Perhaps we should redirect the words of the smashingly succinct Joseph Welch toward the controlling clique on the Texas State Board of Education: “Have you no sense of decency?”
The answer is no, and none is required. All that is required, apparently, is seven votes to say that up is down and Joseph McCarthy was a constructive force in American politics.
Welch, the defiant Army attorney appearing in the infamous hearings staged by the man who came to define demagoguery, said what was needed: McCarthy was a shameful lout. He made a career destroying lives with mere hints of suspicion.
Ah, but pursuant to a vote by the state school board, Texas high schoolers may get a more charitable spin than what most historians would afford McCarthy. Social studies standards tentatively approved last week would give him credit for racking up the skins of a few vile Communists who had infiltrated the U.S. government.
Will those standards require a portrayal of the social carnage and paralyzing hysteria wrought by McCarthy’s Red Scare hunting party? That remains to be seen. However, birds of a feather who claim the SBOE as their nest are dedicated to saluting their icons — like Phyllis Schlaffly, Jerry Falwell and Sen. Joe — at the expense of those they can’t abide as builders and game-changing visionaries, like Thurgood Marshall, Cesar Chavez and, of course, Edward Kennedy.
Thankfully, moves to expunge Chavez and Marshall from state standards were tabled, disappointing “experts” hired by the board who made the case.
A few months ago the religious right members on the board had evolution in their crosshairs in the discussion of biology standards. Now the fight is over our nation’s story. By virtue of their power on the board, they want to say how it will be told. And, so, once again true academia stands on trial before an elected body that has become such an embarrassment that even conservative Republicans have sought to limit its powers.
Ideally, this wouldn’t concern anyone not living in the Lone Star State. In fact, it’s very much a national matter. Being the nation’s second largest purchaser of textbooks, what Texas does affects just about every classroom and textbook publisher from sea to shining sea.
As one who’s attended these hearings, I blush. Each time, true academicians and teachers groups find themselves fighting off packs of hyenas bearing handouts.
When the subject is history, a key quest of these social conservatives is to minimize the ways that a world of difference has manifested itself in this land, or how our society has has synthesized something great and uniquely American out of that difference.
One might notice the pigment of all the icons the hard right wants to exalt and those it wants to see history books ignore or downplay. Just as McCarthy used appeals to fear, those who want to homogenize history are using appeals to frantic ethnocentrism.
Another word for that is bigotry.
A few years ago in one of these same hearings in Austin, the subject was Rosa Parks and her role in American history, which is just about as debatable as John Glenn’s role in space travel.
Pseudo-historians and “pro-American” interest groups sought to downgrade Parks’ significance, part and parcel of the effort to sanitize conditions that led to the civil rights movement. Portraying the hurtful realities that beget the movement was seen by some as casting this nation in an unfair light.
Bad light? A nation that comes to admit its racist past and rises above it is a shining light for all. So, too, with a nation that finally put aside the fear stirred by a little man who made himself big for a short time with the power of innuendo.
John Young writes for Cox Newspapers. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.