America. Land of the free, home of the brave. The world's melting pot. One of the wealthiest countries in the world. We came, we conquered, we thrived through the years, but not always without violence and rarely without blood. Our country has risen up through slavery, discrimination, and the fight for equal rights. Granted our rap sheet isn't a blank page, but people have been working tirelessly to wash it clean and rewrite a more favorable tale in its place. But how hard are they scrubbing and why?
For years in the U.S., while liberals have been fighting for the future in the White House and Congress, right wing conservatives have been fighting to clean up the past, namely in our children's classrooms. Several popular books have been banned due to what has been deemed inappropriate, though historically correct references, language, and actions. Classics such as The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Color Purple, and To Kill a Mocking Bird have been banned because they contain the word "nigger". Other books were banned for various offenses: The Scarlet Letter, banned for depicting an affair out of wedlock and an illegitimate pregnancy; and I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, banned because Dr. Maya Angelou's description of her rape as a young child was deemed sexually explicit.
While I can appreciate the seriousness of these subjects and the concern of exposing young children to such topics too soon, these books are accurate depictions of historic moments and events that cannot be erased simply because one removes the books that tell their stories. The use of the word "nigger", while crude and inappropriate, is an unfortunate term of the time, describing a group of individuals that were once viewed inferior and enslaved by the white ancestors of this nation. Is it not a backhanded slap to the face of African Americans everywhere to cleanse their history by refusing to acknowledge the foul use of the name? Its as if we're saying, "sorry for that whole slave thing, but let's just pretend it never happened, okay?" Likewise, sex out of wedlock and child sexual abuse has been going on for centuries, who are we to turn a blind eye to it and wipe it away?
Unfortunately, conservatives have generally won these wars, many of these optional reading titles can no longer be found in school libraries, and now they've turned their eyes to new horizons: textbooks. Recently, Texas right wingers have managed to pass a measure that could be the biggest massacre of American history to date. White-washing our past by eliminating what they deemed irrelevant or inconsistent with their viewpoints of our country, they have hand-selected the topics, events, and people they wish to be taught. The changes?
Remember that guy that wrote our country's Declaration of Independence? One of the Founding Fathers? The third President of the United States? Soon, many children won't. Thomas Jefferson has been removed from the required curriculum, namely because they want to eliminate the Enlightenment period of which he was so avidly a part. The Age of Enlightenment focused on science, philosophy, and culture, which at times questioned religious values. It may be speculative, but Jefferson was also a deist and adulterer who had an illicit affair with a slave, producing a handful of illegitimate offspring, which, for Texas, makes for a less than prominent role model, despite his numerous contributions to the nation.
Separation of church and state? Not even a theory, according to Texas. Though I truly believe the separation of church and state is theoretical and very few laws are passed without religious influence, Texas has decided they won't even discuss the idea of such segregation. They will focus only on the influence of Judeo-Christian influences upon the founding of this country. They also refuse to teach the Constitutional amendment of religious equality or that the U.S. government is forbidden from promoting one religion over another.
Other changes include: teaching Republican President Ronald Reagan while leaving out Democrat Senator Ted Kennedy and the first Hispanic of the U.S. Supreme Court, Sonia Sotomayor; omitting details of Hispanic heroes dying at the infamous Battle of the Alamo in Texas; refusing to acknowledge Hip Hop as a cultural movement; teaching the origins of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, (with undoubtedly a definite bias of favor toward the Israelis); celebrating the resurgence of conservatism with prominent organizations such as the National Rifle Association; and changing the name of our country's system of government from "Democracy" to "Conservative Republic".
While the teachings in a single state can be a cause for concern, the biggest issue is how far will the conservative influence reach? Texas is a major buyer of textbooks, and it is unknown if textbook publishers will cater to the large Southern state's specifications and print all their books as such or tailor books solely for Texas' use.
Now who's responsible for this uproar? One would think such critical decisions regarding an entire state's educational curriculum would be based on the experience and knowledge of history, government, and sociology specialists, or might at least include their advice. However, the fate of children's understanding of this country's foundation rested in the hands of elected lawyers, a dentist, and a writer for a local newspaper. Granted the right-wingers are pulling the strings of a spectacular puppet show, but its a sad day when common sense has flown so far out the window that one finds it appropriate to toss out a Founding Father with the crystal clear bathwater of Enlightenment. Maybe these gun-toting, bible-thumping, George W. Bush electing, racist rednecks should have read up a bit on that age before taking it upon themselves to cleanse our country of those ethnic and liberal demons that have come to represent what this great land is all about.
Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it...those who try to rewrite it are just plain doomed.