The whole liberal internet is up in arms about the latest in red-state idiocy, with the Texas Board of Education voting to implement a number of curriculum changes that conform to conservative ideology. Among the changes are additions of Milton Friedman and Friedrich Hayek to the list of economists studied, as well as labeling capitalism with the nice euphemism “free enterprise system.” What has apparently sent Democrats into a tizzy is the de-emphasis of enlightenment values and Thomas Jefferson’s role as a revolutionary. Instead, Texas history classes will now focus on the role of Christianity in the foundation of America without all that pesky Deist business. One Democrat on the Board of Ed, whose amendment calling on schools to look at the influence of Hispanic Americans was voted down, accused the body of “whitewashing” the curriculum.
She acts like American history classes weren’t whitewashed already. I’m sorry, but I just can’t get worked up about history classes in Texas not pretending well enough that American history is based on respect, tolerance and “Enlightenment values.” It’s not like they removed the parts where the history books included that Thomas Jefferson raped a child whom he owned as property, because that was never in there in the first place. It’s not like they removed the sections on Emma Goldman and Angela Davis, they just changed from glorifying capitalism to glorifying the free enterprise system.
Apparently the Republicans beat back attempts to include hip-hop in the curriculum as an example of a cultural movement. Good. The less students are inclined to trust their history teachers, the better I feel about the future of this country. The Conservatives on the Board of Ed clearly haven’t seen The Matrix enough times and forgot what happens when you tell people a history without conflict: they don’t believe you.
The way American History is taught, at least as it was taught in an Advanced Placement class with a strong teacher in a liberal public school five years ago, involves acknowledging a bunch of the pain and suffering on which this country was founded and thrived, but to frame it as somewhat inevitable, as part of the inevitable march of history. Teachers describe resistance movements as historical curiosities rather than real alternatives. MLK gets his shout-out, but if Malcolm X gets a paragraph then it’s about his violence and relation to the Nation of Islam. The other night I was watching Reds and during a scene about the Palmer Raids, I remembered that I’d learned about those in school. I had never made an emotional connection between an organized program of repression perpetrated by the U.S. government and that thing I had to remember for that midterm in high school. Teaching kids about the dark parts of American history in a classroom is the best way to make sure they don’t care about them. My dream now is students in El Paso forming an underground Enlightenment reading group, passing around dog-eared copies of Diderot and Locke. Not that likely, but maybe slightly more than yesterday. I don’t know, maybe it will piss off some liberal teacher enough for her to pull out the People’s History copy left on her shelf from college and lend it to a curious student. In the mean time, good riddance to the social contract and empiricism.
What this news item does end up doing is get a lot of liberals to start defending Thomas fucking Jefferson and his bullshit Enlightenment values. Instead, I’ll be working with my new allies on the right at heightening the contradictions and alienating students past the breaking point. See, at first I thought the 10 conservative BoE members were just nutball ideologues, but then I read this sentence in the Times story, “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.”
Get rid of any mention of tolerant America’s pluralistic founding and then teach the kids about Huey and Bobby? Well done comrades, well done.