[Update: There are two fine candidates running for seats on the Texas State Board of Education; Judy Jennings in District 10, and Rebecca Bell-Metereau in District 5. Please give them your full support. h/t Jon in comments]
In a normal cycle of curriculum review and textbook specification, states like Texas tend to push for content that is generally revisionist in a Reactionary way while states like California tend toward a more modernized curriculum. (I say tend. Here in CA we don’t much care for discussion in school of our own historical genocide and enslavement of Native Americans and mass murder facilitators like Junipero Serra are treated as heroic pioneers, but hey; mostly we get it better than average.)
But this is not a normal cycle, thanks to seven years of brilliant leadership in CA from another Republican hack governor coupled with systematic obstructionism by our Republican legislative minority. We are so stone broke we won’t be buying any new textbooks for some time to come. That left Texas all alone with a big stick, and the Reactionary members of their Board of Education have used it. Among other things, they’ve mandated teaching about Jefferson Davis on an equal footing with Abraham Lincoln and promotion of the argument that the Constitution was written by staunch Christians rather than deists and it doesn’t specifically include the words “separation of church and state” so Christianism is really the founding national religion.
Fortunately though, the major textbook manufacturers are appalled at being forced to take such positions. In the past they’ve been able to avoid that by brokering between the various factions and publishing pabulum that doesn’t much offend – or much enlighten – anyone. Following Texas’ demands alone, however, will earn them a great deal of enmity here in CA and future contracts may be threatened, a consequence that has been made abundantly clear in a quiet way by our state education leadership.
Textbook manufacturers have responded by saying they will now get modern and essentially turn the textbook industry into a vanity press, a concept they’ve been gently nudging forward for some time. Any state will be able to select from a menu of optional treatments and buy a specific publication run, tailored to their own biases. Texas can teach godly inspiration and Northern Aggression, Kansas can teach Creationism, and California can ignore the systematic annihilation of hundreds of thousands of peaceful indigenous peoples.
Michael Lind suggests that liberals might do well to embrace the presence of stupid ideas from the Right and try to change them into a teachable moment by presenting the full picture of their nuttyness, including such historical realities as the “Corner-stone” speech given by Confederacy vice-president Alexander H. Stephens:
The new constitution has put at rest, forever, all the agitating questions relating to our peculiar institution, African slavery as it exists amongst us, the proper status of the negro in our form of civilization. This was the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution. Jefferson in his forecast, had anticipated this, as the “rock upon which the old Union would split.” He was right. What was conjecture with him, is now a realized fact. But whether he fully comprehended the great truth upon which that rock stood and stands, may be doubted. The prevailing ideas entertained by him and most of the leading statesmen at the time of the formation of the old constitution, were that the enslavement of the African was in violation of the laws of nature; that it was wrong in principle, socially, morally, and politically. It was an evil they knew not well how to deal with, but the general opinion of the men of that day was that, somehow or other in the order of Providence, the institution would be evanescent and pass away. This idea, though not incorporated in the constitution, was the prevailing idea at that time. The constitution, it is true, secured every essential guarantee to the institution while it should last, and hence no argument can be justly urged against the constitutional guarantees thus secured, because of the common sentiment of the day. Those ideas, however, were fundamentally wrong. They rested upon the assumption of the equality of races. This was an error. It was a sandy foundation, and the government built upon it fell when the “storm came and the wind blew.”
Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner-stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth. This truth has been slow in the process of its development, like all other truths in the various departments of science. It has been so even amongst us. Many who hear me, perhaps, can recollect well, that this truth was not generally admitted, even within their day. The errors of the past generation still clung to many as late as twenty years ago. Those at the North, who still cling to these errors, with a zeal above knowledge, we justly denominate fanatics. All fanaticism springs from an aberration of the mind from a defect in reasoning. It is a species of insanity. One of the most striking characteristics of insanity, in many instances, is forming correct conclusions from fancied or erroneous premises; so with the anti-slavery fanatics. Their conclusions are right if their premises were.
As I have stated, the truth of this principle may be slow in development, as all truths are and ever have been, in the various branches of science. It was so with the principles announced by Galileo; it was so with Adam Smith and his principles of political economy. It was so with Harvey, and his theory of the circulation of the blood. It is stated that not a single one of the medical profession, living at the time of the announcement of the truths made by him, admitted them. Now, they are universally acknowledged. May we not, therefore, look with confidence to the ultimate universal acknowledgment of the truths upon which our system rests? It is the first government ever instituted upon the principles in strict conformity to nature, and the ordination of Providence, in furnishing the materials of human society. Many governments have been founded upon the principle of the subordination and serfdom of certain classes of the same race; such were and are in violation of the laws of nature. Our system commits no such violation of nature’s laws. With us, all of the white race, however high or low, rich or poor, are equal in the eye of the law. Not so with the negro. Subordination is his place. He, by nature, or by the curse against Canaan, is fitted for that condition which he occupies in our system.
Tristero, ever the optimist, thinks Lind is on to something but I don’t. Lind’s argument is slightly better than his usual neo-accommodationist dreck, but fails to address the crucial issue and that is the restrictive nature of mandated curriculum content. The great danger isn’t simple discussion of these ginned-up controversies, which is actually needed in any decent educational system and fairly conducted should in the end turn out fine, but that isn’t what has happened here. Rather, the Texas BOE has mandated a requirement that the delusional claims of some be taught as having the same intellectual validity as conclusions resulting from a thousand years of rigorous, logical, evidentiary progression.
That is what these Reactionaries are trying to impose for now, equal status for sane and insane, and they won’t at all be accepting of critical examination because for them this is just the first step towards ideological domination. They and their leaders including Sarah Palin are perfectly serious about that. “Going along” with this nonsense in hopes of someday installing a truly balanced treatment in order to turn the tables on them will require having BOEs in the hands of rational people instead of the crazies, and if we can succeed in doing that we’ll be able to prevent these attempts at Reactionary indoctrination in the first place.
Better quality membership on Boards of Education is the answer, not futile attempts at post hoc engagement with lunatics. The crazy people are relentless; we will have to be the same if we hope to succeed, and that means doing the tough grass-roots campaign work and get-out-the-vote efforts that will put sane people in charge instead of batshit lunatics like the current Texas BOE member Cynthia Dunbar, R-Richmond, who opened the Board’s last meeting with an invocation that termed America a “Christian land governed by Christian principles.”
“I believe no one can read the history of our country without realizing that the Good Book and the spirit of the Savior have from the beginning been our guiding geniuses.”
Don’t forget Jeff Davis, Cynthia Dear; mustn’t leave out the saints.