Friday, March 12, 2010

History for Dummies in Texas

by Norman Markowitz

There is an article in today's New York Times about history textbooks and public school curriculum in Texas.  If it weren't so sinister, so shameful, it would really be funny.  By a vote of 11-4,(10 Republicans and 1 Democrat, versus 4 Democrats) curricula and textbooks are to be revised to bring Christianity and Milton Friedman back to the forefront of U.S. history.  The "liberal bias" for the separation of Church and State, for the achievements of presidents like Franklin Roosevelt and even  Texas own Lyndon Johnson, is to be combated by giving Ronald Reagan his due(nothing yet was said about GW Bush but that may be covered in current events) Nothing also was said about any new portrayals of the Civil War, where Texas of course fought on the side of the Confederacy, but who knows what will happen in the future.  Perhaps the Texas Republican party will issue a formal apology for Abraham Lincoln's refusal to accept secession in 1861, and place an asterisk next to the Emancipation Proclamation.
Talking history in any such way to such people isn't really so useful.  You can amass a huge amount of evidence to inform them that the leaders of the American revolution were very different Protestant Christians than they are--that they were products of the Enlightenment which in Texas would be called "secular humanism."  That they were making sure that there would be no state church in America on the model of the British Empire, which they had just fought a revolution against.  That they believed that religion was a private matter and that its alliance with the state and use by the state was against not only their revolution, but what they perceived as the best traditions of the Protestant Reformation.  But these born again historians would never listen  Theyt look at the Constitution in the literal way that they look at the bible
You could tell them till you blue in the face that anyone who puts Milton Friedman and Friedrich von Hayek on the same level in textbooks as Karl Marx and John Maynard Keynes is preparing students for an Alice in Wonderland world at the very best, but they of course wouldn't listen
What this tells us is the need for national standards in subject areas like social studies, standards to be developed by teachers and scholars in the fields.  Like most reactionaries, and the GOP today, these Texans don't want education as a springboard to critical and analytical thought, but, to paraphrase John Hobson, as a sort of drug to prevent such thought, to indoctrinate students into conventional wisdoms, however outdated and unscientific they may be.  For that they really don't need teachers or textbooks even.  They need something like priests bringing the old time religion to parishioners
Norman Markowitz