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An Open Letter to the Texas Board of Education: Stop Rewriting History

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Dear Texas Board of Education,

The state of Texas is one of our nation's largest -- and thus, is one of the largest buyers of textbooks. Therefore, the standards set by the Texas Board of Education may very well dictate the content of all textbooks available for the entire US market. This year, this very board held their once-a-decade revision of standards for their textbooks -- and we have many reasons to be worried.

James McKinley Jr. at the NYT has done an excellent job of covering the facts of the proposed changes to the Texas standards, and I invite you to read his piece. However, the facts do not appropriately outline the danger presented by the board's decisions.

The danger is beyond left or right political leaning -- it lies between fact and fiction. As a former high school teacher, I can tell you that biased interpretation masquerading as fact is the most detrimental to a young child's education. While teachers frequently use interpretive analysis as secondary source material, it is to their textbooks that students retreat for their analytical 'north' when beginning their analysis of those more biased essays. Perhaps, after the Texas' board decision, they will not have that opportunity.

"We are adding balance," said Dr. Don McLeroy, the leader of the conservative faction on the board, after the vote. "History has already been skewed. Academia is skewed too far to the left."

Mr. McLeroy's solution? Swing the pendulum back -- past the center -- to the right. The Texas board has decided that the past needs a reinterpretation in its textbooks -- a bit of conservative revisionist history. The outcome?

1. A questioning of whether the founding fathers sought a separation of Church and State in the US Constitution.

From the NYT:

"I reject the notion by the left of a constitutional separation of church and state," said David Bradley, a conservative from Beaumont who works in real estate. "I have $1,000 for the charity of your choice if you can find it in the Constitution."

Mr. Bradley, with all due respect, the separation of church and state can be found in Article 6, and the 1st Amendment of the US Constitution.

From Article Six:

"no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States"

From the First Amendment:

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof"

Sure Mr. Bradley -- the words "separation of church and state" aren't there -- but lets think, just for a second, about this. If religion cannot be a precursor to public office, or to citizenship -- and Congress cannot pass laws on the establishment of a state religion, or stop people from worshiping freely -- where can religion and state not be separated?

Maybe we should let Mr. Madison -- the original author of the document -- say his piece.

Having always regarded the practical distinction between Religion and Civil Government as essential to the purity of both, and as guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States, I could not have otherwise discharged my duty on the occasion which presented itself (Letter to Baptist Churches in North Carolina, June 3, 1811).

Not enough for you sir? Perhaps here:

Every new and successful example, therefore, of a perfect separation between the ecclesiastical and civil matters, is of importance; and I have no doubt that every new example will succeed, as every past one has done, in showing that religion and Government will both exist in greater purity the less they are mixed together (Letter to Edward Livingston, July 10, 1822).

You see, Mr. Bradley, I got out of school before you textbooks could hit my desk. You can contact me at demagoguesanddictators@gmail.com, and we can hash out what charity you can make the check out to. Simply title your email "eating crow". 2. The teaching of sexual identity, eating disorders, and rape as a result "choice".

"The topic of sociology tends to blame society for everything," Ms. Cargill [a conservative board member] said.

Dear Ms. Cargill -- I, and I think all of my readers, are very happy that you never made the decision to be raped. We are glad that you never made the choice to be afflicted with mental illness (as far as we can tell). We feel sorry if one of your family or friends lost connection after they "chose" to become homosexual. But mostly, we are sorry that somehow you got to decide what can be defined as "choice". I can say that I will happily contribute to anyone willing to challenge you in your next election.

3. The rejuvination of McCarthyism.
Texas standards now require that Sen. McCarthy's story must now include

"how the later release of the Venona papers confirmed suspicions of communist infiltration in U.S. government."

Don McLeroy, a school board member, recently sent a memo to curriculum writers with the following:

"Read the latest on McCarthy -- He was basically vindicated."

Ah, the Venona Papers are back! The papers detail the findings of the covert operation (code named Venona) to uncover Soviet spies in the United States. While they detail the (gasp) Soviet attempts to penetrate the US government, they fall far short of any McCarthy vindication. I'll let Prof. Harvey Klehr, the author of Venona: Decoding Soviet Espionage in America cover this one for me:

Virtually none of the people that McCarthy claimed or alleged were Soviet agents turn up in Venona. He did identify a few small fry who we now know were spies but only a few. And there is little evidence that those he fingered were among the unidentified spies of Venona. Many of his claims were wildly inaccurate; his charges filled with errors of fact, misjudgments of organizations and innuendos disguised as evidence. He failed to recognize or understand the differences among genuine liberals, fellow-traveling liberals, Communist dupes, Communists and spies -- distinctions that were important to make. The new information from Russian and American archives does not vindicate McCarthy. He remains a demagogue, whose wild charges actually made the fight against Communist subversion more difficult. Like Gresham's Law, McCarthy's allegations marginalized the accurate claims. Because his facts were so often wrong, real spies were able to hide behind the cover of being one of his victims and even persuade well-meaning but naïve people that the who led anti-communist cause was based on inaccuracies and hysteria.

Have you no decency, Mr. McLeroy?

4. The emphasis of how Conservatives were responsible for Civil Rights legislation.
Again, from the NYT:

Dr. McLeroy, a dentist by training, pushed through 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.

"Republicans need a little credit for that," he said. "I think it's going to surprise some students."

Shockingly, I actually agree with Dr. McLeroy here -- but only to a point. History should be studied in its exactness. Those Republicans who stood for de-segregation deserve our praise, and those few in the Black Panther movement who undertook violent actions deserve our criticism. But, it is also important to point out that the Republican party of Ida Wells is no more. Will the history books also mention that in the 109th Congress has 43 black Democrats -- and not a single black Republican? To make civil rights a partisan fight between democrat and republican is to do history a dishonor -- it was a fight between north and south, and any history book that ignores this does so at its own peril.

I could continue here, speaking about the board's vote against including more Latino figures in its historical texts, or its declaration that curriculum must subvert the Enlightenment as the motivator for the Atlantic Revolutions. I could talk about the dilemma of voting down a plank that would have students study the reasons that

"the founding fathers protected religious freedom in America by barring the government from promoting or disfavoring any particular religion above all others."

but requiring the study of the unintended consequences of Title IX legislation.

The fact is, this is a troubling series of changes to the Texas Curriculum. I say that not as an offended liberal -- but as someone who values learning. Textbooks in this nation must be based on fact -- not opinion. If people feel that textbooks are too "liberal", then let us revise those sections to bring them closer to fact, not include more "conservative" talking points in an attempt to balance one type of falsehood with another. This kind of revisionism is merely slapping red BS onto blue. It serves no purpose other than the confusion or mis-education of our youth. As students seek to master the basic facts of history and sociology, they will now be forced into the very grown up world of propagandistic partisanship, without the information to analyse these opinions for themselves.

I fear times when bias gives way to propaganda -- and when that propaganda is taught as fact. In my textbooks I learned that

"Through clever and constant application of propaganda, people can be made to see paradise as hell, and also the other way round"

That is from Mein Kampf -- p. 376

(this story was originally published on Demagogues and Dictators)