Guest Author, Douglas White

My friend Doug White requested the opportunity to try his hand at a blog entry because he got fired up about the state of education in Texas.  I was happy to oblige his desire to exercise his University of Mary Washington political science degree and add a different perspective for Pickle readers to consider.  I doubt it’s necessary to add some disclaimer about these being the beliefs of Doug White only and not necessarily those of the Potter Political Pickle.  When it comes to politics and religion, beliefs tend to be personal and unique; this is no exception.  Also, I think it brings up an interesting topic – separation of church and state, one that I look forward to covering in law school.

Without further adieu:

Does history repeat itself and if so, how would we know?

By Douglas White

Last week Texas’ School Board opened the door for radical change in the way Social Studies is presented in public schools. In votes that were generally split 10-5 (10 Republican members, and 5 Democratic members) the School Board decided to present American history with conservative, Christian values receiving heightened attention.

Some of the more controversial measures call for a downplaying of Thomas Jefferson in history – as Jefferson is a noted Deist, and not “as Christian” as other founding fathers. The vote also opens the Constitutional idea of the “Separation of Church and State” for debate. One member, David Bradley said, “I reject the notion by the left of a constitutional separation of church and state.” Other changes would emphasize conservative movements in history, including the defense of Senator McCarthy and the conservative resurgence of the 1980s, and highlight groups like the NRA and the Heritage Foundation. As the board moves to include more conservative history into the Texas curriculum other groups received the ax. Culturally significant movements from the left, like hip-hop, will not be highlighted and Texas’ significant Hispanic population will also receive less attention. Board members said these changes reflect the country’s Christian founding, and that history has long been painted with a liberal brush.

When this story first came to my attention, I must admit, my first reaction was “of course, why wouldn’t Texas want to re-write history to favor the Christian-right?” Texas has always had an independent streak, there is the Texas way and the wrong way, but after cooling down and putting some thought into it, I realized I must be fair and examine what motivates these actions, and see if there is any justification.

I must say, I am an outspoken atheist with very liberal leanings, and the idea of a curriculum being shaped around Christian values sent a shiver up my spine. But, as a student of history, their arguments are not out of left field (or in this case right field). History is as diverse as we are. My interpretation of September 11th is different from my neighbors, whose is different from millions of other Americans. A historian’s job is not only to collect facts but often involves interpreting those facts for everyone else. This can lead to historians trying to impress or satisfy the 300+ million Americans who will remember read or remember the story. This is no easy feat. Americans are diverse; our interpretation of events is viewed through the lens of our political persuasion, personal experiences, and yes, as much as it pains me to say, our religious affiliation.

What has happened in Texas is that a group of conservative Christian are reacting to the feeling that their point of view is subordinate when it comes to American history. This is not the first time a group has felt like this. In fact, it is these very movements that have spurred on a more complete view of history. For decades our country overlooked the accomplishments of African-Americans. Through the action of historians, millions of students across the country are now taught the heroism of Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglas, Martin Luther King Jr., and many others. The late Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States brought the plight of marginalized citizens to the attention of readers across the country. This effort by the Texas School Board is another link in the chain of history. They are striving to highlight another narrative in the story that is America.

The problem is, while they are attempting to balance Christianity’s role in our country (which is no small role), they are doing it by over-shadowing the true contributions of other  groups or narratives. While trying to emphasize the role of conservatives, Texas educators are adding a political spin that appears to overcompensate. History should be as inclusive as possible. The people that shape this country should be recognized in our texts and classrooms – that includes the conservatives who have shaped history. The problem begins when an attempt to present history as occuring ONE way, and to present no alternatives, borders on fascism. A history lesson that I recommend the Texas School Board revisit.

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One response to “Guest Author, Douglas White

  1. Schalene Dagutis

    Doug, great contribution! Previous marginalized groups typically didn’t try to take subjects away from our historical record but add to the record. That Christian activists in Texas want to remove Thomas Jefferson reveals their motives are not about improving our understanding of all historical figures, but rather they want to revise history to better suit their views and beliefs.

    Thomas Jefferson was one of our most important founding fathers. He was the main author of one of the most beautiful documents in history, the Declaration of Independence; the author of Virginia statute on religious freedom (perhaps that’s what they don’t like; founded The University of Virginia; contributed his books to the Library of Congress after it was burned in the War of 1812, providing the core of the Library’s current collection; funded the expedition of discovery led by Meriwether Lewis; purchased the Louisiana territory from France; was one of the first Americans (along with George Washington) to propound crop rotation…his accomplishments large and small are a vital piece of our Nation’s history.

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