About a week ago (Friday, Sept. 14 to be precise) the Texas State Board of Education took a series of key votes which would eliminate teaching the state’s elementary school children anything about such wicked, worthless nonentities as Hillary Clinton, Helen Keller, Oprah Winfrey, John Hancock or W.E.B. DuBois. Their rationale? By removing dozens upon dozens of significant historic and contemporary figures from the public schools’ social studies curricula, they would be saving time for teaching about more “relevant” figures such as Adolph Hitler, Jefferson Davis and Kay Bailey Hutchison. According to a study undertaken by members of the board, excluding any reference to Hillary Clinton will save teachers 30 minutes of instructional time (in the course of a school semester), and Keller a whopping 40 minutes.
In an op-ed piece she wrote for the Washington Post, Texas State School Board Chair Donna Bahorich insisted that neither partisan politics, ethnicity nor gender had anything to do with determining which figures would be eliminated. After all, both Democrat Sam Rayburn (a Texan who served as Speaker of the House for longer than anyone in U.S. history) and Republican Barry Goldwater (America’s first - and so far only - presidential candidate to have Jewish heritage) were on the “thumbs-down” list. Despite Ms. Bahorich’s assertion that those slated for history’s trash heap were determined solely by necessity, her words just don’t ring true. A fine-tooth-comb examination of the school board’s list includes such folks as:
Benjamin Banneker, a free-born African American almanac author, surveyor and naturalist;
Phyllis Wheatly: the first published African-American female poet;
Stanley Marcus: one of Texas’ greatest success stories; the founder of Neiman Marcus;
Jane Addams: the Nobel Prize winning “Mother of Social Work”;
Hyam Salomon: A Polish-born Jew who became one of the two greatest financial underwriters of the Revolutionary War.
As shocking and upsetting as this current campaign is, one must remember that in Texas, dictating who and/or what shall be either mandated or eliminated from both curricula (and especially) textbooks, is as old as the Alamo. With respect to the latter - textbooks - there is an old expression which teaches “What happens in Texas doesn’t stay in Texas when it comes to textbooks” To fully grok the underlying meaning of this bon mot, one must first enter the Orwellian minds of the late Mel (1915-2004) and Norma (1923-2007) Gabler. Back in 1961, while sitting at their kitchen table in Hawkins, Texas, the Gablers claimed that they found numerous errors in their son’s history textbook. What they believed they were uncovering were numerous factual errors and examples of secular humanism, the censoring of conservative political and social views in textbooks. And so, armed with anger and the Divine Spirit, they founded a non-profit organization they named Educational Research Analysts, whose raison d'être has long been to read, review and rate textbooks. As stated on their website, “We are a conservative Christian organization that reviews public school textbooks submitted for adoption in Texas. Our reviews have national relevance because Texas state-adopts textbooks and buys so many that publishers write them to Texas standards and sell them across the country.”
To this day, ERA’s particular areas of concern are:
Scientific weaknesses in evolutionary theories
Phonics-based reading instruction
Principles and benefits of free enterprise
Original intent of the U.S. Constitution
Respect for Judeo-Christian morals
Emphasis on abstinence in sex education
Politically-correct degradation of academics
Hauntingly, these core issues have been making their way into textbooks for more than half a century . . . and not just in Texas. Remember their original statement: “Our reviews have national relevance . . . publishers write [textbooks] to Texas standards and sell them across the country.” What the Gablers were (and still are) to textbooks with ultra-conservative bent, the Texas State Board of Education is to public school curriculum. The main difference is that the Gablers, at least, were upfront about their intentions, while the State Board of Education is disingenuous to the max . . . hiding their agenda behind the false cloak of time management.
It is not terribly difficult to understand what Donna Bahorich and her colleagues have against Hillary Clinton and why they want any mention of her excised from public school classrooms; they hate everything about her and her husband the way a moonshiner despises a revenuer. But Helen Keller? What could they possibly have against Ms. Keller (1880-1968) who, in her day, was the most admired woman on the planet? I mean, here we have a woman who, despite being both deaf and blind since age 2, learned to read Braille, speak several languages, graduate from Radcliffe, write more than a dozen books, travel the world on behalf of peace, have her own film production company, become great friends with Mark Twain, visit every president from Theodore Roosevelt to John F. Kennedy at the White House, and become one of the founders of both the American Civil Liberties Union and International Workers of the World (the “Wobblies”)? What harm could there ever be in children spending a mere 40 minutes of their elementary school education learning about this amazing, iconic, heroic woman? Absolutely nothing, except for the fact that she was a woman, has long been suspected by conservative Christians of possibly being a lesbian, and made no bones about being a Socialist who stood up for the rights of other women, minorities and the poor. Then too, maybe Bahorich et al are latter-day eugenicists; people who don’t want school children to be exposed to people with disabilities . . . no matter how distinguished they are.
In Latin, “cave” (pronounced KA-vay) means “beware of.” So, the title of this week’s post, Cave Clinton and Keller is a tongue-in-cheek way of saying “Beware of Clinton and Keller!”
One could easily conclude that last week’s votes by the Texas State Board of Education (which will be recast again in November) are not all that surprising in the age of Trumpeters. And indeed, at first glance, it does seem to fit in with all the intolerance, civic illiteracy, nascent racism, anti-intellectualism, anti-Semitism, xenophobia and Islamophobia that are the worst, most abhorrent ancillary aspects of Trumpism. One can also rightly fear that left unchallenged, the Texas State Board of Education’s lunatic Neo-Luddism may one day bring back the days when books were burned in town squares. The answer - and I believe there is one - comes not from changing presidents or members of Congress . . . although that certainly could not hurt. No, the real answers come from watchfully standing guard over the two institutions which have the most long-lasting effects on the nation: our school boards and our courts. Instead of spending their time arguing over whether or not classroom teachers - or even students - ought to be armed, our educational boards should pay heed to providing a quality education for every child; one that is free of partisan politics, religion or hidden agendas. Here in Florida, one of the biggest “successes” of the latest session of our state legislature is mandating that every public school classroom has a “In God We Trust” sign posted on the wall. Never mind that billions of dollars are being pulled out of public schools in the name of “school choice.” Never mind that the average classroom teacher must work a second - and sometimes a third - job just in order to live a middle-class existence. Never mind that mindless administrators are injecting their private agendas into what is taught or read. That a fundamentalist minority should have such chilling power over what is or is not taught to a generation of school children is but a few steps away from intellectual authoritarianism.
It is not Clinton or Keller of whom we should beware; it is the so-called guardians of education and public morals like Donna Bahorich (who, among other things, is the founder of Home Ed Plus, whose stated objective is “teaching classes from a Christian worldview perspective”) and U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy De Vos, who wants to use America’s schools to “build God’s Kingdom.”
We began with the Latin word cave (“beware of”), and end with a Latin phrase from the great satirist Juvenal:
Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?
Namely, “Who shall guard the guardians themselves?”
44 days until the midterm elections!
Copyright©2018 Kurt F. Stone