Enjoy this well written rant on the TxSBOE very stupid decision on History Textbook Standards by guest blogger and long-time friend Heath Hamrick. If you live in Texas, these standards are going to be (if they’re not already) up for public comment. Please let your opinion be heard!
by Heath Hamrick:
As a student of history, I can claim to know more than the layman about pretty much any historic time period; I can trace the failures of the first five commanders of the Army of the Potomac during the American Civil War or tell you how Alexander defeated the Persians at Arbela with equal ease. I do, however, have a few areas of special interest: the fall of Republican Rome, 1960’s politics, and the foundation of the United States. That makes sense, really: all three are areas featuring inspirational leadership…and the struggle of the new against the old. I just read the standards being advocated for Texas textbooks, and, by extension, the textbooks of the entire country for the next decade. These include some very ultra-right wing ideas; I won’t say conservative ideas, because “conservative” is not a bad word nor are those who fly the conservative flag bad people. Conservatives are necessary in any free society, as are liberals, to allow that society to move forward at the appropriate pace; not too fast, not too slow, and with a maximum amount of dialogue. The standards I just read about, however, are not “conservative”, but rather a very narrow and strictly religious viewpoint on how American school children need to be taught regardless of their beliefs. These include the idea that Thomas Jefferson should not be considered an intellectual Founder of the country; that Joe McCarthy wasn’t really a demagogue who trampled on the Constitution and instituted a reign of fear; that the Civil Rights Movement and the social reforms of the Sixties are unimportant next to the Conservative Movement of the Nineties; and that the Founders were all *strict* Christians.
Fascinatingly enough, all of these happen to fall into my areas of expertise, so I’d like a chance to rebut some of these statements of “fact” and then tell you, whoever may be reading this, why political discourse in our country is splintering along religious lines. Let’s tackle Jefferson first. I have never been a fan of our third president; as a man, he has always struck me as a fickle genius who never thought twice about back-biting a friend to further his ambition, or about championing equality while owning a slave mistress. Now, I have always held up the Constitution as our greatest founding document rather than Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence. That being said: Thomas Jefferson was the man who nearly single-handily started the political party system in American politics, who arranged the purchase of most of the American Mississippian Corridor and thus touched off the idea of “manifest destiny”, and who penned the most influential words in American history: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”. These words have been quoted ever since, by every court and high position in our land. To say that they have no place in the intellectual founding of our country is not only wrong, it is incontestably wrong. What has Jefferson done to earn this demotion in the eyes of Texan text-book board members? Simply put: he was a deist, who believed in a Christian god but not in the organized religion itself, and in a country and, more importantly, a state where it has become a moral imperative to prove that those who founded this country were STRICTLY Christian, he was an embarrassment because he wrote down his feelings far too often for them to be misconstrued. So…now Thomas Jefferson, who has a memorial in Washington, his face on Mount Rushmore, and numerous schools named after him, is apparently no longer an intellectual founder of this nation.
As for the Founders, the idea that they were ALL strictly Christian is historical revisionism at it’s worst (funny, since revisionism is usually a tool of liberalism). Like most Christians, the Founders had varying degrees and intensities of belief, from the devout John Adams to the doubtful George Washington who always talked about “Divine Providence” rather than any specific God to Alexander Hamilton, who was fairly atheistic during the Revolution but grew quite devout later on, to the aforementioned Jefferson, who had faith, but not in organized religion. To paint them all with the same brush is unfortunate revisionism, since diversity was and remains a great thing about this country, even when we find it inconvenient. The Ultra-Religious Right, by supporting the recent Texas Board of Education decision, has proven that they want to rewrite history in their own image, and if they can’t rewrite it, as with Thomas Jefferson, they will simply downplay it’s significance.
The truth, as far as I can see it and as far as anything could ever be called “the truth”, is that the founding of this nation was based on an awkward fact: most of the Founders were aristocratic and educated landowners during the Enlightenment and thus were imbued with a sense of Reason over Religion, while at the same time most common Americans were descended from the Puritan settlers we celebrate every Thanksgiving and thus were not the most religiously tolerant of people. THERE is the awkward fact at the heart of the American founding: most of the men shouldering muskets at Bunker Hill were strictly religious while most of the men at Independence Hall writing our laws were not. The great thing about the Constitution, and about those men who wrote it, was that they recognized that religion should be personal, not political, individualized rather than institutionalized. It is a paradox of American existence both the left and right need to accept.