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The Mis-Education Of The American

“When you control a man’s thinking you do not have to worry about his actions. You do not have to tell him not to stand here or go yonder. He will find his ‘proper place’ and will stay in it… His education makes it necessary.”
– Carter G.
Mis-Education of the Negro 1933 (Preface)

Homer's Brain

Taking inspiration from Woodson’s seminal work The Mis-Education Of The Negro, recent events have strongly suggested that the great issue affecting our time is already upon us. While W.E.B. DuBois proclaimed the problem of the 20th century to be the color-line, the 21st thus far has been locked in a battle against the ever alarming and willful spread of ignorance.

While racism still exists alongside sexism, classism, and a host of other prejudices and injustices brought on by hegemonic patriarchy, none of these battles can be won with such ignorance and in some cases, rampant stupidity clouding the discussion. And while health care, the economy and the environment are the political issues of the day, too often the discourse is bogged down by the empty noise of partisan talking points, half-truths and outright lies. It is for these reasons that the disappearance of common sense and critical thinking is the dominant issue of our time.

Just this week in Texas, that state’s Board of Education kept the ball rolling in the wrong direction as it held its preliminary vote on the social studies curriculum standards to be taught for the next 10 years. The overwhelmingly conservative board passed a number of stunning changes to how history will be taught in that state, and maddeningly will have ramifications nationwide. As one of the largest consumers of textbooks, publishers often tailor their texts around these standards to avoid having to print multiple editions. As a result the inmates are running the asylum and altering the framework for what our history books may look like going forward.

Just a few of the low-lights:

– Rejected a standard that would have students examine the “establishment clause” in the First amendment that prevents government from making any “law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof” 1

– “Whitewashed” significant events and historical figures such as the defense of the Alamo and Ceaser Chavez in favor of more recent conservative leaders like Newt Gingrich and Phyllis Schlafly. 2

– Removed mentions of the Enlightenment and writings of Thomas Jefferson. 3

– Scaled back coverage of the 1960s Civil Rights Movement because it provided, “unrealistic expectations of equal outcomes” to minorities. 4

– Removed existing references to Ralph Nader and Ross Perot in favor of listing Confederate General Stonewall Jackson as “a role model for effective leadership”. 4

– Rejected a standard (for high school sociology) that addresses the difference between sex and gender. 5

– Replaced references of American “imperialism” with “expansionism”. 4

– Replaced most mentions of “capitalism” with “free enterprise”, because of the allegedly negative connotation of the former. 5

– “Country and western” music to be added to a list of cultural movements to be studied while “Hip hop” was denied similar placement. 4

Now there is so much stupidity in there one barely knows where to begin. From the “unrealistic expectations of equal outcomes” line to the continued denial of the right of LGBT people to even exist. This isn’t a matter of simply adding more conservatives values to the history books for balance; when you have a coalition of conservative members of the Board of Education (lead by dentist Dr. Don McLeroy and Cynthia Dunbar) in the second largest state in the country arguing that separation of church and state is a “half-truth” and “not an accurate perception and not what the Founding Fathers intended,” we are looking at dramatically rewriting the very basis of freedoms this country was founded on. As hyperbolic as that may sound, let’s consider what the Founding Fathers actually said.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

It’s the first part of the first amendment of the United States Constitution! As often as conservatives argue for strict interpretation of the constitution one struggles to understand how they could argue for any wiggle room within that declaration. Perhaps the board is arguing that despite the establishment clause, the United States was still founded as a Christian nation, something the right has claimed often.

The Government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion

That gem came from President John Adams signing the treaty of Tripoli in 1797. So maybe Adams felt that way, but could he really speak for the majority of the founding fathers?

Every man “ought to be protected in worshipping the Deity according to the dictates of his own conscience.”George Washington

“Question with boldness even the existence of a god.”Thomas Jefferson

“During almost fifteen centuries has the legal establishment of Christianity been on trial. What have been its fruits? More or less in all places, pride and indolence in the Clergy, ignorance and servility in the laity; in both, superstition, bigotry and persecution.”James Madison

Maybe they were referring to the Founding Fathers of Glennbeckistan?

Uniformly, the intention of the founders of the United States was to establish a nation where there was true freedom of religion, and the dogma of one would not be held superior nor should it guide the laws of the state. Unfortunately, despite the simple truth of the matter this issue is recast into a partisan fight between liberalism and conservatism. There are political disagreements on how to view history and then there are facts. The age of ignorance it turns out does not just refer to the dumbing down of our school system, but the very media whose job it is to inform.

The fault lies not only with FOX News, but the decline of CNN, MSNBC (Maddow aside) and network broadcasts as well. There is a reason 78% of people believe their taxes have gone up when they haven’t. News broadcasts today on both sides of the political spectrum are little more than a mouthpiece, regurgitating the talking points of the day, rather than uncovering and distilling information. When CBS Nightly News, the former home of a titan like Walter Cronkite, is employing a sideline reporter as its Chief Investigative Correspondent, something is quite clearly amiss.

This nation, The United States of America, was founded upon the principle of freedom. While we can debate how well and how often it has lived up to that goal, it remains at the core of this society. Information and education are ultimately the keys to the goal of not only freedom but prosperity, and thus ignorance is the greatest threat facing this nation in the modern age. To put it another way in the words of Dr. McLeroy, “for our kids to not know our history, that could kill a society. That’s why to me this is a huge thing.” On this point at least, we agree completely.

Truth is Freedom.

Update: Richard Dreyfuss beautifully sums up what I was trying to say in this clip; enjoy!


1 – Stutz, Terrence. 12 Mar 2010. “Texas education board refuses to require religious-freedom lesson.” The Dallas Morning News (Online).

2 – Stutz, Terrence. 12 Mar 2010. “Texas ed board OKs history standards after spat over Tejanos at Alamo.” The Dallas Morning News (Online).

3 – Texas Freedom Network. 11 Mar 2010. “Blogging the Social Studies Debate IV « Texas Freedom Network.” TFN Insider.

4 – James McKinley Jr. 2010. “Texas Hearing Considers Deeper Conservative Stamp on Textbooks – NYTimes.com.” New York Times, March 11, New York, A20.

5 – Alexander, Kate. 12 Mar 2010. “UPDATE: Social studies standards win early board approval.” The American-Statesman (Online).

6- Mackey, Robert. 12 Mar 2010. “Textbooks a Texas Dentist Could Love – The Lede Blog – NYTimes.com.”

Rejected a standard that would have students examine the “establishment clause” to the Constitution that prevents governments from promoting or disfavoring an official religion over others  2 Rejected a standard that would have students examine the “establishment clause” to the Constitution that prevents governments from promoting or disfavoring an official religion over others  2
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  1. March 30, 2010 at 2:58 pm

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