In Bureaucracy, History, Politics on November 7, 2013 at 12:16 am

“The problem with writing about history in the Soviet Union,” went the joke, “is that you never know what’s going to happen yesterday.”

The same can now be said about writing history under the new guidelines of the Texas Board of Education.

The changes to the state’s history textbooks were opposed by historians and civil rights leaders. The new curriculum presents history from a right-wing perspective and de-emphasizes the role of blacks, Hispanics and other minority groups.

The board’s decision will affect students living outside Texas because of the state’s major impact on the nation’s textbook publishers.

Because the Texas textbook market is so large, books assigned to the state’s 4.7 million students often become bestsellers, decreasing costs for other school districts and leading them to buy the same materials.

“The books that are altered to fit the standards become the bestselling books, and therefore within the next two years they’ll end up in other classrooms,” said Fritz Fischer, chairman of the National Council for History Education, a group devoted to history teaching at the pre-college level.

“It’s not a partisan issue, it’s a good history issue.”

The new version of history given Texas students will:

  • Celebrate the free market;
  • Minimize the role of labor movements; and
  • Give greater prominence to conservative figures like Phyllis Schlafly.

Additional changes will include:

  • Students will now study Confederate President Jefferson Davis’ inaugural address alongside President Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.
  • Upton Sinclair’s book The Jungle, which documented the horrors of working conditions in the meatpacking industry and led to calls for greater regulation, has been removed from the list of suggested readings.
  • The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter From a Birmingham Jail,” has also been removed.
  • Thomas Jefferson’s name has been removed from a list of the country’s great thinkers because he advocated the separation of church and state.
  • In a sop to the Christian Right, references have been added to “laws of nature and nature’s God” to a section in U.S. history that requires students to explain major political ideas.
  • The word “democratic” has been removed in references to the form of U.S. government, and this will now be described as a “constitutional republic.”
  • A reference to the Second Amendment right to bear arms has been added to a section about citizenship in a U.S. government class.
  • Economics students will be required to “analyze the decline of the U.S. dollar including abandonment of the gold standard.”
  • The names or references to important Hispanics throughout history also were deleted, such as the fact that Tejanos died at the Alamo alongside Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie.
  • All references to “capitalism” have been replaced with “free enterprise.”
  • U.S. “imperialism” no longer exists; there is only “U.S. expansionism.” Only the Europeans are guilty of “imperialism,” just as only the Soviets committed “aggression.”
  • In a rare setback for the radical Right, the slave trade will not be renamed the “Atlantic triangular trade.”

At one time, Americans believed that such wholesale rewriting of history could happen only in the Soviet Union. A classic example of this occurred in 1953, within the Great Soviet Encyclopedia.

Lavrenti Beria had been head of the NKVD, the dreaded secret police, from 1938 to 1953. In 1953, following the death of Joseph Stalin, Beria was arrested and executed on orders of his fellow Communist Party leaders.

Lavrenti Beria

But the Great Soviet Encyclopedia had just gone to press with a long article singing Beria’s praises.

What to do?

The editors of the Encyclopedia wrote an equally long article about “the Berring Straits,” which was to be pasted over the article about Beria, and sent this off to its subscribers.  An unknown number of them decided it was safer to paste accordingly.

In the 1981 film, “Excalibur,” Merlin warns the newly-minted knights of the Round Table: “For it is the doom of men that they forget.”

Forgetting our past is dangerous, but so is “understanding” it incorrectly. Deliberately omitting events and persons from the historical record–such as Thomas Jefferson and Martin Luther King–can be as lethal to the truth as outright lying.

Stalin, for example, ordered the deletion of all references to the major role played by Leon Trotsky, his arch-rival for power, during the Russian Revolution.

Similarly, requiring students to study Confederate President Jefferson Davis’ inaugural address alongside President Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address should be seen for what it is: A thinly-veiled attempt to legitimize the most massive case of treason in United States history.

(The Civil War started on April 12, 1861, when Confederate artillery opened fire on Fort Sumter, a United States fort in Charleston Harbor. Fort Sumter surrendered 34 hours later.

(At least 800,000 Southerners took up arms against the legally elected government of the United States.)

The late broadcast journalist, Edward R. Murrow, would have referred to this as “giving Jesus and Judas equal time.”

All of which simply proves, once again, that the past is never truly dead. It simply waits to be re-interpreted by each new generation–with some interpretations winding up closer to the truth than others.

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