With the election of Barack Obama as the nation's first Black President, almost immediately came the question: do we still need Black History Month? There was this assumption on the part of some, that there were 'aims' associated with the recognition of African-American presence and achievement that were somehow achieved with his election. While there are some black and white, who dangerously question whether or not such a designation was ever needed - the fact is for decades plus, African-Americans (and other ethnicities and minorities), have had their historic contributions to this country as well as their historic journeys 'white washed' by both the traditional myths and legends with America's History and the 'official' record. If history is written by the 'winners', African-Americans, as well as Hispanics, Native Americans and to some degree Italian Americans and the Irish, have been the de facto if not designated 'losers' when it has come to the American story.
All of this is important because of statements made by evangelical minister Peter Marshall who is one of six 'experts' advising the state as it develops new social studies curriculum for Texas. Marshall's report to the Board of Education says, in part, "To have Cesar Chavez listed next to Ben Franklin is ludicrous," says Marshall.
You have got to be kidding!
Franklin's place in history is undisputed, but Texas students shouldn't learn about the leader who called attention to the exploitation of migrant workers in our country because - what?! Helping our country consciously not tolerate a labor force paid roughly the same wages as sweatshops in some third world country is not important?
Someone needs to get to David Barton, who is president of some group called Wallbuilders (talk about an appropriate name!). He says, 'Chavez lacks the stature and impact and overall contributions of so many others.' Like who? Like the statues of Confederate generals that litter the grounds of the Texas State Capitol?
Oh they weren't through though. Thurgood Marshall, our country's first Black Supreme Court Justice and former NAACP lawyer who argued the case before the Supreme Court which resulted in the 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education decision, is said to be, 'not a strong enough example ' of an important historical figure.
I'm not offended that these men have this opinion. I'm incensed that the State Board of Education would be listening to these people at all! But they were apparently among six to help 'guide' writing teams to draft social studies standards to be considered by the Board. They were appointed by Republican social conservatives on the board to help determine what should be taught to students in Texas schools.
Barton would also have another 'correction' made to the way our children are taught about their country, he says, '...because the U.S. is a republic rather than a democracy, the proper adjective for identyfing U.S. values and processess. should be 'republican' rather than 'democratic.' That means that social studies books should discuss 'republican' values in the U.S. ...'
You can read the rest of the Dallas Morning News article here.
Right now, after our state's governor irresponsibly throws out the prospect of Texas' secession from the United States, another political official comparing unemployment insurance to crack cocaine, and a just recently corrected injustice of releasing falsely imprisoned citizens without money or support to help them get back on their feet - I'm trying to figure out just much farther we need to go to avoid being taken seriously! One more nutty proposal like any one of these and we won't have to worry about seceding from the Union, we'll be kicked out.
A reading of history that doesn't teach the relative contributions of all of its citizens is not history at all - its myth! And we've already got too much of that persisting still.
A recent trip to Austin and the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum, reminded me of a story, which, if not true, is too good not to share here.
President Kennedy, in his visit to Texas in 1963, first stopped at San Antonio, where he was taken on a tour of the Alamo. A crowd began to gather, and it was clear that if he stayed much longer he would be incredibly late. He asked someone where the rear exit was so they could avoid the crowd. Someone in the group showing him the Texas shrine said, 'There is no rear exit. That's why everyone who died here died a hero.'
This state and this country's story is far more complex than some want to believe.
For the sake of the Texas State Board of Education, here is what we do when we teach 'history'.
We provide a context for our present
We teach young people the responsibility that they have to make a contribution to the continued quest for perfection of our society
We expose them to people who look like them, grew up in many ways like them, and who overcame some of the same barriers they have to overcome to make that contribution
We teach them that purposefulness doesn't come without struggle
We teach them that every freedom they enjoy comes with a price
We teach them that the values of our country (the real values), are being handed to them as a trust
We shape their psyche and minds, we give them a sense of their place in the world
We shape them into patriots, not nationalists
We teach them that the story of our country is their story
The attempts to politicize history by the contributions of non-white Americans is distorting, dangerous, despicable and deplorable. The fact that the State's Board of Education would even entertain a report containing these contributions is, in itself unconscionable.
Here's a newsflash to all who want to rewrite Texas history to reflect the 'republican' values upon which this country is based: we've all ready gone through a period in which the contributions, accomplishments and achievements of minorities were erased from public education: we called that period 'segregation'.
Anyone out there still think we don't need Black History Month?!