Tarballs and Tainted History

Rachel Farris and Friend

Our friend Rachel Farris, otherwise known as blogger Mean Rachel, visits DogCanyon with a great post. We’re proud to welcome her to the Canyon, and recommend everyone read this, visit her blog regularly. You’ll wanna send her presents.

By Rachel Farris

BP’s wells aren’t the only things failing around Texas these days.

Education is quickly draining out of Texas classrooms, and as the oil spill made its way onto Texas beaches this weekend, word of the brain-drain that is our State Board of Education has most certainly gotten out. The spoof public relations Twitter account for BP, BPGlobalPR, tweeted a Texas-sized zinger that quickly zoomed to the top of Twitter.com today, garnering over 100+ retweets in less than two hours: “Our oil hit Texas beaches yesterday. Fortunately, in 20 years their school books will say nothing happened. #bpcares“.

Tarballs and tainted history. Lucky us.

The Texas State Board of Education has been caught in the national spotlight of mainstream news sources (see How Christian Were the Founders?) ever since, like a smelly oil well in the wind, reporters picked up the scent of how completely whacked-out the current SBOE members are–or, as the New York Times more politely put it, when the SBOE approved a curriculum that “put a conservative stamp on history and economics textbooks.” Now, thanks to the SBOE’s it’d-be-funny-if-it-weren’t-so-sad antics, BPGlobalPR’s tweet today pushed the long-term risks of a state board rewriting history to perhaps a larger–and younger–following with a taste for schadenfreude.

As far as I can see, the only thing worse than George W. Bush being back in Texas is the state of education here. Bill Hobby, former Lt. Governor of Texas, recently called Texas the “Laughing Stock State” as a result of the SBOE’s desire to remove from the pages of textbooks notable Hispanics like Lorenzo de Zavala, who helped draft the constitution of the Republic of Texas. As if erasing history wasn’t enough, Republican SBOE members like incumbent Ken Mercer want to actually rewrite history by replacing them with ultra-conservatives like Sean Hannity, who once said, “I’ll tell you who should be tortured and killed at Guantanamo: every filthy Democrat in the U.S. Congress.” Where do you think they’ll tuck that quote in the margins of a second grader’s social studies text? In the “Washed Up TV Hosts Who Historically Have Incited Violence” chapter?

Without a change of board members, as Governor Rick Perry continues to inexcusably refer to the BP oil disaster an “act of God,” Texas’s textbooks will soon reflect the same type of Republican ideology that Mercer’s opponent, Democrat Rebecca Bell-Metereau, correctly called “a butchered curriculum…riddled with inaccuracy.”

And with teachers like Rick Perry and Ken Mercer at the helm, why even bother with standardized tests?

A Socialist Primer: Rick Perry, Health Care & the Governor’s Race

Perry-RallyI’m wondering what it’s going to take for my former colleagues in the Texas press corps to call out Rick Perry for using the term “socialism” over-and-over to describe the insurance reform Congress passed last week.

Either Perry and reporters covering him don’t know what socialism is (and I doubt that), or Perry again is pushing  Tea Bag propaganda, and the press is too lazy or too intimidated to challenge it.

I’m used to Perry embarrassing Texas. So, I’m not surprised he’s parroting Dolph Briscoe’s old obsession with “creeping socialism.”  Thankfully, we’ve moved beyond the 1970s, though you wouldn’t know it from the Cold War rhetoric in a statement Perry released last Sunday and sound bites he repeated later in the week. Continue reading “A Socialist Primer: Rick Perry, Health Care & the Governor’s Race”

Letter to Libertarians

liberty_bell_2To my libertarian-minded friends,

I put the loose and awkward alliance among libertarian-minded voters and Republicans in the strange bedfellow category. The Republican right is dominated by authoritarians who take a very dim view of individual liberty. Witness the Texas State Board of Education’s recent decision to strike the word democracy from social studies textbooks and replace it with “constitutional republic.”

The [state textbook] standards were once littered with references to the U.S. as a democracy. No more. In an early draft, the U.S became a “democratic republic” but now will be termed a “constitutional republic,” as suggested by Cynthia Dunbar, R-Richmond.

Or better, check out this story about wealthy, authoritarian Chinese officials launching their own Tea Party to resist new government programs aimed at stimulating the Chinese economy.

The word democracy, of course, refers to the investment of political power in individuals. Constitutional republic refers to the investment of power in institutions aimed at channeling and checking popular sentiment. America is both things, of course. But it’s revealing that the Republicans are using white-out to elimate the word democracy from the political lexicon.

Republican policies are almost always aimed at enhancing centralized power. Witness the imperial presidencies of Richard Nixon and George W. Bush. Even a constitutional republic is viewed by them as a system that gets in the way of authoritarian executive power.

Continue reading “Letter to Libertarians”

When First Unto This Country

You could see it coming in the eyes of Walker Evans’ Depression-era tenant farmer, Allie Mae Burroughs, and it’ll make you cry, that razor’s edge of a sad smile about her that says, “You, too.”

You could see it coming. Somewhere, a young boy in a dinosaur t-shirt holds his dying mother’s hand and remembers that the distant voice on the phone, the Insurance Voice, said simply, “No.” He could be forgiven for fearing he’d spoken to someone he shouldn’t have.

You could see it coming. Wall Street banks are too big to fail, and the black-souled ghouls of hate radio and FoxNews tell us our neighbors’ lives are too small to save.

Schoolbooks are being rewritten to redeem Joseph McCarthy, make of Phyllis Schlafly something like an authoritarian madonna, and turn the Separations Clause into a guarantor of theocracy.

Andrew, Son of Schlafly, is rewriting the Bible, too, no doubt replacing Amos with Milton Friedman and “justice like a mighty stream” with trickle-down economics. Joseph saw seven years of famine in Pharaoh’s dream. “Merely the lower strings of a cats cradle in the Market’s invisible hand,” Schlafly’s Joseph will say, adding with certainty, “It’s the business cycle.”

Joseph’s coat of many colors is back in his father Jacob’s mournful hands in the traditional American tune, “When First Unto This Country.” It was an Austin group, The Gant Family, who brought the song to folklorists in the 1930s. Bob Dylan called it “my foreign language song, my only foreign language song.” And I wonder what he means, because isn’t Jacob’s 11th son a little like us, post-Declaration America’s 11th generation, give or take? In a dream our ancestors hold our bloodstained coat and say, “We warned you to be careful.”

It’s an authentic American Joseph who sings “When First Unto This Country.” He wears his innocence like his “cap set on so bold.” He loses it, along with his coat of many colors. Still, we should remember that Joseph had enough sense to outsmart Pharaoh and to make sure his people got his bones out of Egypt.

How fine it would be for the young man with the dying mother to sing this song to the Insurance Voice on the other end of the phone line. But that’s the thing. He did, and if you don’t believe me ask Walt Whitman, who heard it and knew the young man and all America learned it from the delicious singing of their mothers. Continue reading “When First Unto This Country”

Public Schools as Re-Education Camps: Texas State Board of Indoctrination

re-education campsThe Texas State Board of Education has adopted textbook standards that deny the separation of church and state, seek to rehabilitate Joseph McCarthy, raise Phyllis Schlafly to new levels of historical importance, and exalt the extremist economic philosophy of Friedrich von Hayek. It’s indoctrination, and it smacks of the old Vietnamese ideological re-education camps.

Since Schlafly’s son, Andrew, is also re-writing the Bible, replacing Jesus’ teachings with those of Milton Friedman, we shouldn’t be surprised if Schlafly is soon compared to Mother Mary and Andrew to you-know-who. Texas students can learn about the holy mother and son in both history and public school Christian Bible classes.

The conservatives on the SBOE seek to use the public schools to advance their peculiar, dangerous and anti-democratic views. Left unchecked, they will poison the minds of Texas schoolchildren. I cannot overstate my contempt for their disregard of history and science. They should be tossed from office if not run out of town on rails, after being tarred and feathered. Should we take a more moderate approach to our criticism of their authoritarian actions? No. Okay, I don’t mean literal tar and feathers. I’m serious about the rail.

“I reject the notion by the left of a constitutional separation of church and state,” said David Bradley, a conservative from Beaumont who works in real estate. “I have $1,000 for the charity of your choice if you can find it in the Constitution.”

Well, how about the first words of the First Amendment:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;

1989_TiananmenI want my thousand dollars. I’m going to donate it to the Texas Freedom Network who stands up to the SBOE re-education camp effort like the courageous Chinese dissidents who stood up to their totalitarian leaders in Tiananmen Square in 1989.

I know the David Bradleys of the world claim that the First Amendment is intended to protect religion from government, and not our democratic government from the doctrinaire teachings of any particular religion. That’s backwards, of course. The SBOE’s actions prove the wisdom of the Founders. Left to their own devices, religious zealots will seek to impose their views on the rest of us. The First Amendment is intended to prohibit exactly that.

There will be some of you out there who say the comparison to Vietnamese re-education camps is a stretch. It is not. Morally, the actions of the SBOE are equivalent, even if they have yet to recommend the whipping or torture of students who refused to be brainwashed. The SBOE is using government to impose ideologically extreme views on vulnerable schoolchildren, to rewrite history and to make a mockery of science. Continue reading “Public Schools as Re-Education Camps: Texas State Board of Indoctrination”

Conservatives Re-Write Declaration of Independence

thomas-jefferson-bigThe Civil Rights Movement created “unrealistic expectations of equal outcomes” among minorities, according to Texas conservatives trying to rewrite American history textbooks. They want students to learn that bit of undemocratic, phony history.

Imagine Thomas Jefferson opening the Declaration of Independence with, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, no one should have unrealistic expectations of human equality…”

The Texas State Board of Education, dominated by anti-evolution, authoritarian ideologues, has made news around the world for trying to rewrite history. They want Confederate President Jefferson Davis’ words given equal treatment with President Abraham Lincoln’s. Now there’s an example of an unrealistic expectation of equality.

This is all taking place in the Texas textbook adoption process, a process that influences books studied by students around the country. Texas is big, and its schools order a lot of books. To keep costs down, textbook publishers push those books in other states.

I’m outraged, of course, and I’m sure you are, too. But really, this is no surprise. The Right lives in a hierarchical universe. Authoritarian ideology comes with a rigid caste system. Some are higher on the ladder. Others – usually non-whites – are lower. God created us unequal. In their world, it’s immoral to “get above your raisin’” or your genetic inferiority.

The Civil Rights Movement was all about an America that lived up to its ideals and founding documents. There is perhaps so single phrase that better captures those ideals than Jefferson’s “all men are created equal.” The phrase bedevils conservatives because it doesn’t fit the way they see the world. To dodge its egalitarian call, they rewrite history. Continue reading “Conservatives Re-Write Declaration of Independence”