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Daniel Ruth

In Texas, it's less Jefferson, more McCarthy

Let's see if we have this straight. U.S. Sen. Joe McCarthy, who ruined untold innocent lives as a besotted red-baiting vigilante, was a peach of a fellow. Check. The words of the treasonous Jefferson Davis should be held in the same esteem as Abraham Lincoln's. Got it. And Thomas Jefferson, one of the fathers of the country in more ways than one, couldn't hold Ronald Reagan's teleprompter. 10-4.

No, you haven't entered some surreal parallel universe of 10-gallon Mad Hatters, just the tea-swilling, bloomer-wadded, Bible-thumping wonderland of the Texas public school system, which seems hell-bent on turning out illiterate students of history at a faster rate than the BP oil rig gusher.

In recent days the Texas Board of Education has approved a number of changes to the next generation of propaganda unwitting Lone Star State public school students will be expected to swallow in their alleged history classes if they expect to graduate from the Tumbleweed Republic's re-education camp system.

Among some of the historical hooey the school board wants to inflict on students: Joe McCarthy's communist witch hunts of the 1950s were simply wonderful; the speeches of Confederate President Jefferson Davis should be studied alongside Lincoln's; and Confederate generals should be studied as American heroes.

At the same time, the new hysterical historical fiddle-faddle dilutes the importance of the civil rights and antiwar movements. It plays down the contributions of Martin Luther King while playing up such figures as Phyllis Schlafly, Jerry Falwell and Newt Gingrich.

It must be cocktail time somewhere!

But wait! There's more. The slave trade, which eventually led to the Civil War, will henceforth be referred to as the Atlantic Triangular Trade period. And yes, you knew this was coming: Students will have a choice between the "theory" of evolution and the ever-popular wizard-in-the-sky concept of creationism.

And just to make sure all the right-wing knots were property cinched, the board eliminated cultural studies of such things as hip-hop, the genocidal treatment of American Indians or references to the Ku Klux Klan. Well if you're going to turn your state's education system into a virtual redneck madrassa, you might as well go all the way.

It's probably not too late for the Texas Board of Education to recast the Holocaust as a mere misunderstanding of train schedules gone horribly awry, or the assassination of John F. Kennedy in Dallas as simply the result of an errant shooting range gunshot; or to declare that even though Reagan never saw combat in World War II, his performance in Hellcats of the Navy (even though it wasn't made until 1957) really turned the tide against the Axis powers.

To be sure, if the state of Texas desires to create a student body that is more delusional about their country's history than North Korea's Kim Jong Il, then the public who elected these ayatollahs of history pretty much get what they deserve.

However, with nearly 5 million students, textbook decisions made by the Texas board on ideological purity ultimately impact the textbook decisions of other states.

Or put another way, because Texas is opting to impose demagoguery over reality upon its students, it is possible Florida parents could well have little Timmy coming home from school and observing: "Mummy, did you know the Civil War was fought because those big meanies in the North wouldn't let the South sing Dixie?"

While there is no shortage of insanity associated with the Texas board's time travel to the Heritage Foundation's answer to Brigadoon, the move to downplay the contributions of Jefferson, one of our greatest presidents, would seem to be among the most egregious.

Jefferson's treatment appears to have a great deal to with his support of the separation of church and state, articulated originally in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and later expanded upon in a 1802 letter the third president wrote in which he emphasized the importance of maintaining a "wall of separation of between church and state."

And oh yes, Jefferson had an eye for the well-turned ankle, especially among his slave holdings. Think of him as sort of the colonial period's answer to Warren Beatty — in a three-cornered hat.

So since the Board of Education couldn't figure out a way around Jefferson's own words, they downgraded him in favor of the star of Bedtime for Bonzo.

This doesn't even rise to the level of revisionist history. It's a smarmy insult to the citizens and students of Texas (and possibly the rest of the country) that suggests a gaggle of fundamentalist neoconservatives don't trust the public they serve to make discerning judgments based on historical facts written by responsible scholars.

What could we call an example of history repeating itself? Academic McCarthyism? After all, no two historical bedfellows ever deserved each other more than the addled Tailgunner Joe and the Texas Board of Education.

In Texas, it's less Jefferson, more McCarthy 05/27/10 [Last modified: Thursday, May 27, 2010 8:13pm]

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