History, Texas Style

History is a fragile thing. It is subject to opinion and the subjectivity of the majority. That being said, history is always in danger of being complete bullshit. And I don’t mean the crazy ranting bullshit of your neighborhood homeless guy preaching the next apocalypse, or the bullshit you tell your parents when you say you’re going to see a nice movie with friends, when really you’re going to get wasted and probably pass out on some curb downtown. I’m talking about the crafty, meticulous, and carefully-thought-out kind. The kind you read about, are taught, and thus believe to be the complete and utter truth.

What I’m talking about is the recent decision made by the Texas Board of Education to revamp all history and economic books in order to glorify American capitalism and Republican political philosophies, to question our founding fathers’ decision to separate church and state, and to downplay the racism that has taken place on this country’s soil. In these past few weeks, after three days of inflamed debate, the new standards were approved by a 10-5 party line vote with all Republicans on board voting in favor.

So what exactly are these new standards? Oh, just minor things like studying the “unintended consequences” of affirmative action, Title IX (a law enacted in 1972 stating that eligibility for Federal financial assistance will not be determined or influenced on “the basis of sex”), and the Great Society (legislation aimed at eliminating racial injustice and poverty). These new standards are planned to not only shine a light on these unintended consequences, but also seek to teach our youngsters that Japanese internment camps during World War II were not a result of racism because, you know, Germans and Italians were also thrown in there, too.

Oh, and did I mention that Thomas Jefferson is going to be cut out of the usual list of historical figures from the 18th and 19th centuries? Apparently, his ideas that church and state should be separate are unpopular among conservatives. As Cynthia Dunbar, a strict constitutionalist and Texas School Board member, put it: “The Enlightenment was not the only philosophy on which these revolutions were based.” Funny how a philosophy that challenges the legitimacy of traditional customs and institutions is being wiped from history books.

Yet, perhaps the most paradoxical thing of it all is that there were no legitimate historians, economists, sociologists, or any professionally qualified experts present at these school board meetings.

With Thomas Jefferson disappearing from the pages of textbooks and America’s turbulent periods of racial prejudice being slowly shoved to the side, it all begs the question: What is history? Clearly it isn’t pure fact diligently recorded for the masses to judge for themselves. Instead, as the Texas School Board of Education has so graciously demonstrated, it is the picking and choosing, the emphasizing and understating of certain aspects of the past. So keep this in mind next time you open a history book.

Charisma Madarang is a fourth-year literary journalism major. She can be reached at madaranm@uci.edu.