The Texas State Board of Education‘s approval in January of a requirement that students study the ideas in the inaugural address of Confederate President Jefferson Davis hasn’t received a lot of attention. Far-right board member Barbara Cargill, R-The Woodlands, proposed that addition to the eighth-grade American history curriculum standards.
In states that once made up the Confederacy, nostalgia for the Old South is hardly new. To many on the right, the Confederacy offers a heroic stand against the “tyranny” of Washington (never mind that slavery was the key issue at the time of the Civil War). Segregationists of the 1950s and 1960s, for example, waved the Rebel flag in defiance of federal court rulings and Congressional acts protecting civil rights. Today some elected officials — including Texas Gov. Rick Perry — pander to wild-eyed, anti-government extremists and flirt with secessionist, “states’ rights” and “nullification” rhetoric common in the years leading up to the Civil War.
So perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that far-right members of the State Board of Education want Texas students to study the ideas of Davis, the Confederacy’s only president. But let’s look at some of Davis’ ideas students will be considering, thanks to Ms. Cargill and her board colleagues. (Quoted passages below come from Davis’ inaugural address.)
Treason is patriotic.
“Doubly justified by the absence of wrong on our part, and by wanton aggression on the part of others, there can be no cause to doubt that the courage and patriotism of the people of the Confederate States will be found equal to any measure of defense which their honor and security may require.”
Some Americans can seek to destroy the Union if they decide they no longer want to be part of the country. (Such as, perhaps, when an election doesn’t go the way they want?)
“Our present political position has been achieved in a manner unprecedented in the history of nations. It illustrates the American idea that governments rest on the consent of the governed, and that it is the right of the people to alter or abolish them at will whenever they become destructive of the ends for which they were established.”
Those who complain today about the supposed overreaching of the federal government can find their champions in the traitors of the Confederacy.
“The declared purpose of the compact of the Union from which we have withdrawn was to ‘establish justice, insure domestic tranquillity, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity;’ and when, in the judgment of the sovereign States composing this Confederacy, it has been perverted from the purposes for which it was ordained, and ceased to answer the ends for which it was established, a peaceful appeal to the ballot box declared that, so far as they are concerned, the Government created by that compact should cease to exist.”
Honor, equality, liberty and justice are compatible with defending evil, including the institution of slavery.
“It is joyous in the midst of perilous times to look around upon a people united in heart, where one purpose of high resolve animates and actuates the whole; where the sacrifices to be made are not weighed in the balance against honor and right and liberty and equality. Obstacles may retard, but they cannot long prevent, the progress of a movement sanctified by its justice and sustained by a virtuous people. Reverently let us invoke the God of our fathers to guide and protect us in our efforts to perpetuate the principles which by his blessing they were able to vindicate, establish, and transmit to their posterity. With the continuance of his favor ever gratefully acknowledged, we may hopefully look forward to success, to peace, and to prosperity.”
The “enlightened verdict” of mankind and God’s judgment vindicate even the most treacherous acts conducted in support of the most evil institutions.
“The impartial and enlightened verdict of mankind will vindicate the rectitude of our conduct; and He who knows the hearts of men will judge of the sincerity with which we have labored to preserve the Government of our fathers in its spirit.”
Well, here are a few things for the rest of us to consider. Ms. Cargill and her far-right board colleagues objected to seventh-graders learning about Santa Barraza because one of the painter’s many works (which almost certainly would not appear in a textbook) includes a depiction of a woman’s breasts. They rejected third-graders learning about Dolores Huerta because she’s a socialist. They don’t want high school world history students learning about the influence of Thomas Jefferson, who argued that a “wall of separation between church and state” is essential to freedom, on political revolutions since the 1700s. They blocked a requirement that high school students learn that our nation’s Founders protected religious freedom by barring government from promoting or disfavoring any one religion over all others. And they oppose students in all grades learning that the word “capitalism” describes the economic system in the United States because it’s supposedly a “negative” word used by “liberal academics,” as board member Terri Leo, R-Spring put it.
Yet they want students to learn about the “unintended consequences” of the civil rights and women’s rights movements. They insist that Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s political witch hunts in the 1950s have been “vindicated.” And they want students to study the ideas of someone who justified treason against against the United States in defense of the institution of slavery.
Is it a wonder that many people across the country cringe when they look at Texas right now? They must be astonished at how know-nothings and extremists came to be so influential over the education of not just public school students in Texas, but also students across the country who will be learning from textbooks publishers craft to meet the social studies curriculum standards our State Board of Education adopts in May.