Having banned abortion, trans athletes, COVID vaccines – and, increasingly, any vaccines in “a very, very, very bad” trend we’re calling “Let’s Bring Back Polio!” – Texas is going full, crazed “Very-Fine-People-On-Both-Sides” by not only refusing to acknowledge this country was founded on systemic racism, but taking it easy on genocide, which they suggest was maybe not so bad. Alas, the move to whitewash history isn’t going so well in one of the last states to tell slaves they were free, perhaps due to their lingering belief in a secession a few years earlier that declared, “We hold as undeniable truths that the governments of the various States, and of the confederacy itself, were established exclusively by the white race, for themselves and their posterity; that the African race had no agency in their establishment; that they were rightfully held and regarded as an inferior and dependent race.” Little wonder Texas is among at least 27 states that have proposed or passed bans on Critical Race Theory, so their kids won’t grow up thinking slavery was bad and racism is embedded in America’s history and legal, social, political, economic and educational systems or anything. Unfortunately, because they’re no better at writing legislation than they are at ensuring equality under the law, GOP Texas pols wrote and passed a ban on CRT so badly and vaguely worded that when overwhelmed school officials were caught last week mid-crisis, one could only sputter to distraught teachers, “We are in the middle of a political mess, and you are in the middle of a political mess, and so we just have to do the best we can.”
The mess is Texas House Bill 3979, which in the name of not subjecting kids to actual, ugly history – of which there’s a lot in their state – demands teachers who discuss any “widely debated or currently controversial issues of public policy” include “opposing” or diverse viewpoints, like, say, a kid who asks “was slavery always bad?” and argues slaves could “pay off debts,” make new friends, learn new skills. The crisis was an audio clip leaked by NBC News of a training by Gina Peddy, director of curriculum for Carroll School District in Southlake, serving over 8,400 kids in Dallas-Fort Worth. Days before, the right-wing school board had reprimanded a 4th-grade teacher after parents complained she read a book on – gasp – anti-racism in class, because, Texas. Faced with teachers freaking out about what they can and can’t teach, Peddy again explained the law mandates “an opposing” viewpoint on any subject – like, she haplessly suggested, the Holocaust. Some teachers gasped; one exclaimed, “How do you oppose the Holocaust?!” Peddy’s positively Seinfeldian response: “Believe me, that’s come up.” The notion of an “opposing” view of the willful slaughter of six million people was too much for even the law’s supporters. Said State Rep. Giovanni Capriglione, “(The Holocaust) is not a currently controversial or even debatable subject – its occurrence is a fact.” Bad news travels fast: Lane Ledbetter, Superintendent of the District – motto: “Expect Excellence” – swiftly issued an apology. “Dear Dragon families,” he said, “We recognize there are not two sides of the Holocaust,” which was “a terrible event.” “Dear Dragon families,” retorted one appalled resident. “I think I still have questions over the competence of this school system.”
He wasn’t alone. “This is not nearly enough,” wrote a local advocacy group. “The apology isn’t enough. The explanation isn’t enough…Enough is enough.” Democrats blasted the GOP’s “disturbing” censorship by extremist wingnuts. The Anti-Defamation League proclaimed, “History cannot be rewritten.” The Dallas Morning News trashed the “misguided” law and its sowing of “moral confusion.” “There are no ‘both sides’ to the Holocaust,” declared Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg, who drew a righteous line to all the rest. “There are also no ‘both sides’ to American chattel slavery, to systemic racism, to lynchings and land theft and Indigenous genocide. Despite what power has claimed for months, decades, centuries.” And still does, as Texas bigots in power stay busy working to re-shape not just the past but the future. Viewing them as a key wedge issue in the culture wars, the Texas GOP has long targeted LGBTQ and trans kids with dozens of bills, including a barbaric (failed) one to remove kids from parents who affirm their gender choice. Now Gov. Greg Abbott is poised to sign a bill banning trans kids from athletics even as primary challenger Don Huffines, a hateful jackass and self-declared “actual Republican” who rants about “illegals” and “God-given liberties,” pushes the GOP ever further right. Huffines just went online to denounce the state’s LGBTQ+ suicide prevention and resources hotline as “sick brainwashing of Texas kids” and “advocat(ing) for transgender ideology” – “I mean, really? This is Texas. These are not Texas values” – after which the state, pandering to political expediency, took it down. “Did I miss something?” asked one resident. “Did the Taliban take over Texas?” Nope: Nazis, again.
Updated: Because things can always get worse, more from the reliably terrific Heather Cox Richardson. She notes the Texas legislature has passed another CRT bill, going into effect in December, that “specifies what, exactly, social studies courses should teach,” thus outlining “a vision of how American citizens should perceive their nation.” Lost among the “pointed omissions” of its sources and subjects: the 15th Amendment (blacks voting), the Voting Rights Act (ditto), the history of Native Americans, Frederick Douglass’ writings, the Fugitive Slave Acts, the Indian Removal Act, the history of white supremacy – including slavery, eugenics, KKK – the Civil Rights Movement and “historical documents related to the civic accomplishments of marginalized populations,” including the Chicano, women’s, civil rights, Indigenous rights, farmworkers’ and labor movements, which co-incidentally removes most of us. Our history is not about individual feats of courage in a vacuum but “the efforts of people in this country to determine their own fate,” she writes. A curriculum that removes them – ie: us – “is deliberately untethered from national democratic principles. It gives us a school that does not dare take a position on the Holocaust.” Thanks again to Richardson for the hat-tip, and for reminding us of yet another horror we shouldn’t have forgotten. They just never end.