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If You Control the Past, You Can Control the Future

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This week the Texas State Board of Education will be meeting to consider recommendations from a review panel tasked with looking at revisions for the history curriculum and textbooks in the state's public schools. Since the days of Mel and Norma Gabler, this periodic process has been the focus of national attention because the Texas school system is so large that its decisions dictate what publishers will put in their books and what school districts around the country will do with their curricula.

While the Gablers censorship efforts focused mostly on trying to muddy the biology curriculum with creationism and remove suggestive material from the English texts, the focus of their successors has shifted to something closer to my personal area of concern, the issue of whether the United States was formed as a "Christian Nation."

Among the many attempts to revise history to fit a political agenda, the efforts of Christian extremists to distort the intentions of our nation's founders are particularly pernicious. Contrary to the writings of the founders, from their personal journals and letters to the key founding documents of the nation, these fanatical propagandists would have us believe that John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, who were outspoken in their disdain for organized religion, intended for the United States to be a Christian theocracy.

This is the "Big Lie" for the ages, issued by people who believe that if they can redefine the past they can control the nation's future. They know that liberty is based on truth and believe that if they can change the truth they can then destroy liberty and essentially rewrite the Constitution. They've seen how the political left has used the schools and the teachers unions to try to sway rising generations and they see this as their opportunity to do the same.

Most troubling is that the Texas State Board of Education, which has an enormously important responsibility to safeguard the educations of the nation's children, has put people on the panel which is reviewing history textbooks who are either grossly unqualified for the job or driven by agendas which are hostile to the truth. Three of the six members are legitimate academics, but the other three represent interests whose priority is not historical accuracy.

Professor Daniel Dreisbach of American University is at least an academic, though he is not a trained as a historian. He has written several books attempting to distort Thomas Jefferson's beliefs regarding the separation of church and state and dispute the accepted interpretation of the First Amendment to the Constitution. David Barton is the head of a group called WallBuilders which basically has the agenda of turning America into a Christian theocracy. Barton uses very selective sources and quotes taken out of context to try to make his argument that the U.S. was founded as a vehicle for religion-based government. Reverend Peter Marshall is an evangelical preacher who has said "We're in an all-out moral and spiritual civil war for the soul of America, and the record of American history is right at the heart of it." These three revisionists see their role on this panel as being to rewrite history with the express goal of putting an end to the principle of the separation of church and state, contrary to the intent of the founders and the best interests of our modern, religiously impartial nation.

I have no argument with those who want to change the emphasis of the text books to focus more on the religious groups who came to America to avoid persecution. That's a legitimate area of study which has been neglected in recent textbook editions. I think that their ideas and especially those of some of their greatest forgotten leaders like Roger Williams, who wrote "forced religion stinks in God's nostrils," ought to get more exposure. Yet even those puritans believed vehemently in the idea of the separation of church and state. They moved to America expressly for the purpose of removing themselves from a state which sought to dictate how they should worship. The wisest among them, like Roger Williams and William Penn were absolute in their belief in religious toleration and freedom of faith.

About Dave Nalle

  • Cindy


    Cindy, I don’t think I’m letting people off the hook or absolving them of the responsibility. And I’m far from condoning the society, as you can readily see.

    Yes, Roger. I understand that. You and I do not condone suffering. Yet you and I and a couple million other people stand by and allow it to happen.

    I was thinking about what makes us do this. Because when I see myself as the homeless person dying in the cold…I can see that you and I and individuals, despite that we oppose it, we still somehow let war, homelessness, etc. take place and continue. I was sort of playing with the idea of what allows that to happen.

  • roger nowosielski

    I don’t know, Cindy. I suppose it’s a matter of reaching the critical mass.

    I’d like to believe we’re all moving in the right direction. It’s just so painstakingly slow.

    And then again, you’ve got such cataclysms as the Haiti earthquake. And that’s got nothing to do with anyone’s action.

  • Pierce Randall

    So, I’m not going to read all of the intervening comments about Marxism, but there seems to be a lot of nonsense going on here.

    Marxism the historical theory is different than Marxism the economic ideology, and was the dominant “left wing” academic model of history before academic feminism, deconstruction, and stuff like that came along. One need not support communism at all to support certain Marxist views on history.

    That said, this editorial makes this claim that history is about objective facts. I might disagree, but, for high school students, that’s as good shorthand as any. I’m not any more in favor of teaching Marxist historical analysis throughout a high school curriculum than I am reactionary views like great man theory.

    A very basic way to teach kids the difference between these kinds of questions, and how to interpret history, would be to cover the difference between structural causes for historical events, and the actions of individual agents.

  • roger nowosielski

    Very apt points, Pierce Randal: (1) the necessary distinction between Marx’s economic theory of theory of history; (2) the distinction you make in the last paragraph.

    I would like to invite you to a discussion we have on one of the BC threads, concerning postmodern thought.

    Here’s the link.

  • roger nowosielski

    . . . and his theory of history (line 1)

  • Bob Lloyd

    It’s interesting how Marx always gets blamed for Stalin and Mao.

    Very few of the critics of Marx ever get near reading any of his writings, or looking at his historical analyses. Or for that matter, opening the first volume of Capital where the labour theory of value is detailed.

    Marxist economics has been enormously successful in explaining why markets don’t clear, why historically the rate of profit declines, why competitive accumulation pressure leads to crises, and lots of other useful results as well whilst conventional economists sob into their hands in bewilderment as the latest crisis wipes out stock values.

    It’s all to easy to dismiss fundamental thinkers by crudely distorting their writings, ignoring the historical processes in countries like Russia and China, and associating their radical ideas with tyrants like Stalin and Mao.

    Historians instead look at the details, the power struggles, the distortion of the ideas of Marx and Lenin, the class interests of the bureaucracies in those countries, and they can tell the difference between crude bias and historical events.

    Stalin and Mao were massively divergent from both the politics and the economic analysis of Marx and there are countless books and articles that show this in detail. Indeed, even Bukharin explained how Russia would become state capitalist. Mao didn’t even pretend to draw on Marx’s thought in matters of economics.

    For some though, any question of the divine certitude associated with free markets is anathema. No matter how many disastrous crises, no matter how many collapses, no matter how much corruption, no matter how bankrupt the conventional economic analyses are, some people can’t ever contemplate anything else. It is the holy market or nothing.

    Marx stands out as a target for all their fear and prejudice. We should expect more of our historians than to settle for such prejudice.

  • Bob Lloyd

    One of the key aspects of capitalism is its coercive nature. Workers have no choice but to sell their labour power and trade their work for cash. Employers have no choice but to increase the exploitation as much as is sustainable, to undermine and destroy the competition, to accumulate to grow, and to invest to produce. Choice is superceded by the coercive pressure of the market.

    Of course capitalists want to destroy the competition, but the ideological acceptance of market capitalism depends on its presentation as socially beneficial. Corporate heads try to identify their interests with the interests of society, politicians claim they are helping society whilst helping capitalist corporations, human resource departments try to persuade employees to adopt mind sets and targets consistent with company interests.

    The ideological representation of the market in conventional economics is one where wages and prices tend to equilibrium, where investment finds its way to productive use, where growth is assured, where capital somehow produces value. The benefits of this sort of analysis were witnessed by all during the last two years as the financial pack of cards came tumbling down. And it wasn’t bankers who picked up the tab.

    The moment you question the market, you question all these coercive forces. Capitalists are coerced but they obtain substantial benefits so it’s easier for them to tolerate it, and also to walk away when things go bad. For workers, there is no alternative – they have no choice but to put up with whatever they can get. In the absence of economic clout, they don’t have choices. That’s the basis of the class relation.

  • FEM4Ever

    Who knows, Dave, maybe the panel will use Dan Brown’s LOST SYMBOL as a historical reference to support that bible study in schools is important!

  • Aiping Fulepp

    you can continue to behave in a negative fashion. Growth and ideas are stifled by negativity. As you won’t be able to recognize the chances you receive you won’t be successful. You will slowly wither and you will eventually die as you have killed off your life energy.