I don’t like to brag, but you ought to know that I received a 760 on my American History SAT II.  A 760 out of 800.

Like I said: I don’t like to brag.  Even so, you ought to know that a 760 is a very good score.

The Kaplan SAT Prep website says that “a score of 600 is considered very solid.”

If I’d gotten a 600, I probably would have cried.

600, as Kaplan suggests, is a respectable score.  But that was the kind of kid I was.  A perfectionist.  Also, a crier.

But more than that, I was an eager student of American History.  In some ways, it’s my birthright.  I was born the same as the Boston Tea Party.  To which I’ve long attributed my distaste for taxation without representation and beverages involving bags.

Moreover, one of the first books my father ever read to me was the Esther Forbes novel about the American Revolution, Johnny Tremain. I cried when Johnny disfigured his hand in a tragic silversmithing accident.  I  cried more when Rab died at the Battle of Lexington.

I loved historical fiction.  Was, in fact, nuts about it.  For most of my elementary school years, I was obsessed with Ann Rinaldi’s Danielle Steel-ish take on our country’s past.  I even cribbed large parts of the plot of The Last Silk Dress when writing my piece for the 4th grade Young Authors Symposium.  Plus, it was largely due to Ann that I always remembered the date of the Boston Massacre: the 5th of March.

Did I mention that I have a well-worn VHS tape of the 1972 historical movie musical “1776”?  That, to this day, I can sing along with Blythe Danner (a.k.a. Mrs. Thomas Jefferson) as she waxes rhapsodic about her husband and his prodigious violin skills?

I can.  It’s true.

This is a long way of saying that it was with much consternation that I watched these past weeks as the Texas Board of Education dismantled and distorted our country’s past.

* * *

Not content with promoting creationism, last week, Christian conservatives on the Texas Board of Education won a major victory, passing curriculum changes that left historians scratching their heads.  Board Members sought to stress the Christianity of the Founding Fathers and the genius of American capitalism.  They also sought to deify Ronald Reagan, legitimize Phyllis Schafly, and erase separation of Church and State.

In a stunning example of whitewashing, the Board moved to downplay Martin Luther King Jr. and instead focus on the Republicans in Congress who supported civil rights legislation.

“Republicans need a little credit for that,” Board Member Don McLeroy said.  “I think it’s going to surprise some students.”

‘Surprise” is one word for it.  “Enrage” is another.

McLeroy, a dentist by training and erstwhile college cheerleader, also pushed to soften history’s take on Joseph McCarthy.  “Read the latest on McCarthy,” he insisted.  “He was basically vindicated.”

O rly?  LOL, Mr. McLeroy.  ROTFL.

The Texas Board of Education is, apparently, a place where “facts” mean very little.  Where reason can’t be found.

When Mavis Knight, a Dallas Democrat, introduced an amendment that would require students be taught that “the Constitution prevents the U.S. government from promoting one religion over all others,” she was roundly defeated.  And when, time after time, Board Members voted against including more Latino figures into the curriculum, Mary Helen Berlanga had had enough.  She left the meeting saying, “They can just pretend this is a white America, and Hispanics don’t exist.”

They certainly can pretend that, it turns out.  If the Texas Board of Education had its way, school children would never know that this country included ethnic and religious minorities.  That “white” and “Christian” are not synonymous with “American.”

As it stands, Texan students can forget about Thomas Jefferson.  Turns out he’s totally overrated.

* * *

Barbara Cargill loves Jesus.  She just hates everyone else.

From her position on the Board, Cargill objected to a standard for a sociology course that defined the difference between sex and gender.  She was fearful, she said, that such distinctions would bring students into the frightening world of “transvestites, transsexuals and who knows what else.”

Cargill, it turns out, is also not a fan of crime victims or the mentally ill.  She won passage of an amendment that would teach sociology students about “the importance of personal responsibility for life choices.”  Life choices like rape, eating disorders, teen suicide, and dating violence.

“The topic of sociology,” Ms. Cargill noted, “tends to blame society for everything.”

If only I’d be taught about personal responsibility.  Maybe then I wouldn’t have chosen to starve my way through 11th grade.

Then again, I’m no victim.  Barbara Cargill’s absolutely right.  I chose my choice and I only have myself to blame.

* * *

I am, on some level, the enemy.  I realize that.  I’m a left-wing Jewess with a degree from Vassar in Women’s Studies.  I use words like “heteronormativity” on a semi-regular basis.  I’ve taken workshops on white privilege and rallied for abortion rights.  I’ve volunteered for Planned Parenthood and donated to gay rights groups.  I’m like Barbra Streisand in “The Way We Were.”  Nose and all.

I have an agenda.  Of course I do.  But I’m not on the Texas Board of Education.  I’m not a decision-maker.  I’m just standing on the sidelines, slack-jawed, as fundamentalists pervert the beautiful, awful history of this country.

* * *

I’ve been watching Henry Louis Gates’ series, “Faces of America,” on PBS this week.  It’s a fascinating look at the varied backgrounds of twelve high-profile Americans.  Uber-WASP Stephen Colbert is one, as well as Meryl Streep.  Also biracial journalist Malcolm Gladwell, Olympic figure skater Kristi Yamaguchi, and cellist Yo-Yo Ma.

I reveled in the diversity Gates exposed.  Diversity of ethnicity, obviously, but also experience.  It’s the diversity of this country that makes it so unique.  The tired, the poor, the “huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”  The “wretched refuse.”  It sounds cheesy, I know, but these people are the backbone of America.

Yamaguchi’s family was, I thought, one of the most compelling.  While his family was interned in a camp in Arizona during World War II, Yamaguchi’s maternal grandfather fought for America in Europe.  Most Japanese-Americans served in a segregated unit, but George Doi was part of the 100th Infantry Division, an all-white unit.  In the New York Times, he was declared “unquestionably the company’s best soldier.”

My mother and I watched Gates elucidate all this to an emotional Yamaguchi, tears streaming down our own faces.

This is America, I thought.  Flawed.  Cruel, at times.  But also a place where an immigrant can find redemption.  Something worth fighting for.

This is the America that the Texas Board of Education wants to forget.  Internment camps and the Trail of Tears and immigration quotas and the KKK.  Racism, imperialism, expansionism, Manifest Destiny.  Mexican-Americans and African-Americans.  César Chavez  and Dolores Huerta and Emma Goldman and Bella Abzug.  Stonewall and Selma.  Communists.  Socialists.  Tree-huggers and dolphin-lovers.  Jews and Muslims and Sikhs and Hindus and- G-d help us- atheists.

This is the America that the Texas Board of Education would rather you not hear about.

They say those who forget history are doomed to repeat it.  And if we only teach the PG-version of history, we run the risk of making the same mistakes all over again.

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Marni holds a B.A. from Vassar in Women's Studies. The degree turned out to be of little practical value, but nonetheless holds a lot of sentimental weight. She's written for BUST, Playgirl, Heeb and gURL.com. Her interests include subverting the patriarchy, reading, and "Law and Order": the Jerry Orbach years. She'd like to know why the inhabitants of the tiny Maine hamlet Cabot Cove so frequently come to violent ends. She'd also like someone to hire her.

81 responses to “Lies, Damn Lies”

  1. Greg Olear says:

    Nice post, Marni. It’s good to see a little political commentary on these pages.

    This Orwell-in-Texas business smacks to me of a moribund group grasping at straws to flex what little muscle it has remaining (which would be the muscle it has in place of a brain), perhaps as a preamble to instituting a George-W-Bush-was-the-best-president-ever piece in the curriculum.

    History, as taught in public high school, has always been flawed, and tilted toward the patriotic. We spend waaaay too much time on the Revolutionary War — which, I mean, who gives a shit, really, which day such-and-such happened on — and basically skip the Reconstruction period and the rise of Labor, because it’s not war-based, even though the country was shaped then, not during the revolution. I don’t recall spending more than a few minutes talking about the role of women, which is something that should be studied, seeing as women were treated like dogs until about fifty years ago.

    Hopefully, this bullshitting of history will have the effect of making Texas kids curious about the crap being fed to them, and they’ll get to the library and read their Zinn.

    Oh, and not to quibble, but Colbert is Catholic. Not WASP at all.

    • Irene Zion says:

      Oh Greg,
      You are such a rabble rouser!
      Don’t listen to him, Marni, your non-fiction stories are to die for!
      I HATE reading about politics, but, since it’s you, and you’re sweet, I read this.
      These were beautiful words:
      “This is America, I thought. Flawed. Cruel, at times. But also a place where an immigrant can find redemption. Something worth fighting for.”
      When I went to school, back in the one room school house in Brooklyn, we learned EVERYTHING about the Peloponnesian Wars. All of our history was ancient history. I even read the “The Gaulic Wars” in the original Latin. (Omni Galli divisum est in tres parte.) I probably have the spelling wrong, but it’s still in my head.

      • Marni Grossman says:

        I’m surprised to hear that you hate reading about politics, Irene. You’re such a wonderful person. I’d think you’d always have the best take on any given issue.

        That said, it does get wearying after a while, fighting the same ideological battles over and over again.

      • Greg Olear says:

        Am I rousing the rabble, Irene? I don’t know that I said anything controversial.

    • Marni Grossman says:

      Greg, you’re absolutely right. Women and minorities get short shrift in US history. But the idea is to become MORE inclusive, not less.

      Also, in the Gates series, we find out that Stephen Colbert is not entirely Catholic. A strain of his family tree was- heavens, help us!- German Protestant.

      • Greg Olear says:

        Don’t get me wrong — I’m opposed to the Texas Board of Ed. The Lone Star Madrasses, is basically what they’re on the slippery slope to. It’s important for all voices to be heard. I tend to think of history in economic terms, with haves and have-nots. I think the Labor movement in this country — Labor Day notwithstanding — is swept under the rug too much. The Wobblies were bad-ass.

        And I’m just giving you crap about Colbert. I love Colbert, I think he’s a hero, and he fascinates me. I don’t know if other people would have had the guts to talk smack about Bush to his face like Colbert did a few years back. I also like that he does what he thinks is right, and isn’t easy to peg, politically. Plus, he’s so damned funny.

  2. Becky says:

    I have to be perfectly honest. I’m kind of worn out on this topic. But it’s worth pointing out that inclusion of something like the difference between sex and gender is as politically charged and motivated as anything else.

    I have a minor in women’s studies, so I’m not ignorant. But I also know that much of social theory is in fact theory–a way to look at things, as any proper student of Po-Mo knows–not a declaration of the essential truth of things.

    So, you know, I have to say I find nothing, in the bigger picture, particularly striking about what this group of people is doing. Someone must always choose what will be taught and what will not, if for no other reason than that there is simply too much say to teach it all. Traditionally, these decisions have skewed toward the liberal and in such cases, perhaps naturally, liberals have not objected to a political tilt in the class room.

    When deciding what should be taught in a history classroom, there will always be a question of “whose history.” And it’s important to remember that the history you were taught came through a lense, too. I think we–those of use educated in the golden age of postmodernism–have been taught to examine everything with scrutiny except those assumptions that stem from postmodernism. I’m not sure if I’m saying this particularly well, but I think there is a tendency to see some of the fundamental underpinnings of postmodern thought as unassailable fact when those very same underpinnings, in fact, discourage it.

    This is not to say that I agree with all of the decisions this group has made. Just that I find a great deal of irony in the outrage among those who declare it revisionist and politically motivated and “oh my lord what new low is this?!?!” when many of those same individuals have long advocated and approved of revisionism in the direction of their own beliefs.

    So the one place left to go is, “Well, my revisionism is right and others’ revisionism is wrong!” which, though it can be convincingly argued in some cases, is always dangerous territory.

    • Marni Grossman says:

      Becky, I totally understand where you’re coming from. Like I said, I’m certainly as biased as anyone else out there. Moreover, I don’t think the history I was taught was the complete version. It too was very white and very male.

      That said, I think it’s always better to err on the side of more. To make people feel more included. When we don’t talk about say, the difference between sex and gender, about GLBT history, about women’s history, about minority history, we run the risk of leaving kids of color, queer kids, feeling alone.

      My AP Euro teacher was fond of that quote “Out of the crooked timber of humanity, nothing straight was ever made.” And that’s right. There is no authentic history. Just as there’s no authentic science. I’m not right. I just wish that people would take a kinder view. A view that makes people feel more welcome as opposed to less.

      • Becky says:

        I guess I’m arguing that a person of strong religious and patriotic conviction could make the argument (and have, often) that such “inclusiveness” comes with the caveat of washing religious aspects of the nation’s history, for example, from collective conscience. How doing so is any more truthful, or including it less truthful, is what confuses me.

        My personal feeling is that we’re not talking about lies per se. For example, we are, technically, a constitutional republic and not a “democratic” nation in the sense of operating on true democracy. That’s not a lie at all. The dust up is about how particular arrangements of facts or words or which facts are presented color people’s understanding of the reality of their nation’s history and the ideas upon which it was founded.

        We’re arguing about which truths are important or not. Any time you choose one, you have to suppress another. It’s not as if it’s a choice between being inclusive or not. It’s an argument about who and what ideas it’s okay to exclude. That is, it’s all exclusive.

      • Becky says:

        I should also point out that I’m not exactly clear about to what degree things were actually stricken from the curriculum or if they simply refused to add certain new elements. That is, how much of this was actually some “revision” and how much was a refusal to revise?

        Like, as I understand it, the ruling on sex vs. gender simply refuses to REQUIRE it; it does not somehow ban it from being taught. This move could be argued, ignorant as some of the board members’ comments may be, to be something that is sensitive to or inclusive of the beliefs of particularly religious individuals and what they want their minor children exposed to just as readily as it could be considered exclusive of the GLBT community.

        Or, for another take, one might simply say that the social construction of gender is fairly advanced (you and I both know it is complicated) and doesn’t have a place in K-12 curriculum in the function it was proposed. I mean, I speak a good deal in broad generalities because I don’t fully understand the specifics. But refusing to require something is a far cry from striking it from the nation’s conscience in some kind of official fascist maneuver. I think as a matter of maintaining critical and political objectivity (or something close to it), these things all have to be considered.

        Hysteria (a pun, maybe, in context) is the risk we run otherwise.

      • Greg Olear says:

        “History: an account mostly false, of events unimportant, which are brought about by rulers mostly knaves, and soldiers mostly fools.” – Ambrose Bierce

        • Anon says:

          AH!! Bitter Bierce! If I was inclined to idolize anyone, he would be the most likely candidate.

          “Cynic, n – A blackguard whose faulty vision sees things as they are, not as they ought to be.”

          I actually have a copy of The Devil’s Dictionary down in my library. I treasure it.

        • Becky says:

          Thumbs up to Bierce. Anon, as for you, were I a man, and old, and anonymous, I would most certainly be you.

          Somewhat tangential, but nevertheless related:

          “Most modern calendars mar the sweet simplicity of our lives by reminding us that each day that passes is the anniversary of some perfectly uninteresting event.” –Oscar Wilde

        • Anon says:

          Oi! I’m not that old! 🙂

        • Becky says:

          I just assume you’re significantly–like 5-10 years–older than me. I guess I don’t know. My guess is that you’re between 37 and 43. You seem like your kids are still young-ish, but not tiny. You’re more mature than me, but then again, most people are. But then yet again, you’re somewhat more more timid than I am. Does that come with age or youth?

          I could be totally wrong. I have no basis for this other than my own intuition.

          In any event, if I were more like you, I’m sure I’d be just like you.

        • Becky says:

          Also, you’re young enough to have been a computer geek in a former life. Or maybe you’re still a computer geek, but not professionally. That makes anything over the age of 45 very unlikely. Not impossible, but unlikely.

          Yup.

          I like my guess.

          Will you at least tell me if the range is correct? Or would that jeopardize your cover?

        • Anon says:

          (She’s onto me! Think fast, think fast….)

          You got me. Forty (and almost one-quarter!) years. I would argue partial-credit for both my perceived maturity and timidity, though. I’m just making a concerted effort to be diplomatic on the board, which gives the outward appearance of both. I can be a raging, belligerent asshole when I’m not being cautious. Should our paths ever cross, we’ll knock back a few and I’ll prove it. 😀

        • Greg Olear says:

          My favorite Bierce definition is for November: “The eleventh twelfth of a weariness.” Ha!

          Becky and Anon to knocking back a few and talking? I want video of that! Or audio, to preserve Anon’s anon…his enigma.

        • Becky says:

          Three cheers for belligerent assholes! Ah. That would be a fun discussion.

          Or very boring, as we sat there and agreed with each other.

        • Matt says:

          The quantity and quality of alcohol consumed during said discussion might lead to some interesting vascillations back and forth.

        • Anon says:

          Nonsense. I adhere to a strict formula of drunkness: inappropriate commentary; the “very, very funny stage”; brooding silence when I hit one of those “want to talk about it but can’t” topics; a thankfully narrow window in which – depending on the brooding and external factors – I *may* get briefly violent; then the final stage of resigned/contented sighs and sleepiness.

        • Becky says:

          In political discussions where there’s alcohol involved, I will eventually end up in one of two places.

          Either I become frustrated with my drunken inability to argue intelligently and lose interest: “Whatever. I’m bored. I don’t care. Let’s play darts. OOH! I love this song!”

          Or I become frustrated with the other person’s inability to argue intelligently, in which case I get incredibly, incredibly mean.

          And frankly, in my old age, I don’t really go to the latter anymore. Not for a long time. It’s a waste of perfectly good drunken hostility. Save that for when strange men touch my ass. I mean, if you want to see scary, hang around for that.

  3. Judy Prince says:

    An especially powerful paragraph, this, Marni: “This is the America that the Texas Board of Education wants to forget. Internment camps and the Trail of Tears and immigration quotas and the KKK. Racism, imperialism, expansionism, Manifest Destiny. Mexican-Americans and African-Americans. César Chavez and Dolores Huerta and Emma Goldman and Bella Abzug. Stonewall and Selma. Communists. Socialists. Tree-huggers and dolphin-lovers. Jews and Muslims and Sikhs and Hindus and- G-d help us- atheists.”

    The literal “beating-back” of many of these individuals and groups has handed us a people-devaluing nation. Yet K-12’ly we’re seldom taught about those tough, committed “beaten-back” folks who sought “people’s rights” as against the exclusive rights of a powerful few.

    We’ve inherited a nation that must be moved fast-forward to catch up with our past. We need to learn about—and learn from—the social, political and economic ruptures that have cost so many of us so dearly. We need to be aware of the lesser-known “heroes” you’ve exampled so that we can continue their wise aims.

  4. jmblaine says:

    Are you into
    Andrew Jackson?
    I shot him
    once.

    Wrote a TNB story about it.

  5. Ducky Wilson says:

    I’m a Texan. Taught here for a few years. I’ve seen both parties ruin education, so I’m not sure it’s a Republican thing (which I am not, btw). I also lived in NY for a long time, and I’m not sure the textbooks there are any more R rated (aka truthful) than here.

    I think the bottom line is that most people just don’t want to know the ugly truth. It’s not about being Texan, or American, or Republican, or Socialist, or white, or black, or Hispanic, or blue. It’s about being human and unevolved. It’s the same reason people will pick a movie like Ghostbusters over The Pianist. (No disrespect intended to Ghostbusters.)

    But education needs reform, absolutely. Across the board. Across the United States.

    And Blythe Danner sings?

    • Becky says:

      Well, in this instance, there is an argument to be made that some facets of the ugly truth are not appropriate for K-12 children. I mean, I may be naive or old-fashioned, and I don’t want to suggest anything too ridiculous, but I don’t see traumatizing children into a guilt-fueled quasi-humanitarianism as being noble. Sometimes I feel like that’s what advocates of “ugly-truthism” want. Some kind of Clockwork Orange scenario to cure the country of its ultra-violence.

      Like, maybe you save the gory details of the Trail of Tears for the AP class. Not because it didn’t happen, or even with the overall intent of pretending it didn’t happen, but because they’re kids.

      • Judy Prince says:

        Nursery rhymes and fairy tales, Becky, are often horribly frightening—yet kids are encouraged by libraries, parents, and pre-school teachers to sing them/read them well before they get to kindergarten.

        Further, it’s a worthwhile effort, I believe, to show people and their cultures, the “excludeds” and the “includeds” as they are: BOTH POSITIVE AND NEGATIVE. That’s a hugely important concept for kids to learn.

        We could talk about the age-appropriate *degree* of these revelations, but Marni’s article is about the willful withholding, or at the very least, ignorance of, historically-documented facts. My near-always mantra is: Most situations are helped by more information.

    • Marni Grossman says:

      I’m never writing about anything political for TNB again. Oy gevalt.

      My point here was not that I’m right and The Right is wrong. Nor do I think it’s wrong to teach students about the religious background of our Founding Fathers. My point was just that, in a country as diverse as ours, pretending whiteness and Christianity are the default is damaging to students who are neither. Representation matters.

      I also wasn’t suggesting that 2nd graders should be taught about the KKK. Although, on a personal note, as a Jew, I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t on some level aware of the Holocaust.

      I honestly didn’t think that my points here were particularly controversial. And maybe this is just the Judith Butler fangirl in me, but I find it repugnant that a women who refers to queer peope as “who knows what else” is in a decision-making position. The distinction between sex and gender is a difficult one. But for trans kids, it’s a reality.

      • Becky says:

        No no no! I’m not trying to traumatize anyone.

        I enjoy these discussions. Like, I am not agitated or upset or cursing you guys in my head while I’m typing.

        My reply to ducky was TO Ducky. Like, just another aspect of the larger issue that Ducky’s comment, not something you said or intended or didn’t intend, reminded me of.

        Contend, Marni! It’s not bad! Or I don’t think it’s bad. I think it’s healthy. Normal.

        And people are put in decision making positions based on people’s understanding of their ability to make decisions they agree with. I mean, them’s the breaks with Democracy. Or, even if these are not elected positions, that still tends to be how it works in democratic politics, including appointed positions.

        That said, I’m not sure the “who knows what else” was intended to represent people necessarily. That might be your assumption. I have limited context from the quote.

    • Marni Grossman says:

      Also, Blythe Danner totally sings and it’s fabulous. Almost as fabulous as seeing Professor Feeney in stockings.

    • Matt says:

      But by whom?

      This is a group of people who have openly stated that this is a step in an ultimate goal to reshape American society according to their particular, non-inclusive worldview. Direct quote from one of the board members: “The philosophy of the classroom in one generation will be the philosophy of the government in the next.”

      As Marni states, this is group of individuals who are anti-science, anti-intellect, and anti-inclusive. And who are attempting to create the appearence of devotion and religiousity among the writers of the founding documents of this country, despite the fact that several of those individuals (John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, John Hancock and of course Thomas Jefferson, among others)refuted in their other writings.

      Or who seem to have forgotten/chosen to ignore that the England we broke away from was exactly the sort of white, Christian nation they claim America is…and the problems associated with that are among the reasons we broke away and instituded the seperation clause in the first place. Who ignore the inclusionist principles we were founded on, and have worked, and fought, and sacrificed (and continue to do so) to be worthy of.

      This isn’t reform, it’s the worst kind of–again, as Marni said–“whitewashing” revisionism, all designed to fit the agenda of one specific party of people. It’s Orwellianism, and it’s being accomplished by using the same subversive tactics arch-conservatives used to love to accuse their “UnAmerican” adversaries of using.

      I know this might make me sound crazy, but shouldn’t the group of individuals determining the history content of Texas’ (and by extension, the country’s) textbooks include a few actual historians among it’s ranks? Or at least one person attempting to maintain some level of objectivity? Don McLeroy, the man spearheading this, openly describes himself as a “Christian Fundamentalist.”

      Best write-up I’ve seen so far is still the NY Times article that (to the best of my knowledge) originally broke the story back in February: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/14/magazine/14texbooks-t.html?pagewanted=1

      • Judy Prince says:

        Thanks for the NYT link, Matt. Oh my: “McLeroy makes no bones about the fact that his professional qualifications have nothing to do with education. ‘I’m a dentist, not a historian,’ he said.” Is he my One-Time Dentist??!!!

      • Marni Grossman says:

        It’s so hard because you know that, in their own twisted way, these people mean well. They don’t want us heathens to go to hell! It’s just that, according to their beliefs, we will.

        I get very emotional about issues of representation and diversity because the one thing we should all be able to agree on is this: we are a nation of immigrants. There isn’t one thing that defines who we are.

        • Matt says:

          So did every despot who ever lived. Very few people get up in the morning, twirl their moustaches, and set off to see how much evil they can accomplish before dinnertime.

          If there were, I’d have more people to hang out with on my off-hours.

  6. Ducky Wilson says:

    Word, Becky. True. Learning about the KKK in 2nd grade probably isn’t the best way to introduce kids to racism, though truthfully, kids of my generation in Texas would have been exposed to it anyway. But why scare kids? Sometimes, I do think we focus too much on the negative in news and history. I remember being very afraid as a child the KKK would come and get me. I had nightmares about being scalped (I’m part Cherokee.) And I worried about Manson.

    But humans seem to like fixating on the negative. I suppose there is a sense of drama in it.

    I’m sure kids today are far more savvy than I was, but still, there are age appropriate subjects.

    • Judy Prince says:

      Ducky, I agree that “we focus too much on the negative in news and history”. I don’t buy the notion that News and History represent the reporting of negative current or past events. Our media and educationers, though, apparently think that the presentation and summaries of factual stories *must*, in prominent and large part, be negative. The media often escape criticism on this because it is thought that people prefer to read/hear/see the negatives, that they want to know bad news, not good news. Good news, I suppose, is thought to be boring, uneventful, “light”, and useless. Sad, that. As for school history texts—exclusionary as they still are in this USA—they nevertheless recount who killed whom where (and sometimes why). My lovely fantasy is to have had no history texts, but rather “blurbed” reading lists of biographies and autobiographies of all the people, famous or “unknown”, who were different from me, so that I could read those books and know how others lived, worried, planned, created and acted. And, not surprisingly, I’d have loved to read about artists of all kinds.

  7. Simon Smithson says:

    Marni, I think it’s great that you’ve brought some politics in. Variety is the spice of life, you know?

    What little I’ve gleaned from overseas seems to point to the fact that the Texan board in question is going after certain facts for the purposes of pushing a political and religious agenda. Myself, I’m all for separation of Church and State.

    Becky’s arguments about revisionism are good ones, but I feel like I can cheerfully say they don’t apply to me, and my personal belief is that to dilute history in order to create or sustain a certain belief in those exposed to that history borders on the Stalinesque.

    Wait, wait.

    My mistake.

    It doesn’t border. It is.

    • Simon Smithson says:

      Oh, also: very glad you wrote this, Marni.

    • Becky says:

      Oh Simon.

      You don’t believe politics shaped the history you learned?

      Ah. American exceptionalism takes on a whole new light under these conditions.

      Are we the only people who politicize our history? Or the only people who are honest about it? Or worse, the only people who realize it?

      • Simon Smithson says:

        It’s entirely possible, and the cunning forces behind my textbooks have sunk their deceptions so deeply into my brain I don’t – can’t – realise it.

        But there are some differences. For a start… we’re a grown-up penal colony. There’s not a lot you can do to glamorise or glorify that, no agenda you can really push that can possibly move us beyond ‘Hey! Hey you guys! Way to steal a bunch of shit!’

        One of the great, great classes I took in high school was called Revolutions – the two we studied in depth were the French and the Russian. One of the most important aspects of the class was that we were required to look at the testimonies provided and ask ‘Where is this coming from, who wrote it, what do they have to gain from this information coming to light?’

        I think you’re absolutely right about the fact that there will always be choices in information delivered. There’s only so much space on a page, you know? I really couldn’t agree more. My issue in this sense is that this Texas case appears to be a hugely overt and extreme example.

        Then again, maybe that’s better. It may be easier to debate that than a more insidious approach.

        • Becky says:

          Well, to be frank, I don’t know that it’s overt. I’m reasonably certain that all these individuals would have plenty of non-political reasons for what they did. And much of what they did is probably not interesting. But that doesn’t drive site hits. This is the sort of news item where what isn’t said is probably as important as what was said. It’s interesting to watch, really. About four lines from all those hours of debate are all anyone mentions. The hooks. The juicy stuff. I mean, the manufacturing of these kinds of perceptions fascinates me. Not only what they choose to print, but then how they choose to color it. I mean, I have a habit, from an intro to logic class, of watching for emotionally charged words in public discourse. It’s incredible what you find.

          I think people have scrutinized the political motivations for this particular scenario publicly and noisily, whereas when the complaints are coming (or have come) from the right in similar situations where liberal interests dictate, those objections are simply ignored.

          Which is sort of the point I was making earlier. If one had said “College curricula are prone to liberal bias.” Or “Educators are prone to liberal bias” or “Education is prone to liberal bias,” 6 months ago, no one would have blinked.

          Like, “What’s up, Captain Obvious?”

          But here we have conservatives treading in liberal territory and the henchmen are out, trying to defend their turf.

        • Simon Smithson says:

          Basically, what’s come through the mainstream media (or at least, that which has filtered through to me, and I’ll humbly admit I haven’t questioned it or looked for fair and balanced argument before throwing my two cents in), is this:

          ‘These guys don’t like anything that’s not white and/or Jesus, and so they’re taking them out of the textbooks.’

          I’m dumbing it down a lot, but the two crux issues, to me, are that a) the separation of Church and State is suddenly being hugely underplayed, and b) Latino contributions to the wider society are being cut, due to the whims of a group in power with a certain agenda.

          There’s more, but those are the two big ones.

          I’ve never thought to question liberal bias in the selection of history. I honestly don’t think it’s something that’s played a large role in my own experience, and maybe that’s naivete on my part, or maybe this is something I’m only being exposed to because this story has picked up so much traction.

        • Matt says:

          It’s not being underplayed, it’s being denied! Completely! MacLeroy states in interviews he believes it to be a liberal-perpetuated myth–that he believes all of our founding fathers were devout, Bible-thumping Christians through and through.

          I know this is going to sound hyperbolic, but this is the equivalent of letting a group of Holocaust deniers revise Germany’s historical textbooks. Or the way the Islamic government in Iran has attempted to “erase” that country’s Persian/Zoroastrian past.

          I posted a link to an interview/article published in the New York Times a few months ago elsewhere here in the comments. It’s still the best piece I can find on the matter.

        • Becky says:

          *sigh*

          Matt, I read (most) of that back in Feb. when you posted it the first time and my feelings haven’t changed.

          Matt AND Simon:

          What did they take OUT of the text books and what did they simply refuse to put IN?

          HOW MUCH OF THIS IS REVISION AND HOW MUCH OF IT IS REFUSAL TO REVISE?

          What are the EXACT revisions?

          Anyone?

          Anyone at all?

          Here is an article, also from the NYT about some of the more contentious items actually passed:

          http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/13/education/13texas.html

          I don’t want to upset anyone, but it is true that you will NOT find “separation of church and state” in the constitution.

          That is absolutely, 100% truth. It says this: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” “Respecting, in this sense, means “with respect to,” to the best of my understanding. To say that the founding fathers constitutionally guaranteed that no religion would ever be favored in this country is MUCH more questionable. It is interpretive.

          I’m sorry, but like it or not, and regardless of whether or not it was an unfortunate oversight or intentional on the part of the founders, MacLeroy is right, at least insofar as I wouldn’t recommend taking him up on his bet unless you’ve got $1000 to piss away.

          NOTHING that they are adding is a lie. Not a thing. They want credit for conservatives having been IN FAVOR of the civil rights bills that passed in the 60s. How many of you people knew that? I didn’t know that and I’m a conservative. Somebody has apparently lied to me about that, and I don’t suspect it was bible-thumping conservatives.

          It’s like Nazis rewriting German history? For Christ’s sake, Matt get a grip. You are not thinking.

          There is nothing more I can add to this discussion. I have said everything I could possibly say. Liberal interests have dictated education for decades. Anyone who thinks otherwise has more problems with reality than any of these people. Anyone who thinks including the Black Panthers in a history of the civil rights movement is “lying” is beyond help. History is ALWAYS someone’s history. This is nothing but sour grapes.

          Marni, I apologize for losing my temper. I’m done now.

        • Matt says:

          Yes, the poor, picked-on conservatives. History’s whipping bitches. Someone needs to stand up for them.

          Maybe the reason you don’t hear too much about conservatives championing civil rights because, I dunno, they tend to be on the wrong side of history where these things are concerned? Women’s suffrage/racial equality/Native American reparations/gay rights/religious tolerance/right to choose….the scorecard isn’t exactly overflowing with the names of conservatives who championed these clauses, and the Texas board hasn’t bothered to list any either.

          In fairness, I did search of both Google and library archives (keywords: “conservatives civil rights votes 1960s”) and haven’t been able to find much in the last hour or so. I’ve been able to find very few specific names, and those I have only seem to be taking action when the conservative ideal of freedom from federal authority overlapped with the issue, not because they believed blacks should be free from racial inequality. The most frequent term that pops up is the Sharon Statement, written by Civil Rights Act opponent William F. Buckley.

          Now, how about some of the persons and groups they name, in the article you cited, as mastheads of the 80’s and 90’s converservative resurgence? Let’s see here:

          *Phylis Schlafly – Anti-Equal Rights. Anti-Women’s Equality. Who actually argued that the Equal Rights Act would strip away the priveledges enjoyed by “dependant wife” American women

          *The Moral Majority – Jerry Falwell’s baby. Unilaterally opposed to the Equal Rights Act. Anti-feminist/women’s rights, including favoring unilateral criminalization of abortions performed under any circumstance. Opposed to state recognition of homosexuality in any form. In favor of hardline media censorship.

          Specific edit already mentioned in several places: complete replacement of the term “capitalism” with “free-market enterprise.” Some sort of euphamisma as calling torture “enhanced interrogation techniques.”

          Now for what’s being excised from the curriculum? Well, as repeatedly, mention, much of the import of the writings of Jefferson, a Deist and coiner of that pesky “seperation of church and state” phrase.

          And there’s the massive–and repeatedly cited, in the NY Times and elsewhere– downplayment of the role of Latinos in the shaping of American history, especially the West. Labor leaders and civil rights activists Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta (a socialist–bad!) have been explicitly dropped, despite Texas being one of the eight states that recognizes Cesar Chavez Day every year.

          If the Constitution is so intrinsically grounded in Christian language–as McLeroy posits–why did Hamilton, Jay and Madison have to write the Fedaralist Papers to explain every segment of it to a largely Christian populace to convince them to vote for it? Which they did, without pointing to single Biblical source in the process.

          Agreed, seperation of church and state isn’t in the Constitution, but neither is racial equality or women’s right to vote (or even own property). They just all happened to be good ideas that came along afterwards. That they weren’t there right at the moment of signage doesn’t mean they should be dismissed.

          Freedom of religious practice IS guaranteed in the Bill of Rights, though, and that’s for every religion, in equal measure. And freedom OF religion also involves freedom FROM religion if one chooses not to partake–which means no one in this country has the right to practice or assert their religious beliefs on anyone else without that persons consent.

          And that is what the Texas Board of Education, by their own admission, is trying to do.

          And one point of clarification: I said Holocaust Deniers, not Nazis. There’s some overlap, but the two are not one and the same. Doesn’t mean chest-thumping skinheads, either. There are plenty of grassroots, civilized groups in the Germanic/Scandanavian parts of Europe who adamantly insist the Holocaust is a fabrication.

        • Simon Smithson says:

          Hmmm.

          Are we going to need to order in some textbooks to settle this debate?

    • Marni Grossman says:

      The good thing about being Australian, I think, is that your conservatives probably don’t have as many guns.

      • Simon Smithson says:

        Not here. We love gun control.

      • Becky says:

        Okay. I am a conservative and I have no guns.

        My high school friend’s husband is practically a communist–as liberal as they come and he will say so himself–and he has at least five guns.

        I mean, you know. Let’s not stoke the “other” fire.

  8. Ronlyn Domingue says:

    Although I find what’s happening in Texas troublesome, the fact is that history taught in American classrooms has always had its peculiar leanings. I remember learning in 7th grade about explorers–Columbus, Ponce de Leon, etc.–thinking them so brave and virtuous. And then I eventually got my hands on information, outside of the classroom, about the ecological and cultural degredation, not to mention genocide, that happened to native people through explorers’ quests. As an undergrad, I was introduced to the horrors that women internationally have faced for centuries. And I damn near lost my s*** in graduate school when I discovered the surprising history of progressive action and union organizing that occurred during the Great Depression.

    My reaction then…I’ve been lied to. Over and over again. Okay, so maybe I wasn’t really LIED TO, but certainly given only one socially-acceptable version. The good news is that libraries and the Internet provide millions of resources to find different perspectives on history. The question is whether people are willing to look past what they’re officially taught and see a far more complicated story unfold.

  9. Richard Cox says:

    Marni,

    I love your line, “This is America, I thought. Flawed. Cruel, at times. But also a place where an immigrant can find redemption. Something worth fighting for.”

    As much as I sometimes hate certain elements of my country, I love it for this and I don’t think I would ever choose to permanently live anywhere else.

    As you know I’m a native Texan and I love many things about my home state. As I’ve become older and (hopefully) wiser, I’ve come to despise certain things as well. And after reading the comment exchanges I’m not sure exactly sure how to feel about the board’s decisions (my knee-jerk reaction was to be outraged).

    However, after reading some of your above comments, here is something you may find interesting (it’s sort of embarrassing for me but hopefully instructive). I spent much of my childhood in Texas, and I’m the son of parents from very small towns where most people do not attend university (including my own parents). My mother’s family were German Catholic immigrants (my grandmother’s first language was German). And yet I didn’t even know what it meant to be Jewish until I was in college. All I knew was that Jews were the same as me except they mainly cared about the Old Testament and didn’t believe Jesus was the Savior. I had no idea Jews were discriminated against by certain closed-minded people. I didn’t know about the holocaust until college, and only then because I read about it in the Stephen King novella Apt Pupil.

    So either it wasn’t in Texas high school history texts at the time, or it was but it wasn’t taught in detail (I was an “A” student so I don’t know how I could have missed it). Which is horrifying. At the same time, nothing in my family and social upbringing ever introduced the idea of Jewish people being “different” than my own “people” which personally I find encouraging. It simply wasn’t an issue. I had a Jewish friend in college who had to sit down and explain to me one day the various beliefs certain people held about Jews. I had no idea. As a child I’d had friends of various cultural and ethnic backgrounds and never knew the difference between them. My parents fall into the demographic you would expect to be provincial and closed-minded, and in some ways they are, but they refused to teach me racial or religious bias, and that’s one of the things for which I’m most proud of them.

    Sorry for the long comment. But I do feel the real Texas is a melting pot as much as any place in America, and it sucks that my home state gets such a bad (though often admittedly deserved) rap in the rest of the country.

  10. Lenore says:

    i don’t know what i got on my SATs. probably like 600 total. i’ve managed to get by on physical threats alone. works the same as smarts.

    also, because i get by on threats of violence, i adore america’s flaws. america and i get each other. we’re getting married.

    • Judy Prince says:

      Good for you, Lenore; America has been waiting to marry a woman covered with rat mites. No, seriously!

    • Marni Grossman says:

      I was trying to revise my resume the other day and I asked my (infinitely more successful) cousin for some help. She sent me a copy of her resume and her ex-boyfriend’s. On his, he’d actually listed his SAT scores. I’d never seen that before and thought it was vaguely hilarious. Then I noted that he’d scored over 100 points better than I had and I wasn’t laughing quite as hard.

      You’re the winner in the end, Lenore. Always.

  11. Matt says:

    I kind of blew my wad above responding to Ducky and Becky above, but I’ll just say, well done, Marni. I’m strongly opposed to this, and have been looking into what I can do on a grassroots level to keep this from coming to pass. As one of those liberal-leaning atheists, I’d certainly end up in the sights of people like the TBE sooner or later.

    I think “beautiful, awful history of this country of ours” is one of the best turns of phrase I’ve read so far this year.

    • Becky says:

      Oh, this is so paranoid! Keep what from happening? What happened? You’re totally overreacting, matt. You just eat up the crusading Christians thing. Tell me what they changed and what they refused to change and what exactly happened. Or do you only know there were Christians involved?

    • Marni Grossman says:

      I get what Becky’s saying and maybe I tend to be overly emotional. But even without the US history stuff- McCarthy and Jefferson, etc- I think I’d be upset anyway over the sociology amendments.

      I just don’t see where “personal responsibility” comes into the equation in terms of teen dating violence, rape, sexual preference or eating disorders.

      • Becky says:

        Well, it depends what they have to say about it.

        Like, we are already told to be “personally responsible” when the advice given to us about date rape, for example, is to always let a friend know where you’re going and with whom, to go to well-lit public places, to avoid becoming extremely intoxicated, etc.

        I mean, it would seem that the phrase itself is apparently touchy. We DO want people to be personally responsible, and we are told to be personally responsible all the time. People treat it as if “personal responsibility”–the phrase itself–is not PC. I mean, it does lend some legitimacy to the notion that people have gone away from their senses in that regard.

        • Zara Potts says:

          I agree with you, Becky.
          It’s not a popular view but people do need to take personal responsibility more than they do.

        • Becky says:

          Well, I’m not sure exactly, but I think there’s some disconnect regarding to what degree “personal responsibility” means doing what you can to make good decisions and the sense of personal responsibility in which people are “personally responsible” for ending up in bad situations.

          One does not necessarily have anything to do with the other.

          Like, the first implies the notion that people should be mature and informed and protect themselves and understand that failure to do so can have harmful consequences. That the decisions they may have implications for the future and that they should be “responsible for” themselves in the way they would be “responsible for” any other human entrusted to their care or subject to the consequences of their decisions. This is a basic tenet of growing up and being a thoughtful and productive member in any society. I don’t suspect that there are many people who would disagree with that.

          The latter connotation, however, implies that bad things only happen to bad people, blaming the victim, etc., which is the sense that most people with a background in women’s studies would be conditioned to react to and the sense in which it can be harmful.

          That’s why what, exactly, they plan to say about it is what matters. If we don’t believe the former is true, then even the rapist cannot be held responsible for the rape he committed. It is important not to cross the line from one concept of personal responsibility to the other, but you don’t just throw the baby out with the bathwater.

  12. Becky says:

    I JUST saw your other comment. I’m on my phone. I’ll read the article tomorrow, but people are acting just absolutely strange about this.

  13. Erika Rae says:

    Marni, I do love your posts. You have a way of writing about something that lets your passion and humor shine through in such a “Marni way”. This is a good thing.

    Also, like Lenore, my SATs sucked. And then, years later, Kaplan actually hired me to teach for them. I taught people how to ace the verbal part of the SATs. This world makes no sense. No sense whatsoever.

    • Marni Grossman says:

      There’s no way Kaplan would hire me. This in spite of my SAT II scores.

      I’ve recently been turned down for volunteering jobs, Erika. I literally can’t give my work away. Make what you will of that.

      • Richard Cox says:

        I scored around 150 points lower on my Verbal SAT scores than Math (on the standard SAT). It was low enough that my freshman advisor wouldn’t allow me to enroll in the basic, standard freshman English composition course. He wanted me to take a basic writing and mechanics course to improve my reading and comprehension scores. It wouldn’t even count toward graduation and I was aghast. So I erased his recommendation on my course list and signed up for a CLEP exam and scored in the 99th percentile, so I was able to skip ahead to more advanced English courses.

        I’m not sure how I manged to eff up the verbal side of my SAT. But I knew I didn’t belong in remedial English. I wish I could find that advisor now and send him copies of my books. Asshole.

        😉

  14. Joe Daly says:

    Pieces like this are dangerous to me, because I tend to be easily inflamed by patently offensive institutional actions as those occurring with the Texas education system. But I appreciate the read because, though my serenity may be interrupted by righteous anger, my values mean very little unless I can defend them. This was a glorious contribution to TNB, and I mean that in a very literal way.

    If those who forget history are doomed to repeat it, then what fate awaits those who obscure it?

    I’ll say that if a measure of a person’s happiness is their inability to accept things outside of their control, then people who pursue such extraordinary means to reject empirical fact cannot be happy by any true definition.

  15. They will never, I repeat NEVER be able to remove the “ass” from Texas–

  16. Gloria says:

    I watched in horror as all of this unfolded on the internet. It eats me alive. I love your post.

  17. Carl D'Agostino says:

    Retired after 34 years American History teacher, Miami Dade County Public Schools. Taught from basic to AP. Don’t consider myself encyclopedia of fact. The last third of my career was spent as a reading teacher and a writing teacher via the genre of history. Inner city/minority/immigrant come to us 3 – 4 years behind grade level in communication skills. Text books, uh. Lotta changes last 30 years. Politics of inclusion minorities does two things. You add someone, someone gets dropped. So we drop the white guys mostly. No Thomas Edison but a minority guy that invented the bottle cap or something. No Mrs. Roosevelt but some minority woman that started a newspaper. Replace Thomas Paine with some guy that wrote The Migrant Workers Manifesto for example. Or, everyone is in there. Now we’ve got a 1200 page textbook that costs $97 at the high school level. Then there are those letter to the editor folks that remark about some admirable person, story and event and “this outta be required reading for all…” Well, you’ve seen them by the dozens.

    GUESS WHAT EVERYBODY. THE KIDS DON’T REACH THE GODDAMN BOOKS ANYWAY(EXCEPT COLLEGE BOUND). DON’T BRING BOOK TO CLASS. DON’T TAKE BOOK HOME. IF YOU HAVE A DECENT GROUP COVERING 400 PAGES IN A TERM OUT OF THE 1200 PAGES IS A REMARKABLE TEACHING PERFORMANCE. SO STOP IT . YOU ALL LOSE BECAUSE THE KIDS DON’T READ THE SHIT ANYWAY AND YOU THINK YOU ARE GETTING YOUR WHATEVER AGENDA OF RELIGIOUS/POLITICAL IMPOSED VIA TEXTBOOKS. HAHAHAHA.

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