By Denny Wilkins
I have a history. So do you. And we both know that a competent historian or biographer or journalist could unearth episodes we’d rather not see the light of day. No one’s perfect. That’s why we “edit” our personal histories as we age.
The state of Texas has a history, too. It isn’t perfect. It’s permeated with ethically challenged men who committed immoral and amoral acts. Texas would prefer those men remain remembered as heroes instead of villains in the textbooks its children use.
So Texas, primarily through the state Legislature, is editing its own history. It does not want schoolchildren to learn of the sorry chapters of slavery and racism in the state’s colorful and contentious past.
According to a New York Times story by Simon Romero:
“[The bill] would limit teacher-led discussions of current events; prohibit course credit for political activism or lobbying, which could include students who volunteer for civil rights groups; and ban teaching of The 1619 Project, an initiative by The New York Times that says it aims to reframe U.S. history by placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of Black Americans at the center of the national narrative.
“The bill would also limit how teachers in Texas classrooms can discuss the ways in which racism influenced the legal system in the state, long a segregationist bastion, and the rest of the country. Another bill that sailed through the Texas House would create a committee to “promote patriotic education” about the state’s secession from Mexico in 1836, largely by men who were fighting to expand slavery. And a third bill would block exhibits at San Antonio’s Alamo complex from explaining that major figures in the Texas Revolution were slave owners.”
Texas, through laws that would control what is taught in the textbooks its children use in schools, whitewashes truth. “Truth is what we say it is,” sayeth the Legislature. And, as Texas textbooks are used throughout the United States, history is “edited” to fit the pleasure of mostly white legislators also afraid of truth in states far removed from Texas.
Congressional Republicans in Washington fear truth, too. They almost unanimously and staunchly oppose Democratic efforts to establish a commission to investigate the Capitol Hill riots of January 6.
The Texas efforts to eradicate parts of its own history apply primarily to education and other public functions.
But what Texas may not realize is its current attempts at historical censorship will become part of its history, adding another sordid story to what it would deny schoolchildren.
But Texas’s laws may not tell the press what it may or may not say about its history. This shameful legislative foray into denial ought to be parked on front pages and lead broadcast news reports.
And children who do not like to be told what they can and cannot learn in school ought to organize through their social media streams. They should work to demonize these repulsive legislative attempts to eliminate teachings of truths of the past.
(Texas teens could take cues from “Markeyverse,” a well-organized group of Massachusetts teens still too young to vote. They helped helped Sen. Edward J. Markey defeat a primary challenge from Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy III, who had been heavily favored to win.)
But it’s the press that needs to be focused on finding truths, both about the past miscarriages of morality and today’s lack of political courage. Journalists must hold Texas accountable for its ill-considered actions.
If the press does not energetically cover Texas’s efforts to cherrypick its history, how long will it take before other state legislatures think they can erase distasteful parts of their histories as well?
Dr. Denny Wilkins worked as a reporter and editor at a rural New England newspaper for two decades. He has taught journalism at St. Bonaventure University for nearly a quarter of a century.