Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Watch out for the Texas Taliban!


THOMAS JEFFERSON, second on the left (behind Washington) on Mount Rushmore. Too far to the left for Tory Texans?

"9:40 – We’re just picking ourselves up off the floor. The board’s far-right faction has spent months now proclaiming the importance of emphasizing America’s exceptionalism in social studies classrooms. But today they voted to remove one of the greatest of America’s Founders, Thomas Jefferson, from a standard about the influence of great political philosophers on political revolutions from 1750 to today.

THOMAS JEFFERSON was no saint. The author of the US Declaration of Independence, which said all men are created equal, was a slave owner. But then, he was a man of his times, and a Virginian. Mind you he might have fallen into trouble with America's later miscegenation laws, and even some people's present-day prejudices. In the Richmond Recorder in 1802, James Thomson Callendar first alleged that Thomas Jefferson kept one of his slaves as his "concubine" and fathered children with her. "The name of SALLY will walk down to posterity alongside of Mr. Jefferson's own name," Callendar wrote in one of his articles on the scandal.

Sally Hemings seems to have been treated better than a mere slave, and remained with Jefferson's daughters, though she never walked down to posterity, or even as yet figured on a postage stamp. For more on her see:

But now Thomas Jefferson himself is to be removed from the history books, by order of education authorities in the state of Texas, and it isn't his supposed hypocrisy or extra-marital relations they are objecting too, but the ideas he advocated.

It's many years now since someone went out asking Americans on the street what they thought about passages on the right of people to alter or remove governments, and who wrote them, and received answers including Karl Marx and Fidel Castro. This suggests people have not been entirely indoctrinated about "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" , in the origins of the American dream. But some people on Texas' education board things went far enough, and they setting the curriculum and textbooks right . “We are adding balance,” said Dr.McLeroy., the leader of the conservative faction on the board, after the vote. “History has already been skewed. Academia is skewed too far to the left.”

Once Spanish-ruled, Texas was wrested from Mexico in 1837, ironically fighting for its freedom to keep slaves, which was against Mexican law. Today the state has a large Hispanic population, but Hispanics on the board failed in their bid to see more Latino figures included in the syllabus. Mary Helen Berlanga stormed out of a meeting late Thursday night, saying, “They can just pretend this is a white America and Hispanics don’t exist.”

“They are going overboard, they are not experts, they are not historians,” she said. “They are rewriting history, not only of Texas but of the United States and the world.”

The curriculum standards will now be published in a state register, opening them up for 30 days of public comment. A final vote will be taken in May. The standards, reviewed every decade, serve as a template for textbook publishers, who must come before the board next year with drafts of their books. Given the size of Texas and its importance as a market, publishers take notice, and this could affect the wider picture.

The seven members of the conservative bloc on the board are often joined by one of the other three Republicans on crucial votes. There were no historians, sociologists or economists consulted at the meetings, though some members of the conservative bloc held themselves out as experts on certain topics.

“I reject the notion by the left of a constitutional separation of church and state,” said David Bradley, a conservative from Beaumont who works in real estate. “I have $1,000 for the charity of your choice if you can find it in the Constitution.”

They also included a plank to ensure that students learn about “the conservative resurgence of the 1980s and 1990s, including Phyllis Schlafly, the Contract With America, the Heritage Foundation, the Moral Majority and the National Rifle Association.

Mavis B. Knight, a Democrat from Dallas, introduced an amendment requiring that students study the reasons “the founding fathers protected religious freedom in America by barring the government from promoting or disfavouring any particular religion above all others.”

It was defeated on a party-line vote. After the vote, Ms. Knight said, “The social conservatives have perverted accurate history to fulfil their own agenda.”

We may note that Thomas Jefferson was a Deist - that's to say he believed in an Almighty Being, but only respected Jesus as a prophet. That's a bit like the Unitarians, whom some Victorian bigots condemned as hidden Jews. But worse, in today's intolerant crusading climate, it gives Jefferson something in common with Muslims.

In economics, the revisions add Milton Friedman and Friedrich von Hayek, champions of free-market economic theory, among the usual list of economists to be studied, like Adam Smith, Karl Marx, and John Maynard Keynes. They also replaced the word “capitalism” throughout their texts with the “free-enterprise system.” “Let’s face it, capitalism does have a negative connotation,” said one conservative member, Terri Leo. “You know, ‘capitalist pig!’ ”

Cynthia Dunbar, a lawyer from Richmond who is a strict constitutionalist and thinks the nation was founded on Christian beliefs, managed to cut Thomas Jefferson from a list of figures whose writings inspired revolutions in the late 18th century and 19th century, replacing him with St. Thomas Aquinas, John Calvin and William Blackstone. (Jefferson is not well liked among conservatives on the board because he coined the term “separation between church and state.”) “The Enlightenment was not the only philosophy on which these revolutions were based,” Ms. Dunbar said.

A detailed blow by blow account of the board meeting was blogged at http://tfninsider.org/2010/03/11/blogging-the-social-studies-debate-iv/

When the board might have considered a section on government and science, a right-winger wanted it to teach how government and taxes can be a brake on private enterprise. And in place of learning what the US constitution says about freedom of speech and religion, the right insisted on the importance of the citizen's right to bear arms.

The economic crisis and political developments in the United States have thrown up some fierce right-wing resistance and some desperate, violent characters. Last month a man called Joseph Stack, who had a long-series of economic setbacks and and trouble with tax and accountants, crashed a light aircraft into a Texas building containing an office of the US internal revenue service, killing one worker there and injuring others. This all-American suicide bomber had previously set fire to his house, and published a manifesto on the internet, accusing the IRS of penalising him while favouring the Catholic church. "Violence not only is the answer, it is the only answer," he said

Over the last weekend the FBI raided homes in Indiana, Michigan and Ohio, seizing pipe bombs and guns related to alleged militia activities. Several people were arrested and are to appear in court. The target was reportedly a small right-wing christian sect that believes this is the "end of days" and Christians must arm against persecution. The raids have been followed by a host of comments and videos on the internet, protesting that this is the start of 'red' Obama's war on patriotic Christian citizens and their right to bear arms.

We remember what happened to the giant Buddha's statue in Afghanistan.

I hate to be alarmist but I reckon it may soon be time to put an armed guard on Mount Rushmore, to forestall an attack on Jefferson's statue by the Texas Taliban.

for the text of the Declaration of Independence:

Labels: , , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home