Apparently a lot of people are upset about what Texas is doing to their history textbooks. Texas wants to put more emphasis on people like John Calvin in the founding of America rather than Thomas Jefferson because Jefferson supported a separation of church and state as well as was an anti-religious person. And Texans do not like that. They want to change some other details in history so that students would more likely be conservatives.
Now I am not going to be defending Texans because clearly there is nothing to defend. They are changing the subject of history for their own goals that they would like rather than it being history as it is. There is nothing virtuous in what Texas is doing. So I want to make that very clear that I am not going to be defending Texas. What I will show is that there is a certain level of hypocrisy, that we do not even realize, when we get angry at what Texas did. That hypocrisy happens when we say Texas textbooks are bad while our textbooks, which are currently used, are good.
What Texas did to their textbooks is not very different to what the Department of Education did to other textbooks in other public schools. Do you really believe that the textbooks that are currently being used in public schools accurately describes the history of what happened in America? In many cases they do, but there are very important cases which they misrepresent or they completely omit. Thus, it is not just the fault of Texas, the entire education system has the history textbooks written in a certain specific way.
I will give three examples that illustrate what I am trying to say. But before I give those examples I do want to say that I am not in favor of public education or any centralized system of "education". There are many reasons for that which I do not want to get into, I will just give one relevant reason. That reason is exactly what happened with Texas. When you have an institution that can control education then it can misrepresent textbooks and mandate that every public school use these approved textbooks. The danger is that when there is a centralized body it can decide what kind of "education" children get in schools. In George Orwell's 1984, there is a line which says, "he who controls the past controls the future". Maybe different people interpret it in different ways but I have interpreted it as saying that those who can control what history (past) represents can make the people of the present strive towards a particular goal in the future. This is a dangerous kind of a power that should not be centralized.
Now I will give three examples of the history that we have been taught in schools themselves that either omit or misinterpret past events. The first example is how we have been taught about the "robber barons". What we are taught to know about the "robber barons" is that these are the industrialists that have became rich by the expense of the poor and as a result grew enormously rich. They were monopolists who managed to control everything in the economy and as a result they got rich off everyone while in the process doing a lot of harm to the people. No one else was able to compete against them and so their products got worse, again harming the consumer of these products. And it is precisely because of the anti-trust laws that we have implemented were the people finally released from the enormous power of these monopolists.
Were there people that are known (I take offensive to this term) as the "robber barons"? Certainly, that part is true. Did they get enormously rich? Yes they did. Were they monopolists? Yes they were. Were there such things as anti-trust laws? Yes. Did these anti-trust laws break up the monopolies? Yes they have. This part of history is all fine. The problem is how these events are all put together in textbooks and made to put a important interpretation point. The point that is implied here in this interpretation is that it is the government that has saved us and it is the anti-trust laws of the government that protect us. What really happened? Well, those events did really happen. But they need to be interpreted the correct way. Let us take someone like John Rockefeller. Rockefeller should be treated as a hero not as a villain. What did Rockefeller do? He managed to reduce the price of oil so much, to such a small cost, that nearly everyone was now able to afford themselves oil. Not only that, he kept on improving his quality of oil for a lower cost every year (this is contrary to what we have been taught about monopolies). Furthermore, he came up for hundreds of new inventions for the garbage which is produced when oil is produced. He was a monopolist, but why was he a monopolist? Monopoly is an economic situation when there is only one supplier. He was a monopolist because his products were great. Not only the quality but the price as well. This is why no one else was able to compete against him, because he was the best. Consumers were not hurt by Rockefeller. They were benefited by him. The main group of people who were upset at Rockefeller were the competitors. They failed to be as good as he was, so they used the law to punish his success. He was a rich person, that is true, perhaps the richest ever. By why is that necessarily a bad thing? If someone puts so much work and effort into improving the world he should be rich for his accomplishments. Rockefeller got rich but not at the expense of the people. The people were benefited also form him. Both were better off. Now what these anti-trust laws really do, what the real intention of these laws are, is not to protect the consumer. Consumers did not need to be protected from Rockefeller. Their real intention is to be used as a cheap attack by competitors against other competitors from preventing them from growing too large in size.
The second example is the Civil War. The way the North presents the war is differently from the way the South presents the war. It turns out that the North's version has some very significant problems with it. The impression I got of the Civil War when I first learned it was pretty much the following: The North were the good guys, the South were the bad guys, the North wanted freedom for slaves, the South did not, there is a war over this, so Abraham Lincoln, the greatest president ever, comes along and frees the slaves. Again the details of history is mentioned in textbooks but the interpretation of history is flawed. The Civil War did happen and there was a president called Lincoln and he did free the slaves. But what actually happened with these details? First, the Civil War was not a war about slavery, it had nothing to do with slavery, it was a war about economics, the freeing of the slaves was only a consequence. Second, Abraham Lincoln was a terrible president. He abused his presidential powers as if he was a tyrant. Third, Lincoln was a white supremacist. He has said that he does not care about blacks and if he can win the war without freeing the slaves he would do that.
The sad thing is that when I graduated high school (which was a private school, but the textbooks had to have been approved by a central body) I considered Abraham Lincoln to be the greatest president and Thomas Jefferson to be the worst. I also thought Jefferson was a bad guy, we owned slaves after all. It was not until in the future when I really learned what was going on with Jefferson and his slaves, until I realized the situation he was in. Jefferson was not a white supremacist and he did not hate blacks, he even tried to get freedom for slaves, yes he should have tried harder, but he wanted blacks to be free also. Now I have a completely reversed view. I do not care about Lincoln anymore, while Jefferson is not only my favorite president he is one of my biggest heroes of all time, the amount of respect I have for this guy is equivalent to how a Jew treats one of the "great" living Rabbis. Actually, Thomas Paine is the only founding father I hold to a higher hero status than Jefferson. Paine actually managed to free some slaves and do some absolutely amazing things (was this taught in history books?). It is interesting how history can be taught to make a person think in a certain way.
The third and final example is the Great Depression. What are we taught? We are taught that in around 1929 there was a terrible economic crash. The free market was responsible for the crash. And it was FDR with his anti-free market New Deal program that got us out of the Great Depression. Was there a president FDR? Yes. Was there an economic crash? Yes. Was there a New Deal program? Yes. But the problem is the interpretation of this historical event. Did the New Deal get us out of the Great Depression? No, it only prolonged the effect. The goal of such an interpretation of history if of course to make people think that free markets do not work. However, textbooks omit another economic crash of 1919! In 1919, there was a big economic crash, possibly even bigger than that of the Great Depression. The president at that time took more of a free market approach by allowing businesses to fail. After a half-a-year to a year in 1920 the economy became healthy again. Why is this important event completely omitted from textbooks? Because it contradicts what supposedly happened during the Great Depression.
Public school textbooks have a twist to them. Their message, hidden behind the historical interpretations, is that the government intervention is good. A Christian school would use textbooks which presents Christianity as a force of good. Why would a Christian school use a textbook that would make itself look bad? Public schools are run by the government. Why would the government ever use textbooks that shows itself to be bad or clumsy? The people behind public education obviously see government as a force of good and so they would present a version of history that shows government intervention being beneficial.
In conclusion, it is not just Texas, it is everyone. We all made this mistake.
Here are some videos expounding on what I was saying about history:
Link 4 (50 minute lecture video).
Link 5 (Hitchens on Paine)