The Miseducation of Texas School Kids

There’s a reason why Carter G. Woodson established Negro History Week in 1928.

Posted:
 
texasclass
ThinkStock.com

See, a bunch of guys needed something to do in 1865 and 1866, right after the Civil War. It wasn't like they could go back to their plantations; Northerners had seen to that. So these good ole boys amused themselves by dressing up in sheets and riding through the countryside pulling pranks. Just good, clean hijinks, until they discovered their antics terrorized former slaves. Then, things turned naughty and nasty.

But in the beginning, the Klan was just a social club.

How do I know this? I learned it in school.

Tennessee history was a required subject in the '60s, when I was a student. The Klan was founded in Pulaski, Tenn., a small town about 90 miles south of Nashville, my hometown.

Here's what the lessons omitted: The first Grand Wizard of the Klan, Confederate general and native Tennessean Nathan Bedford Forrest, made millions as a slave trader.

I can't remember reading anything about slavery in that class. But I've never forgotten about Forrest, the Klan and Pulaski, Tenn. They popped to mind when I read about the social studies curriculum recently approved by the Texas Board of Education. (The changes approved by the conservative Texas board include minimizing Thomas Jefferson's importance in the founding of this country, vindicating McCarthyism and downplaying the significance for the separation between church and state.)

Texas' social studies changes deserve more than the shrug of a shoulder. The state buys so many textbooks that its standards might seep into classrooms all over the nation.

If so, students will learn much about General Stonewall Jackson, and little about President Barack Obama. They'll be taught that states' rights, not slavery, caused the Civil War, and the civil rights movement had "unintended consequences," like affirmative action.

Ironic, isn't it? The Texas social studies standards could be the best thing that has happened to Black History Month.

The observance has fallen out of favor because some took President Obama's election to mean that America had become a post-racial society. But the election has also inspired a virulent backlash on the right. Case in point: the rhetoric at the Tea Party rallies.

The Root 100 People's Choice Awards  
Sept. 19 2014 8:34 AM