History Lessons

Posted on March 14, 2010


Texas’s state board of education’s revisions to social studies textbooks brings up an interesting case of publishing ethics. These “revisions” in the name of fairness (think Fox News type fairness) are at best distortions, and at worst outright false presentations, of fact. If these items were submitted in a paper in a high (or middle) school history class on late 20th century American politics, they should and would earn the bearer an F. And that F is not for fairness.

The ethical dilemma is whether to publish a textbook with these egregious distortions and falsehoods. While this might seem like a slam-dunk, by refusing to publish a textbook with this gibberish, a publisher would have to turn down sales to a significant portion of the U.S. textbook market since many (too many) states follow Texas’s example and use their textbook standards. If a publisher took the high road and decided not to publish such an altered textbook, I’m afraid there would be someone else more than eager to capitalize on those sales. Business is business. And sales are sales. And this is a recession. And large textbook publishers have a fiduciary responsibility to their stock holders… Turning away business because one would have to publish damaging information (yes, this sort of textbook makes a science of ignorance and demagoguery, and promulgating this stuff would be damaging to our children’s intellectual growth and global professional standing) would not be good business. But I have high hopes – hopes that executives at Pearson or HMH or Macmillan will say, “You can’t be serious and want us to publish that…”

The only other recourse would be for those other states that adopt the Texas state standards blindly to get some gumption and decide things for themselves. If Texas gets isolated on this issue, that might convince some publishers to take that high road. And might get Texas to come to its senses.

Some asides on this issue:

1)      It’s truly pathetic that conservatism in the United States has devolved into who can yell the loudest. It’s as if you say things over and over and over again (at increasingly louder volumes), it has got to be true. While conservatism is light-years away from my politics, I do have a begrudging respect for truly intellectual conservative thinkers such as William F. Buckley. Too bad that none of them exist anymore. And that they all are spinning in their graves.

2)      If these members of the Texas state board of education were truly dissatisfied with the facts taught their children, they always have the right to enroll them in a private school of their choice. But they do not have the right to make every school child in the state of Texas conform to their belief system.

3)      Speaking of belief systems, it’s a grandiose distortion of these Texas BoE members to state that our founding fathers wanted a Christian nation. As “members” of the Enlightenment, they were very careful to separate thought from belief. It was their desire to start a nation based on thought and they were very careful that no bias toward one belief could be instituted to the detriment of any others. Key differences: thought and belief. Someone at Random House, please send these BoE members a complimentary dictionary.

4)      The Texas BoE’s rewriting of history bears sad and scary similarity to Stalin’s own rewriting of Russian & Soviet history. Kind of ironic?

5)      The fact that these members of the Texas state BoE think what they are doing is true and accurate provides a damning incrimination of the state of the educational system that educated them. How did they get this far with such blatant ignorance?

6)      The major thesis of the Reagan “revolution” and subsequent Bushanomics (senior and junior) is that the New Deal and other following programs, such as LBJ’s Great Society, are the devil incarnate. What these free market conservatives don’t grasp is the mind-numbingly self-evident historical record that when capitalism is left unregulated (and without mitigating social programs) it runs way too hot and cold, resulting in deep recessions and depressions. It’s social Darwinism pure and simple – where only the very select few benefit and the rest suffer the consequences.

7)      Point of fact: The last balanced budget was when Clinton left office. The current budget deficit (and mounting national debt) and recession are courtesy of Bush Junior and his minions. Yet Tea Party advocates would have you believe this is all Obama’s fault. Obama’s greatest lacking now is that he has made very little effort to reinstitute key facets of the New Deal (a truly progressive income tax, making sure the estate tax stays put, encouraging long-term investment by raising the short-term capital gains tax, getting non-banks out of the banking business) and help secure Social Security and Medicare by eliminating the cap on taxable FICA income.

8)      According to George Santayana: “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” While memory is a fickle lover, and we all might remember things differently, there are limits to inventing memories completely out of straw. To conservatives, with those rose-colored glasses, the past was always better, especially a past before government did them wrong (read New Deal, Great Society and a host of civil rights actions, not to mention the Civil War). But that past – before the New Deal — was one where you worked (if you were lucky enough to work) 6 days a week, 10-12 hours a day for a barely liveable wage, walking on streets littered with sewage, with no hope that your kids would go to college…