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  • Rob Will

Writing Our Own History

"Lies My Teacher Told Me” by James W. Loewen is an excellent book. I read it many years ago and it helped expand my mind regarding history and the U.S. educational system, just as Howard Zinns, “A Peoples History of the United States” did. Just now I finished reading an article which includes an interesting quote by Loewen…

The article, by Emma Brown of The Washington Post, is entitled Texas Officials: Schools Should Teach That Slavery Was ‘Side Issue’ To Civil War”. I can’t help but imagine a great sigh of exhaustion emanating from the grave of George Orwell accompanied by a ghostly whisper of “Again, Texas? Really, again?!” The article points out that the new social studies textbooks used in Texas are based on academic standards that barely address the issue of racial segregation. The history guidelines do not mention the Jim Crow laws at all, nor do they mention the Klu Klux Klan. One of the conservative Board of Education members who led the charge to adopt these new standards has said that slavery was a “side issue” in the civil war and that the war was solely fought over the issue of “states’ rights”.

Interestingly, the historian Jeremy A. Stern reviewed these standards for the conservative Thomas B. Fordham Institute and said that the board was “molding the telling of the past to justify its current views.” Such things are really rather scary. Loewen says that history can be a weapon and it has been used “against all of us. It makes us stupid about the past and thoughtless about the present.” Interesting indeed. Of course slavery was the central issue of the Civil War and all serious historians agree with this, yet there are those who attempt to rewrite history regardless of facts and reality.

Officials in control of the prison system are notorious for this. I’m reminded of a time when several people contacted the prison administration in Huntsville regarding gassing and SWAT team deployments here on Texas Death Row. Myself and some others were engaging in a non-violent, peaceful protest campaign, which included direct action demonstrations and inevitably resulted in gassings and SWAT team attacks. The response by prison officials to inquiries regarding this? It did not happen. Nothing happened. Down the Orwellian “memory hole”! Or so they would have it…

I am very conscious of my place in history and the psychosociopolitic dynamics of all that I have experienced and continue to experience. One of the things I try to do is create a historical record, a Howard Zinn-esque “people’s history”. Reading this article re-reminded me of the importance of this.

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