With Each New Textbook Texas Steals U.S. History

Texas burns through history

Recently, the Texas State Board of Education voted to return to the 13th century. The claim of this largely conservative body is that they are bringing “balance” to the public school curriculum. If by “balance” they mean giving equal weight to science and superstition, to fact and to wishful thinking, then yes, they are bringing balance. They say the current text books have a left-wing tilt, an unintended admission that facts are left-wing, or in the words of Stephen Colbert, that “reality has a well-known liberal bias.”

And what do you do when you find the facts unpalatable? You re-write them, wish them away, ignore them, or redefine them out of existence. The Bush Administration successfully engaged these processes for eight years; why shouldn’t the former president’s home state?

Troubling as this is, we should not get ahead of ourselves. This is hardly the first time history has fallen prey to special interests or to extreme nationalist ideology:

• Hitler’s Aryan Jesus is just an extension of the old Christian ideology that takes Jesus out of his Jewish context and makes him more palatable and relatable to Gentiles.

• Nationalist Scandinavian scholars in the 19th century invented the Viking Age. Now we all talk about the Viking Age as if such a thing actually existed. It could just as easily have been the Magyar Age, that nomadic people who terrorized Europe just as thoroughly as the Vikings and at the same point in history.

• And everybody in the Balkans seems to want to lay claim to the heritage of Macedon and Alexander. This would come as a surprise to Alexander himself, for in his day, all anyone heard from the Greeks was that the Macedonians were NOT Greeks, that they were barbarians. They even spoke a different language, as history makes very clear. Don’t try telling that to Greece today. Today, the Macedonians are and always have been Greeks.

• And perhaps most memorably, Marxism has re-written the entirety of history to be a chronicle of class struggle, imposing some very modern concepts on ancient civilizations completely unaware of and untouched by the peculiar and unique circumstances of the industrialized mid-19th century.

History, you see, is a valuable commodity, and not just to those of us who have studied it, and who treasure it as a thing in itself. As more than one historian has noted, the enemy is national mythology, but also popular history.
In both realms we see the influence of pernicious ideology, and not just the commonplace ideologies we all adhere to, but (to use the words of archaeologist William G. Dever) ideology as based on the illusions required to sustain themselves and to order and control society.

History is also a fragile thing; it does not long survive contact with ideologies, be they political or religious. And in the case of Texas, history is assailed by both.

That is not to say that history is correctly portrayed in every textbook in every other part of the country. Far from it. Everyone has a point of view, an agenda, an ideology; true objectivity is impossible. Anyone who has gone on to study history in college understands the various ways in which the historical record has been doctored, not only here in the United States but in other nations.

We all value our national myths, and we all mythologize our heroes, whether it is as innocuous as Washington chopping down a cherry tree or a coon-skin capped Davey Crocket swinging a musket for freedom at the Alamo.

It is a simple fact that people don’t like to have their belief’s challenged. And the situation in Texas epitomizes this contest and puts it in context. Modern Fundamentalist conservatism of the sort that increasingly drives the GOP has found fault with the facts as they are; these facts impinge upon their need for a mythic America, a nation not only founded by Christians but for Christians, a nation whose principles are based on the Bible.

Obviously, historical facts militate against this vision, and the only solution then is to re-write the history books, to produce monstrosities like the “Historically Incorrect Guide to American History,” which make absurd but conservative-friendly claims about America’s past, that enshrine lies in place of fact, that raise myth-making above historiography. What results is not history, but apologia.

Facts ought to count for something. Our interpretation of history, our conclusions, ought to derive not from wishful thinking but from documented and verifiable evidence. An argument based upon false premises counts for nothing.

And when history loses, we all lose. We can find comfort in an invented past but we can’t learn anything from something that has no connection to the journey we have taken as a people. Texas may cherish its memories of the struggle at the Alamo, and of the character of the men who fought there, but however Texas wishes to remember them, we must not permit such parochialism to lift these men and events to the same level as the patriots who fought for America’s independence, and who established our Nation.

The Battle of San Jacinto does not have, and can never have, the stature of Bunker Hill.The surrender of Santa Ana cemented the theft by a few Anglo-Saxons of a predominantly and historically Hispanic Mexican province; the surrender of Cornwallis cemented the independence of long-settled colonies of Europeans from an abusive mother country which shared with them both religion and ethnicity. Texas can fool itself but America and the world must not let themselves be fooled by this nationalistic abuse of the historical record.

If Texas wants to return to the 13th century, I suppose we have to let them. We don’t have much choice, after all. People have a right to be blindingly stupid. But we must not follow them. We must resist the temptation to make history say what we want it to say to support our current political and religious agendas. History is what it is, a record of the past. But it is also the interpretation of that past, and that interpretation should, to the extent it is possible, adhere to one agenda only, that of impartiality, for only then can we learn from our past what we need to know to journey into our future.

True objectivity may be impossible; that does not mean we should not attempt to set aside our blinkers and see the facts for what they are, whether we like them or not.

Historical events, like current events, are ugly; they have warts. That is simply how the world is, an imperfect place guided by imperfect people. Our mistakes have meaning; we cannot wish them away or with 20/20 hindsight pretend they never happened. Scholars and educators, at least, should know better.

Texas, to its shame, by rewriting textbooks, might embrace a mythic America, but that America never existed, and it does not exist, and cannot exist as long as there are people who value our history for what it is, a record not of wishful thinking, but of the past. In the end, what Texas has done does not balance the past; it steals it.

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23 Replies to “With Each New Textbook Texas Steals U.S. History”

  1. But most of Texas doesn’t agree with the textbook changes. 2 of the most egregious state board members lost their reelection bids in the Republican primaries. That’s why this whole procedure has been rushed this year: they knew they would not have the required votes next year.

    Also, please note that due to Texas’ budget crisis, there is talk of delaying purchasing new textbooks by at least a couple of years. So there is hope that the matter could be revisited next year when we have a new state board.

  2. Texas is doing its citizens, especially its children, a horrible disservice by re-writing history to fit a political agenda. Once these kids get out in the real world, in the absence of any other learning to serve as a reality check, they are in for a rude awakening. There are people from other countries who know our history a lot better than some Americans do, and it will be a painful eye-opener to be confronted with a foreigner who knows American history better than Americans.

    There is no country on this planet that has not had less-than-proud moments. However, the countries that learned from those moments and went on to do better are the praiseworthy ones. If everyone had had the mindset of these revisionists, a lot of injustices in the United States would never have been addressed–namely, slavery, women’s rights, and the labor movement which gave us things we take for granted today like minimum wage, 8-hour days, and no child labor. This is a great country, but still an imperfect work in progress.

    There is already a dangerous anti-intellectual strain in this country, personified by the likes of Palin, Bachmann,
    Limbaugh, Beck, and others. We do not need for it to be institutionalized with textbooks that twist or suppress any element of our history, because that only facilitates the anti-intellectualism.

  3. one can only hope that the people of Texas and indeed the legislature of Texas stop this foolishness before it gets to the textbooks.

    For one thing it sets up factions between those kids who are religious and not religious. It sets up differences between those who already know real history and are forced to learn a history that in part is false and in part is nonrelevant. it also appears to set up the idea that one state is more important than the whole of the country. I do not think that these people understand the once people get educated they may move out of state and then be faced with real history.

    Religion in school is merely a way for people to avoid the responsibility of teaching religion at home. Teaching a history that once a student is through school that will mean nothing to him in his future is nonproductive.

    I don’t hold out any hope that Gov. Perry will stop this. I’m certainly hoping the Texas Legislature will.

  4. An ill informed, non-critical thinking, public is much easier (and cheaper) to control.

    This is the end purpose of Conservatism.

  5. @Dorian, I do think the end goal of conservatism is maintenance of the status quo but I agree entirely that an ill-informed, non-critical thinking public is the means to that end.

  6. I don’t believe that the recently approved textbook guidelines in Texas are all that big of a deal. Why? This sort of political hamstringing of school curriculula has been going on for eons. Texas may seem more than a little off the deep end currently, but I wouldn’t worry about it all that much. May I suggest that you read a short article about the plitical context of this brouhaha and, also, what parents and students can do about it at:

  7. @FunkUniversity,

    Well, actually the textbooks are part of the “seven mountain mandate”(7 Mountains of Influence in Culture) to take over the country by Christian nationalists. Education is the base of their attack. They want to get rid of public school all together, actually. This is why the extremist Christians/Domionists endorse the Libertarians like Rand Paul.

    The Seven Mountain mandate includes:

    arts/entertainment, business, education, family, government, media, religion. These are the “battlefields” for Christian warriors.

    You can google it: reclaim seven mountains.

  8. @FunkUniversity, I don’t think we should ever underestimate the danger posed by Palin and people like her. It may not seem like much in and of itself to some people. But while textbooks in public schools have never been very accurate, there is a vast world of difference between teaching about Washington chopping down a cherry tree and that the United States was founded as a Christian nation on biblical principles or that the United States never engaged in imperialism.

    In large part, the Texas situation is more symptom than cause, but it all builds momentum and it has to be combated. People need to be aware. And that, I think, is why we are all here. Creating awareness and in turn being made more aware.

  9. Great article. Ithink this is a huge alarm bell about the crazy right who are radically taking over the education sysytem. What next? Reeducation camps?

  10. @Sarah Jones, all in all I am wondering if this one bring the Christian house crashing down. The people of the United States would never live under the Taliban, yet the Christian right wants us to live just like the Taliban.

    I have a funny feeling as they try to push this agenda too hard they may lose a few converts along the way.

    This smacks of the lifelong crisis between Caesar and religion. The old give unto thing. I certainly would not allow myself to be governed under any Christian( or any religion) regime.

  11. What can we do to turn this around, a decade of lying to our children is a lot. It will affect the next generation of adult workers. The 7MM must be stopped. We need to make people aware of their agenda and put a stop to all this mess before our country is ruined by them.

  12. @Shiva,

    Great points, Shiva.The division between religion and government needs to remain distinct for the well being of both and I deeply question the motives of any religion which wants or needs to interfere with the State.

    There’s simply no place for that and a healthy religion would avoid political power and allegiances if its goal were truly the spirituality of its people. But Christianity has been corrupted and misused throughout history, in what has always seemed a marked rejection of Christ’s very teachings.

  13. When I go on other forums and I read how people think so poorly of intellectuals, it’s disheartening. Some folks actually fall into the trap of thinking that book smarts and common sense smarts are mutually exclusive, although most people have varying degrees of both. They don’t seem to connect the dots well enough to know that if anti-intellectualism had prevailed in the past, this could never have become the country it is today. People like that are fertile ground for the selective revision of history that some Texans are attempting. As far as I’m concerned, anti-intellectualism is the kind of willful ignorance seen in people like Palin, Bachmann, etc. There’s no way to put a positive spin on it.

  14. They ( The Macedonians ) even spoke a different language, as history makes very clear.???

    Now wait a second. Can you reference any “Macedonian Text” that is NOT Greek? Please, show us that “History” of yours that makes this clear.

  15. @Trish,

    Only Science textbooks, man you guys need to tell the entire story in this place.

    Fucking progressives!

  16. @Shiva,

    Sorry to inform you Shiva, it ain’t gonna happen. You are hoping Rick Perry will stop this? Go ahead hold your breath, please I’m begging you. We have watched you left wingers corrupt the universities with your liberal ideology, I can assure you it will not be allowed in textbooks. It’s bad enough that you libs jam FDR, Theodore Roosevelt, and Woodrow Wilson down the throats of our children. You think Rick Perry will take the side of libs that want to leave out Obamas middle name simply because it gives the wrong impression. I have news for you, Texas will never bow to the likes of people like you. Do me a favor, keep holding your breath eventually we will get the desired result, one less idiot taking up oxygen.

  17. @Knuckledragger. No lefties that I know are big fans of either one of the Roosevelts or Wilson, for that matter. Anyway, now that you’ve got the text book revised, you still have to get the kids to read it.

    Last time I checked high school kids were too busy trading sex favors for oxycontin in the bathrooms to do any of that ole’ book-larnin’.

    Assuming the metanarrative of the new texts will resemble the History Networks programming, then everything will tie back in with Hitler and/or Jesus.

    God Bless Texas.

  18. Long speach but how come the thing you left out was 1 example of what’s in the book that is blatantly false or embelished. Your pointing out the path, or the highway, but you won’t show us the car itself. Not even one example. Just the possibilities. Okey dokey. Keep fear alive.

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