Napoleon Bonaparte once said, “History is a myth men agree to believe.” I would like to say this statement is false. Men and women who have gathered together to write history over the years have strived to report it accurately, fairly and balanced.
Unfortunately, a recent decision by Texas educators only serves to prove Napoleon right.
On Friday, March 12, the Texas State Board of Education voted 10 – 5 to approve recommendations to the state’s K-12 curriculum. These recommendations were designed to “balance” the teaching of history, since it supposedly often comes with a liberal bias. Among a great deal of revisions, these recommendations would include discussing the “importance” of Rush Limbaugh and anti-feminist Phyllis Schlafly on history, emphasize the rationale behind Sen. Joseph McCartney’s red scare and, of course, their worst idea of all: erasing Thomas Jefferson from the list of thinkers who influenced the revolutions of the 17th and 18th century. In Jefferson’s place, the new textbooks would focus on “ideological” forerunners, such as Catholic philosopher St. Thomas Aquinas and theologian John Calvin.
These high school students will not learn the lessons I learned in high school. They will be unable to know where the phrase “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” comes from. They won’t learn about how Jefferson encouraged the idea of the separation of church and state. They won’t learn that without Jefferson, the American Revolution would have taken a completely different shape. And not just our revolution: the French Revolution wouldn’t have been the same without Jefferson’s ideas as inspiration.
But worse than all of that, the Texas State Board of Education is suggesting that history books have been edited so that they reflect a liberal bias. Instead of trying to correct this problem by trying to teach history as it happened, they are editing history to reflect a more “balanced” political view.
The Texas State Board of Education will be giving their final vote on the issue in May, after a prolonged period of public comment. The changes they make will be for a period of 10 years, and will directly affect 4.8 million students in Texas.
This number of students is deceiving, however. Schools often purchase the best selling textbooks to use in their classrooms, and Texas’ large population almost guarantees these textbooks will reach the top of the list. It is only a matter of time before the edited textbooks of Texas reach the eyes and ears of students across the country.
It’s no secret that politics and the teaching of history go hand in hand. Recent history is still debatable. Conservatives argue that the economic boom of the ’90s was a direct result of the economic policies President Reagan enacted during the ’80s; while liberals argue it had nothing to do with that and more to do with President Clinton’s domestic policies. The reality of the situation is hard to determine, because so often politics get in the way.
Yet there is absolutely no reason to allow politics to get involved when looking back on the American Revolution. Involving politics in the last few decades of history is understandable, but deleting or heavily censoring the influence of a founding father on history is beyond reason. Jefferson gave us the Declaration of Independence, the Louisiana Purchase and the ideals that everyone deserves life and liberty. He has been idolized for centuries. His face is even on Mount Rushmore. I don’t understand how the Texas State Board of Education can turn their back on that.
Napoleon warned that history was a myth we agree to believe. Jefferson himself said, “A morsel of genuine history is a thing so rare as to be always valuable.”
Clearly, the issue of how the writing of history books and the teaching of history should be handled has been around for a long, long time. Yet continuing the practice is despicable. History should not be something someone can mend and change at will to reflect any political ideology, whether liberal, conservative or anything else.