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Literally Rewriting History

September 24th, 2014

A school board in Colorado is considering the formation of a “curriculum committee” for local high schools that would review and filter the content of the schools’ U.S. History courses.

In what way?

…the committee would make sure that U.S. history materials “promote citizenship, patriotism, essentials and benefits of the free enterprise system, respect for authority and respect for individual rights. Materials should not encourage or condone civil disorder, social strife or disregard of the law. Instructional materials should present positive aspects of the United States and its heritage. Content pertaining to political and social movements in U.S. history should present balanced and factual treatments of the positions.”

The panel “would review curricular choices for accuracy and omissions, conformity to Jefferson County academic standards, and to inform the Board of materials that may reasonably be deemed objectionable.

The committee shall regularly review texts and curricula according to priorities that it establishes,” according to the Jeffco School board proposal.

The more you consider it, the more you realize that the description cannot possibly be defended. The board president claims that the proposal will in no way “change the history curriculum,” but if that were so, then what would a “curriculum committee” do? The whole idea of such a committee would be to revise and change the curriculum. In fact, the more you read the wording, the more apparent it is that whoever wrote it is almost certainly a Fox-News-watching Tea Party advocate. Nor should it surprise one that the people pressing this agenda are indeed Koch-backed conservatives being cheered on by right-wing pundits.

The proposal states that materials in history classes would have to “promote patriotism,” for example. How exactly do you do that? History is supposed to be an objective study of past events. It seems clear that if certain historical facts are deemed not to promote a sense of love for country, they would be revised to do so. Under this metric, one could easily presume that not only would national icons have their reputations brightened beyond factual descriptions, but anything in the history course which reflects poorly on the United States would be removed or reworded so that it would not appear that the United States did anything wrong. Political scandals, corruption, and specific wrongdoing by public agencies would be on the chopping block. The Tuskegee syphilis experiment, the internment of Japanese Americans during WWII, slavery, and the campaign of genocide against native Americans might all be suppressed under the review of such a committee. If the committee were to work to “present positive aspects of the United States and its heritage,” that could easily be interpreted as a license to whitewash history in general.

Then there is the “essentials and benefits of the free enterprise system,” essentially the ideology that private business should be free of state control and regulation—a very specific political tenet. Exploitation of child and immigrant labor, the history of labor unions and their positive effects, evidence of corporate malfeasance—all would likely be rewritten so as to glorify the idea of corporations as heroes, and any state regulation or intervention as meddling bureaucrats making things worse.

And “respect for authority”? What is that supposed to mean? Most political movements in our history, such as the Civil Rights movement, were based upon a respect for peaceful protest, but not a “respect for authority.” Besides which, the whole idea of education is not to create a class of subservient drones, but to develop minds capable of critical thinking and analysis, one basis of which is to question authority. Not to disrespect it outright—but questioning it could easily be classed as “not respecting” authority, and so removed from the curriculum.

As for the rule that the content of history courses must “not encourage or condone civil disorder, social strife or disregard of the law,” that pretty much means that labor unions, political protests, peaceful civil disobedience—essentially any protests against the status quo, which would include the suffragette movement, the civil rights movement, Occupy Wall Street, you name it. Naturally, these are progressive movements for the most part.

But then we get to the last item on the agenda: “Content pertaining to political and social movements in U.S. history should present balanced and factual treatments of the positions.”

You know what that means: someone read a history book, didn’t like how their favored positions were represented, and decided it was time to do a little rewriting. The Second Amendment was not about militia! Separation of church and state was not about secularism! “Balance” has become a new code word, one that allows for “both sides of the argument” to be presented. History texts look poorly upon McCarthyism and blacklists? Well, let’s see the other side of that argument, just to be balanced.

The real clincher that these are die-hard conservatives comes from a line from the proposal strangely not included in the report cited above: “Theories should be distinguished from fact.” That’s deep-red code, absolute dog-whistle language which just screams, “We’re angry, paranoid wingnuts intent on revisionism!”

Seriously, school boards should be outlawed. I mean that. Consider what they are: Bands of local citizens, mostly chosen in elections few people pay real attention to, who have absolutely no prerequisites for any knowledge or expertise regarding education, who nonetheless exert authority over and pressure professionals engaged in providing children with a quality education. These are not experts. They are all too often people with personal and political agendas.

Imagine the idea of a school board applied to any other profession. How about medicine? How would you feel if your doctor, your surgeon, were forced to follow the mandates of a bunch of yahoos elected by friends in your neighborhood while you weren’t looking, deciding what medicines should be prescribed, or how surgeries should be performed? Can you really say that wouldn’t scare the crap out of you?

And yet, somehow, this is the standard for education. Spiffy.

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  1. Troy
    September 25th, 2014 at 10:25 | #1

    conservatives gonna, uh, conserve.

    the right wing wants to spin US history their way, no need to sully the next generation’s minds with all the mistakes an boo-boos of the past. What a glorious story we can tell when we avoid all that negativity!

    it’s already quite amazing what is already memory-holed; reading about Maytag for some reason, I was amused to find this in wikipedia:

    “The company was able to beat the strike because of the intervention of four military companies, including a machine gun company, of the 113th Cavalry Regiment, Iowa National Guard”

    While Sinclair Lewis didn’t apparently write “When Fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross” he did write this:

    “But he saw too that in America the struggle was befogged by the fact that the worst Fascists were they who disowned the word ‘Fascism’ and preached enslavement to Capitalism under the style of Constitutional and Traditional Native American Liberty.”

    I need to really dive into what was written 1880 ~ 1930; so much of what was learned then (the hard way!) has been forgotten since our center-right system wants to whitewash all of it.

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