Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Tea Party to Tennessee educators: Teach only pretty history

This is laughable: Tea Party activists in Tennessee don't want their children to learn that America's founding fathers owned slaves and killed or drove away Native Americans.

So they're "seek[ing] to compel the teaching of students in Tennessee the truth regarding the history of our nation and the nature of its government."

If these people weren't such a powerful rump group driving the agenda of one of the nation's two major political parties, this would be little more than a joke -- a funny feature on "The Colbert Report." But they're powerful, and they're serious.

And because South Carolina is a magnet for the wackiest of right-wing notions, I doubt it'll be long before we see legislation floating around the State House banning the teaching that South Carolinian leaders trafficked in slaves. That's such a known and historical fact that to avoid teaching it, we'd have to stop teaching South Carolina history in high school altogether.

O, wait... we did stop teaching South Carolina history in high school, didn't we?

Guess we got the jump on Tennessee this time.

A little more than a year after the conservative-led state board of education in Texas approved massive changes to its school textbooks to put slavery in a more positive light, a group of Tea Party activists in Tennessee has renewed its push to whitewash school textbooks. The group is seeking to remove references to slavery and mentions of the country's founders being slave owners.

According to reports, Hal Rounds, the Fayette County attorney and spokesman for the group, said during a recent news conference that there has been "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."

Made-up criticism?

ALL of our founders intruded on Native Americans. Native Americans occupied North America before the first blue-eyed white man set foot here; by definition, everyone who stepped off a boat onto the continent intruded on Native Americans. I don't recall hearing that we were invited to take their land, kills millions of them, enslave tens of thousands of them, and drive the remainder onto reservations.

And about being slaveholders: South Carolinians proved expert at it. Though he wasn't a slave owner himself, old Henry Laurens made his fortune trading them through Charleston to the Upstate, where they loved him so much for it that they named the town and county of Laurens for him. Isn't that history?

And in historian Carol Bleser's excellent "The Hammonds of Redcliffe," we learn about our great governor James Henry Hammond that,

At a time when only thirty-eight families in all of Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina owned more than three hundred slaves, Hammond owned more than three hundred thirty.

Regarding "being hypocrites in one way or another," I just don't know. Ratifying a document that says all men are created equal, and that also says African-American men are two-fifths less equal than white men, might serve as hypocrisy, as hypocrisy is nothing more than inconsistency on moral grounds.

I happen to believe that the founder didn't corner the market on hypocrisy, and that it seemed to thrive in the fertile soil of twentieth-century South Carolina. Our longest-serving U.S. Senator, for example, made race-baiting his bread-and-butter to achieve and sustain power here and nationally, all the while hiding a secret bi-racial daughter from -- what would he have called it? -- a youthful indiscretion.

But that's not the Tennessee Tea Party's only gripe:

"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," Rounds said, according to The Commercial Appeal.

Sure. In fact, we had to beat liberty into some of them, over and over again, in between cotton-picking shifts. Some folks just won't accept liberty until it's delivered with a stripe across their backs.

And others wouldn't accept liberty where they lived, here on their land that we wanted from them, so we helped them find liberty in Oklahoma, via a Trail of Tears. A lot of them rejected liberty even there, and chose to die on the way to it rather than accept the gift.

People are funny that way.

During the news conference more than two dozen Tea Party activists handed out 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."

And that further teaching would also include that "the Constitution created a Republic, not a Democracy."

France created a Republic, too, and it was governed by a dictator named Napoleon Bonaparte. If memory serves, Germany had one, too -- the Weimar Republic -- that came to be ruled by another dictator. And isn't North Korea a republic, and its leader a dictator. Dictators seem to love governing republics.

Makes me glad that our version of a republic is a democracy.

The group demanded, as they had in January of last year, that Tennessee lawmakers change state laws governing school curricula. The group called for textbook selection criteria to include: "No portrayal of minority experience in the history which actually occurred shall obscure the experience or contributions of the Founding Fathers, or the majority of citizens, including those who reached positions of leadership."

I interpret that to mean that violence against Native-Americans, African-Americans, even Irish-Americans, may have "actually occurred," but that those violences are not to be held against the people who committed the violence -- "the majority of citizens, including those who reached positions of leadership."

Should we intrepret that the Tea Party advocates celebrating those violences, or honoring them, because the people who committed the violence ultimately became our leaders? Isn't that like praising Jim Jones as an effective leader of the people of Jonestown? He was, after all, very effective at leading his people. Just as Napoleon, Hitler and Kim Jong-Il were? And while we're at it, why not add Chairman Mao, Pol Pot, Governor George Wallace and Saddam Hussein, all of whom committed terrible violences against their people and were effective leaders?

You know, so long as we're being consistent on moral grounds, so as to avoid hypocrisy and all.

The latest push comes a year after the Texas Board of Education approved revisions to its social studies curriculum that would put a conservative twist on history through revised textbooks and teaching standards.

The Texas revisions include the exploration of the positive aspects of American slavery, lifting the stature of Jefferson S. Davis to that of Abraham Lincoln, and amendments to teach the value of the separation of church and state were voted down by the conservative cadre. Among other controversial amendments that have been approved is the study of the "unintended consequences" of affirmative action.

Ho, ho... how fondly I recall the long list of "positive aspects of American slavery." Subjugation, mutilation and genocide do wonders for a people and a culture. Not to mention the incubation of domestic terrorism and state sponsorship of legalized discrimination. And we're all the richer for it, aren't we?

And it's true: Jefferson Davis was the president of a nation, invented as it was from the ribs and ridges of another nation, so why oughtn't he be elevated to stand next to Abraham Lincoln? Never mind that Lincoln was the elected president of a nation, and Davis ruled a confederacy whose purpose was to avoid federal authority and maintain terrorist dominion over other human beings.

Now, now, we've all read Charles Dew's "Apostles of Disunion"; let's not quibble over the Ordinance of Secession.

The board approved more than 100 amendments affecting social studies, economics and history classes for Texas's 4.8 million students.

The influence of the amended textbooks will likely reach far beyond the state of Texas. The state is one of the largest purchasers of textbooks, and many other states adopt Texas's books and standards.

The curriculum changes were pushed through by a majority bloc of conservative Republicans on the Texas school board, who have said the changes were made to add balance to what they believe was a left-leaning and already-skewed reflection of American history.

"There is some method to the madness besides vindicating white privilege and making white students feel as though they are superior and privileged and that that it is the natural order of things," Gary Bledsoe, president of the Texas State NAACP, told The Crisis magazine last year about this time. "The agenda being pushed and the ultimate impact intended is to make young people automatically identify with one political party."

I'm confident he means the Democratic Party of 1876.

Because those Tennessee Tea Partiers know their history.

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