Thursday, May 20, 2010

Editors gone wild

Jefferson Memorial Have you all heard about the big vote coming up in Texas? It's with the State Board of Education, and they're voting on some revisions in textbooks. Nothing major, really...just a few changes here and there, tidying up a few messy historical matters, editing a few troublesome details and oh yeah...totally rewriting history in order to further these fundamentalist yahoos' own religious and political agendas! Think I'm joking?

Among the recommendations facing a final vote: adding language saying the country's Founding Fathers were guided by Christian principles and including positive references to the Moral Majority, the National Rifle Association and the GOP’s Contract with America.

Other amendments to the state's curriculum standards for kindergarten through 12th grade would minimize Thomas Jefferson's role in world and U.S. history because he advocated the separation of church and state; require that students learn about "the unintended consequences" of affirmative action; assert that "the right to keep and bear arms" is an important element of a democratic society; and rename the slave trade to the "Atlantic triangular trade.”

This is, of course, alongside the usual "teach the controversy" crap in which evolution is taught as a theory and intelligent design as a viable option.

All of these revisions are ridiculous—I find the new name for the slave trade especially appalling, as should anyone who has bothered to learn even the most fundamental things about the practice and the war that resulted from it—but you know which one really gets to me? The ousting of Thomas Jefferson from his rightful place as one of the major players in the framing of the government of our country.

Jefferson had his flaws (see slavery comments above), but there is no denying that he was a towering intellect and one of the greatest statesmen and philosophers the world has ever experienced. I truly believe that, and don't feel that it is an exaggeration at all. According to the Texas Board of Education, Jerry Falwell, Newt Gingrich, Charlton Heston, and Phyllis fuckin' Schlafly have more significance to our country than Thomas Jefferson.

Of all the memorials to various figures that I've seen in our nation's capitol, the Jefferson Memorial is my favorite. It is a lovely structure, and although grand, it is also beautiful in its simplicity. A large rotunda, with a 19 foot tall statue of Jefferson in the center, the surrounding walls inscribed with Jefferson's words. I remember walking the interior of the memorial, looking up as I read Jefferson's words, and I was struck by his intellect, his eloquence, and most importantly, his vision. He didn't just see how things should be in his moment in time; he saw the need to frame our documents so that we could change as we grew and matured as a country. This is my favorite inscription in the memorial:

I am not an advocate for frequent changes in laws and constitutions. But laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change, with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors.

That's right. Jefferson fully intended that the Constitution would change over time. The basic tenets concerning human rights must remain the same, but as we become more enlightened, we adapt by adding (or repealing...I love you, 21st Amendment! <sip>) amendments. (The "all men are created equal" part was finally expanded to include other than white male Christians, for example.) But I digress. I am dismayed that the Texas BOE would think that it is perfectly reasonable to exclude Jefferson from a place of importance in history textbooks. He's only the main architect of our republic and our Constitution, the same Constitution that they claim to love so dearly. I guess their love for the Constitution's primary author stops when he advocates the separation of church and state.

Why does the Texas Board of Education matter to me? Well, beyond the fact that we should all be concerned about what kids in Texas are being taught in our schools—some of these kids will be the national leaders of tomorrow, and I think we should expect that they will be taught, not indoctrinated—the Texas school system is so large that they are the second biggest buyer of textbooks after California, so many of the revisions they specify are used in textbooks around the country. Texas's revisionist history could very well make it to the textbooks of your children. Do you really want your kids learning more about the NRA and Phyllis Schlafly rather than Thomas Jefferson? If so, what is wrong with you?

How many times do we have to quote Moynihan: You are entitled to your own opinion, but you are not entitled to your own facts. Excluding Thomas Jefferson, one of our greatest thinkers and one of the world's most amazing intellectuals, from history books because he understood the importance of the separation of government from religion is not just crazy. It is dangerous.


  1. Wow. Just wow. The only positive note is that it doesn't affect the university level. It's great to hear that parents want their children to succeed in our highly competitive world. I'm sure these students will be the shining example of Texas public school system. Yes. Lets sugar coat history. What the heck is it there for anyway? It's not like we can learn from history (hope you feel the sarcasm here). While we're at it, lets just say slavery never happened (since it's so embarrassing). I guess I'm not really surprised since we already have glossed over fairytale history in many schools across all states: the cute story of the nice Puritans and the Natives celebrating the first Thanksgiving.

  2. beth have you read 'lies my teacher told me'?

    i agree, the misuse of opinion as educational fact is appalling. it's also frustrating to see that politicians and religious assholes are the ones determining what children learn and not the educators. it's almost like they are planning on dumbing down the masses in order to make them easier to control.


  3. The Texas Board of (Mis)Education is a scary group of failed people who want to make up for their poor grades and limited intellect by making up subjects that they alone understand.

    I completely agree with Alaina... brainwashing, thought control, it all begins at school in Texas. I can't possibly wrap my mind around the Atlantic Trianglular Trade or seeing the Moral Majority as a relevant social movement. It is frightening.

  4. Can we please give that awful state back to Mexico already??

  5. it amazes me that we haven't had more than one civil war sometimes , some people go so far out there and what is worse they are allowed to reproduce. I truly believe unless something is done about this radicalism we will see another major war here at home .

  6. I don't live in Texas, but it's news like this that keep me from reproducing. I've developed a phobia where if I reproduce, the government and religious fundamentalists will dumb my offspring down and stupidity will be the only thing my descendants have to offer the world. I live in Rhode Island, and our public schools purchase textbooks from Texas! California is fighting against the revisionism of America history, though. I wish them the best of luck.

  7. I just read 1984 today, and what they are trying to do is scarily similar to the book-don't like history? rewrite it...

  8. My grandfather told me along time that books are the interupitation of one selected group or groups opionion of what happen to never think it was the whole story . he would get so frustrated with my history teachers now I so understand what he went thru . that is why parents need to get involved and teach explore and understand what they are teaching in schools

  9. Grrrr.... this whole issue makes me SO angry! Who do they think they are? I'm too mad to type!

  10. I do not have the language skills to portray how disgusted I am with this. I wish I could say I am frightened but I am not I am ready for a fight.

  11. Sadly enough, it passed. Miss Ginger may have to move back to Louisiana! Now there's some people who know how to teach history!!

  12. I have been reading about what going on in Texas. What ever happened to just sticking with the historical facts when teaching history, rather than trying to revise it to suite one's own tastes. Actually, history is 'tainted' enough as it is sometimes without us having to make it worse by re-casting it within our own lifetimes based on current political beliefs.


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