revolution." Again, this is iffy. The separation of church and state is not a mandate of a purely secular society. Nearly all of the leaders of the time were devout Christians - even Ben Franklin, whose questioning of Jesus' divinity was not out of the norm for some Protestants of that era. However, it is a matter of degree. It ultimately depends on how far the board went.

"They also included a plank to ensure that students learn about 'the conservative resurgence of the 1980s and 1990s, including Phyllis Schlafly, the Contract With America, the Heritage Foundation, the Moral Majority and the National Rifle Association.'" Okay, this one is bad. While I'm all for accurate history of the 1970s, 80s and 90s, the Heritage Foundation, Moral Majority and NRA have no place in the history books. Maybe one sentence about them making up parts of the new conservative coalition, but that is it. I don't think liberal activist organizations should be in text books, neither should conservative ones.


"[A] change to the teaching of the civil rights movement to ensure that students study the violent philosophy of the Black Panthers in addition to the nonviolent approach of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He also made sure that textbooks would mention the votes in Congress on civil rights legislation, which Republicans supported." I don't know. I think showing both sides of the civil rights movement is good, but it needs to be in context. It makes me a little nervous because, but if the good and bad of history is going to be taught, it needs to be done right - as in, a full explanation of why the Black Panthers broke with pacifists in the first place. As for the votes in Congress. Of course those should be included. Those are historic votes and supporters and opponents should both be recognized.

"[An] amendment saying students should study 'the unintended consequences' of the Great Society legislation, affirmative action and Title IX legislation. He also won approval for an amendment stressing that Germans and Italians as well as Japanese were interned in the United States during World War II, to counter the idea that the internment of Japanese was motivated by racism." Um, no. At the time, affirmative action and Title IX were in large part necessary. Over time they will become obsolete, but there is not yet enough evidence that that time has come. It is - I believe - too soon for such a judgment in high school history books. Now, if we're talking about quotas, that's different. As for the internment camps, racism was a motive, but not the motive. I have no problem with a full discussion, but the sad fact is that racism - or perhaps more accurately racial prejudice - was a factor.

"Conservatives passed one amendment, for instance, requiring that the history of McCarthyism include 'how the later release of the Venona papers confirmed suspicions of communist infiltration in U.S. government.'" McCarthyism is misunderstood by many, many people. Sen. McCarthy himself gets most of the blame, but people forget that the House Un-American Activities Committee was run by a Democrat and as a Senator, McCarthy had no real part in the hearings except in testimony. "McCarthyism" was an overreach by Congress but at the height of the Cold War understandable - not necessarily justified, but understandable.

"[An] amendment requiring that students study the reasons 'the founding fathers protected religious freedom in America by barring the government from promoting or disfavoring any particular religion above all others.'" That was defeated. I'd like to see why, because that isn't a bad thing. It would requiring reading Jefferson's letter to the Danbury Baptists - where the term "separation of church and state" was coined - which is a fairly innocuous letter. It reassured the Baptists that the Constitution prevents any persecution of religious freedom, I don't see why they would have a problem with it.

"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.'" The first part is obvious. Friedman and Hayek deserve to be mentioned because of their enormous influence. Replacing capitalism with free-enterprise is dumb. Call it what it is.

"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 disorder." I'm all for personal responsibility, but I'm not really sure what it has to do with Sociology. Yes, we all have free will - and ultimately each person needs to accept responsibility for their actions - but a person's environment plays a huge role in their understanding of right and wrong.

And finally, "Cynthia Dunbar, a lawyer from Richmond who is a strict constitutionalist and thinks the nation was founded on Christian beliefs, managed to cut Thomas Jefferson from a list of figures whose writings inspired revolutions in the late 18th century and 19th century, replacing him with St. Thomas Aquinas, John Calvin and William Blackstone." This is stupid. Jefferson's writings were among the most influential political documents of the 18th and early 19th centuries. Ignoring him would do a great disservice to students. I can't understand why conservatives would do this. While he may have been more secular, his belief in personal freedom and liberty was absolute. Ms. Dunbar is clueless.

Many of these amendments seem to be common sense and an attempt to offer a more full picture of history, but at the same time it is extremely selective and some, like the last one are wrong. I don't think they are "rewriting" history, but it doesn't leave me with a good feeling either. I'm waiting to see all the amendments.

And if you actually read all this, thank you. Next time you are in Janesville, WI, I'll buy you a beer.