Last modified: 7:58 AM Saturday, 14 January 2017

Right for all the wrong reasons

This article reaches exactly the right conclusion: The Texas Board of Education is correct to insist that the history of the Confederacy be taught alongside that of the Union, although it does so for the wrong reasons and doesn’t go far enough.

Texas textbooks glorify the Confederacy

Lone Stars and Bars? Texas textbooks whitewash the Confederacy.
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Regional pride and not a desire for a full accounting underlies the board’s decision to have Texas students learn of the first inaugural speech of Jefferson Davis as counterpart of that of Abraham Lincoln. To do so declares that the Confederate States of America was a valid entity deserving as much historical honor as the United States from which it ultimately failed to secede; those of us who thought the Civil War had settled this question in favor of the US are thereby put on notice that Texas’ leaders believe otherwise.

The South, as both wide reading and a few conversations with Southerners emboldened by the internet’s anonymity make all too clear, may have formally surrendered, but it never really, in its heart, lost the war. It simply continued it by other means.

What the Confederacy of the 19th century could not achieve by arms, the covert Confederates of today hope to accomplish by indoctrination. They will demote Abraham Lincoln to parity with Jefferson Davis; they will exile Thomas Jefferson and sanctify Stonewall Jackson; they will silence Latinos and amplify “the conservative resurgence of the 1980s and 1990s.” They will begin with their own students, and then, as the effects of Texas’ market dominance ripple across the national textbook industry, all the students in America’s educational system will learn this version of history, rewritten to promote the aims and ideals of Texas conservatives who yearn for the good old days of the CSA.

However, like the author of this page, I agree with the Texas board insofar as it wants to teach students more about the history of the CSA and the Civil War era; what I cannot accept is addition by deletion, by which the board proposes to eliminate the parts of history it doesn’t like in order to make more room for those it does. If, therefore, it wishes to add to students’ fund of information on the history of this time, it should do so not by trying to whitewash the CSA, but by teaching what it really stood for.

To do this, however, would undoubtedly be anathema to the Texas board, because it would entail explaining that the Confederacy fought not for states’ rights, but for the right of agricultural barons in the South to retain unearned economic competitive advantages derived from slavery. To confirm this requires no more than to present students with the Cornerstone Speech of CSA vice-president Alexander Hamilton Stephens.

This speech, excerpted in the present article, postulates that “the negro is not the equal of the white man,” argues that the Constitution was based on the founding fathers’ erroneous belief in human equality, and proudly proclaims that the Confederacy is the only nation in history explicitly and categorically founded on the principle of human inequality.

Originally published as a review of a Salon.com article on education.

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