Trouble Brews In Texas

Don McLeroy of the Texas Board of Education

Ever feel that the times are even stranger than you imagined, full of confusion and peril?

In other words, you don’t know whether to laugh, cry or move to a cave?

Let’s take the recent 10-5 vote by the Texas Board of Education to do a little attitude readjustment when it comes to school textbooks. Apparently fearing that these books, which are often taken up by nationwide textbooks, have gotten way too liberal of late, they’ve trimmed, cut and added to have kids learn more in line with their way of thinking.

Some historical topics that were bandied about: Jefferson Davis’ inauguration speech — the one where he assumed the presidency of the Confederacy — should have equal standing with that of Abraham Lincoln’s. Or that capitalism should be referred to in books as free enterprise — a cause already espoused by most conservatives who see the very same free enterprise under attack from the Obama administration.

Wait, there’s a little bit more: the new textbooks will downgrade Thomas Jefferson’s standing as a philosophical founding father, will refer to the United States as a constitutional republic, not a democracy, suggest that the founding fathers actually did not believe in the separation of church and state, would refer to the slave trade as more of an economic, world transaction, elevate the historical significance of Newt Gingrich, Phyllis Schaffly, the Moral Majority and the National Rifle Association, and make a martyred hero out of Joe McCarthy.

It’s one thing to add things and subtract things, to move this one up and this one out. But it’s quite another to rewrite history altogether, with little basis in fact. To put, for instance, Lincoln and Davis on an equal footing is to misunderstand the Civil War altogether. To downgrade Thomas Jefferson to the point of near invisibility is to skew the founding of our country wildly.

And yet, the vote and the ideas behind this could reflect the political white noise that’s heard all around the country these days, a lot of it stemming from a populist rage that’s sick of politics as usual and afraid of big government all at the same time. There’s genuine anger here, but also irrational fear of what lies ahead.

It’s true, of course, that before the advent of Reagan, a certain revisionist tone crept into national history and social studies textbooks. But talking about and studying the plight of Native Americans as they faced the America’s westward push, or studying slavery or the Civil Rights movement, or labor movements or women’s fight for equality were issues that were not about ideology, but about invisible or neglected historical facts. It may be a fact that there were Communist spies in the United States, but McCarthy’s ruthless and self-serving use of his committee’s investigative powers was decidedly unheroic, and created a country-wide atmosphere of fear.

Many of our early settlers here came to escape religious persecution than proceeded often to persecute their co-religionists, including Catholics. There was a good reason that the idea of separation of church and state made up part of the thinking of founding fathers.

The Texas school board members who voted for the textbook changes don’t just want to fill gaps or add missing information. They want to rewrite history or expunge parts of it. Instead of burning books, they want to turn them into conservative fairy tales.

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