Well, there you go again, Texas, making me wish we still had your Molly Ivins around to make sense of you.
As the late, great columnist once so wisely explained, “Many a time freedom has been rolled back — and always for the same reason: fear.”
I took that to heart while reading a boatload of coverage about your elected state school board’s latest effort to indoctrinate its students with the kind of misinformation that’s going to make them the butt of an awful lot of jokes.
This time, you want your children to graduate from high school thinking slavery had nothing to do with the Civil War.
Dear Texas: What are you afraid of now?
We know you’re scared of your women, because you keep trying to eliminate their constitutional right to an abortion. The U.S. Supreme Court put a stop to that stunt, at least for now.
We know you’re scared of progress, too, because you execute more people than any other state in the country. By the way, I’m wearing my favorite T-shirt right now, the one that reads: “I’ll Believe Corporations Are People When Texas Executes One.” Members of my late father’s union, Local 271 of the Utility Workers of America, gave me that T-shirt.
Holy sweet tea, there’s another thing you’re afraid of: unions. Can’t have workers negotiating for wages and benefits in Texas. They might make a living wage.
And now, it looks like you’re afraid of your own history. As The Washington Post‘s Emma Brown reported, this fall Texas students will have brand-new textbooks that cast slavery as a “side issue” of the Civil War. The books don’t even mention Jim Crow laws or the Ku Klux Klan.
Students will read Jefferson Davis’ inaugural address as president of the Confederate States of America, in which he didn’t mention slavery. But students won’t be required to read that famous speech by Davis’ vice-president, Alexander Stephens, “in which he explained that the South’s desire to preserve slavery was the cornerstone of its new government and ‘the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution.'”
You see what Stephens did there? Of course you do, which is why he is now Texas’ least popular politician of the Civil War. Next to Abraham Lincoln, I mean. He made the cut for the new book, right? Please say yes.
In 1949, historian Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. rebutted claims of an earlier generation of revisionists in an essay titled, “The Causes of the Civil War: A Note on Historical Sentimentalism.” He included the essay in his 1963 book, The Politics of Hope, which I pulled off our bookshelf and discovered to be packed with observations about America that are as relevant today — jarringly so — as they were more than five decades ago.
Schlesinger took on the revisionist argument that slavery had little, if anything, to do with the Civil War. The revisionists’ claim is best summarized as follows: “See now, there you go, misunderstanding what was happening in the South. Why, we were this close to freeing the slaves before Lincoln showed up with his uppity self.”
Schlesinger’s response, in part:
“To reject the moral actuality of the Civil War is to foreclose the possibility of an adequate account of its causes. More than that, it is to misconceive and grotesquely to sentimentalize the nature of history. … Nothing exists in history to assure us that the great moral dilemmas can be resolved without pain; we cannot therefore be relieved from the duty of moral judgment on issues so appalling and inescapable as those involved in human slavery; nor can we be consoled by sentimental theories about the needlessness of the Civil War into regarding our own struggles against evil as equally needless.”
We must live with our mistakes. How else are we going to learn from them?
Texas, you go ahead and try to poison the minds of your children, but this version of history won’t fool the independent thinkers among them. As anyone who has raised or taught teenagers knows, they are a challenging age. Not only do they see through our hypocrisy; they call us out on it, too. So annoying, those wicked-smart youngsters.
You can always lure a few suckers when you pander to those who cherish the myths of history more than the truths of its legacy. But we’re talking five million students, and I know from my many visits to your state that you’re not nearly as monolithic as your right-wingers want us Northerners to believe.
Molly Ivins knew that, too — and long before the Internet made it so easy for kids to be kids, with their questioning ways.
“I believe all Southern liberals come from the same starting point — race,” she wrote. “Once you figure out they are lying to you about race, you start to question everything.”
Rip open the chips and pass the chile con queso. I don’t want to miss a minute of this showdown.
Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and an essayist for Parade magazine. She is the author of two books, including …and His Lovely Wife, which chronicled the successful race of her husband, Sherrod Brown, for the U.S. Senate. To find out more about Connie Schultz ([email protected]) and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.
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