Rewriting history in Texas impacts South Valley

The Texas Board of Education’s proposed rewriting of history
textbooks strikes me as something Big Brother might do in George
Orwell’s satire novel

1984.

The Orwellian attempt in the Lone Star state to alter the
account of our nation’s past for political propaganda purposes will
have major consequences in classrooms across America
– including here in the South Valley.
The Texas Board of Education’s proposed rewriting of history textbooks strikes me as something Big Brother might do in George Orwell’s satire novel “1984.” The Orwellian attempt in the Lone Star state to alter the account of our nation’s past for political propaganda purposes will have major consequences in classrooms across America – including here in the South Valley.

Texas’s elected state board of education is made up of 10 Republicans and five Democrats. On March 12, it voted 10-5 – straight down the party line – in favor of modifying curriculum to promote a conservative point of view in classrooms.

Next month, the board will vote on the final approval of more than 100 changes in history textbooks.

They include challenging Thomas Jefferson and other founding fathers’ desire for preventing organized religion and government from getting too cozy with each other (“separation of church and state”), playing up conservative heroes Phyllis Schlafly and Ronald Reagan, softening Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s Red Scare tactics during the 1950s, and sympathetically promoting the impact of the Heritage Foundation, the Moral Majority and the National Rifle Association.

History can and should be rewritten when the facts warrant a revision. Newly-discovered documents and historic evidence can enhance our perspective of the people who significantly shaped social and political movements.

Those revisions, however should be done by qualified history scholars who have the expertise to provide greater insight with amended history. It should not be done by politicians and pundits reframing history to bolster their own personal political views – whether that viewpoint endorses a left-wing or a right-wing agenda.

Unfortunately, we’ve seen evidence in the news recently of politicians tampering with history. Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell recently declared April to be Confederate History Month, but his proclamation failed to mention slavery. After getting blasted by the media, McDonnell inserted an afterthought paragraph that “the institution of slavery led to this war and was an evil and inhumane practice.”

Former House of Representative Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas, strained historic accuracy when he declared in a speech that the Jamestown colony founded in 1607 was “a socialist venture” and “dang near failed with everyone dead and dying in the snow.” His “socialist” depiction would be a great surprise to the Virginia Company of London.

That group of capitalists started Jamestown as a joint stock corporation intending to make a quick profit for its shareholders by mining gold (which they mistakenly believed would be found in abundance).

Fox TV pundit Glenn Beck claimed Teddy Roosevelt was a Marxist president who advocated “big government” to create a “socialist utopia.” In truth, Roosevelt, who was a Republican, saw government as an entity that protected the right of citizens to create opportunity for themselves. He did not see government in the business of providing handouts.

In February, Rep. Michele Bachmann, a Republican from Minnesota, informed the Conservative Political Action Conference that President Franklin Delano Roosevelt actually caused America’s Great Depression in the 1930s. It’s an astounding claim. Historians would argue the United States and much of the world suffered from something far worse than an economic “recession” (as Bachmann put it) when FDR was sworn in as President in March 1933. The jobless rate in the U.S. was 25 percent while the gross national product had decreased 33 percent by the time he took office.

Rewriting history to fit an agenda is nothing new. As far back as Rome and Greece, politicians have played with the past. In America, Democrats and Republicans have both done it to promote their partisan dogma.

It’s dangerous to hijack history to promote any ideology, whether it be liberal or conservative. The values we learn from studying our nation’s history shape how we view current events, filter our opinions and influence our voting patterns. Manipulating history to shape society and national values is a tactic used by dictators. Adolph Hitler did it in 1930s Germany. And Orwell demonstrated it in “1984,” his political parable on the dangers of socialism (a book that, ironically, some conservatives have tried to censor from high school literature courses.)

The stories of our nation’s past successes and failures should not be used as propaganda to shape young and impressionable minds to either a conservative or liberal slant. History taught in American classrooms should inspire students to lift our nation’s values to a higher level, and to warn them to learn the lessons of past injustices.

Texas has 4.7 million students – a big and lucrative market for textbook publishers. Standards changed for Texas’s textbooks will very likely spread to other states across the nation – including California. We should thus be concerned how South Valley schools might be impacted if the Texas Board of Education decides to alter history textbooks to promote an ideology rather than teach the truth about America’s past.

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