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Winners write history; losers sometimes try to rewrite it. Just when you probably thought you’d seen the craziest thing a partisan group could do, along comes the Tea Party and surprises you. In early 2011, the Texas Board of Education bowed to pressure from Tea Party activists in that state and approved revisions to the social studies curriculum, putting a conservative twist on history with revised textbooks and teaching standards, putting a positive spin on slavery in America, elevating Jefferson Davis, the Confederate president to an equal status with Abraham Lincoln, and downgrading the teaching of the value of separation of church and state.
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This not subtle racist move by conservative Texas politicians has caused a number of groups, in particular those supporting minorities, to push back at efforts to ‘whitewash’ the nation’s history. They now have new reason to worry. Tea Party activists in the state of Tennessee are pushing to have history textbooks in that state edited to remove references to the Founding Fathers being slaveholders, as well as references to the mass killing of Native American populations. This group of misguided citizens would have future generations of students in their state; and one can surmise they also wish the rest of the country would follow; grow up thinking that our past history contained no negative acts committed by their white forefathers. That last phrase must be stressed, because, as in Texas, they don’t wish to delete from history books any negative things done by minorities. For instance, in Texas, while lawmakers voted down a requirement that students be taught about the violence of the Ku Klux Klan, they’re allowed to be taught about violent acts perpetrated by the Black Panther Party.
The Tennessee group’s spokesperson, Hal Rounds, in describing the motivation behind the effort, reportedly told a news conference “an awful lot of made-up criticism about, for instance, the founders intruding on the Indians or having slaves or being hypocrites in one way or another. The thing we need to focus on about the founders is that, given the social structure of their time, they were revolutionaries who brought liberty into a world where it hadn’t existed, to everybody – not all equally instantly - and it was their progress that we need to look at.” One has to wonder where Mr. Rounds, an attorney no less, got his ‘facts’ to support his contention that statements that European settlers intruded on Native American land, or held slaves, is ‘made up.’ Nowhere in his statement does one hear the need for history to be an accurate recount of events, negative as well as positive, so that students have a fuller understanding and appreciation of how much progress has been made. No, in Tennessee, the Tea Party is calling for textbooks to include selection criteria such that “No portray of minority experience in the history which actually occurred shall obscure the experience or accomplishments of the Founding Fathers, or the majority of citizens, including those who reached positions of authority.”
If this alone is not enough to frighten you, during a news conference the group handed out written material that said, “Neglect and outright ill will have distorted the teaching of the history and character of the United States. We seek to compel the teaching of students in Tennessee the truth regarding the history of our nation and the nature of its government.” Further, they want teaching that “the Constitution created a Republic, not a Democracy.”
It doesn’t take much reflection to see shades of Nazi Germany here. The group that perceives itself to be the dominant group with society takes steps to rewrite history to reinforce that dominance and superiority. Further, it ensures that those it deems ‘inferior’ are put in their proper place; at the bottom if not completely written out of the history. Like the Mad Hatter in Alice in Wonderland, they want the ‘truth to mean what they say it means.’ Even more frightening is the prospect that these moves by the Tea Party, coming one year apart, but being eerily similar, are not part of a coordinated assault on the U.S. education system to move us back to the Nineteenth Century, or even earlier, when black people were considered by the Constitution to be ‘three-fifths’ a person and Native Americans weren’t even considered; back to the days of ‘separate but equal,’ a concept that was blatantly hypocritical even at its inception.
Do they really think that Thomas Jefferson’s ownership of slaves; or his fathering of children by his slave mistress, detracts from his authorship of the Declaration of Independence? Do they have so little faith in the ability of people to process the fullness of information about our history that certain parts have to be excised, and the Founding Fathers be thus raised to the status of saints who ‘did no wrong?” Or, could there be a hidden, more insidious motive behind these efforts? One can only wonder.