After the Lone Star state’s rejection of actual science in their science standards, it came as no great surprise to me that the Texas State Board of Education has taken it upon themselves to “correct” history and re-write the state’s social studies curriculum and textbook standards. For the past six months, the fifteen member board (10 of which are self-proclaimed Christian evangelicals and social conservatives) have been structuring a new Texas standard that includes more references to Christianity, less mention of civil rights leaders and Abraham Lincoln, and a re-branding of slavery in America as the “Atlantic triangular trade”. Thomas Jefferson, who proclaimed the imperative of separation of church and state, is relegated to one of the lesser “Fathers” while Jerry Falwell and his Moral Majority, Newt Gingrich and his Contract on America, and Senator Joseph McCarthy with his Cold War Communist witch hunt are now our new “daddies”.
Now, initially, I was amused…as I so often am over the unbalanced ramblings of the patriotic Texan’s public servant ideology regarding a nation founded by God and His gun totin’ free market system. Then I had one of those “oh, God moments”…not one of those moments in response to the plague of liberal bias, but one of those moments that a cartoon caricature like J.D. Hayworth could actually become a US Senator. My stark realization came as Texas is the second largest consumer of textbooks in the United States, and manufacturers will certainly resist the prohibitive expense of producing numerous sets of text books. If uncontested, the Texas textbook standard might become the sub-standard in Colorado, New York, Alabama, Michigan, and many states in between. (California has filed suit against the Texas standards citing the changes as “a sharp departure from widely accepted historical teachings” and “a threat to the apolitical nature of public school governance and academic content standards in California.”)
I understand completely what Texas is attempting to accomplish. It’s the Southern way, really. Our nation’s history, just as our family history, has not always been a pretty one or a pleasant one. The matriarch of a Southern family will go to great lengths to put a well-powdered face on the ugly countenance of an “unfortunate” incident. Just as a terminated, unwed pregnancy is an untimely “appendix flare-up” eight weeks after prom, my tire-bawling trip to the church after a morning-after walk-in on my BFF sleepover is considered participating in the “race for the cure”. If that doesn’t work, just pretend it didn’t happen. There are plenty of elephants in the drawing room of a Southern household, but they are little more than an invisible sideshow in the familial circus.
The thing about history is that if we fail to recognize our shortcomings, we are doomed to repeat it, and by denying it, we create a false sense of righteousness that questions our integrity. We have made serious mistakes in regard to human rights. By calling slavery by any other name will not negate the fact we were complicit in the buying and selling of human beings as a financial commodity. Though paved over by our super highways, the Trail of Tears still stains the ground we took from our native inhabitants. The Holocaust was not something our country suddenly discovered as a result of the Japanese invasion of Pearl Harbor, and this oil spill off our Gulf coast will certainly be known as more than just a small drop of corporate crude in a very large BP bucket.
Our history should not be cowardly and covertly politicized, but it should be debated with the courage of an honest and open mind. “The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.” That would be the Rev. Martin Luther King, the man being left out of the heart of Texas.