The adage that “History is written by the winners” and its variant – “History is written by those who have hanged heroes” can be disregarded as it relates to those writing the history books in the state of Texas. A small bureaucratic clique in my home state has begun to not only tinker with history but also diminish some very important historical figures. The Texas State Board of Education supported by a 15-member work group have made recommendations based on a rubric that assigns a score to historical figures. Some of the questions that were asked as part of that rubric were, “Did the person trigger a watershed change?”, “Was the person from an underrepresented group?”, and “Will their impact stand the test of time?”. Both Helen Keller and Hillary Clinton scored so poorly as to
not be worthy enough to be included in any instructional materials. It was estimated that eliminating Clinton from the requirements would save teachers 30 minutes of instructional time and eliminating Keller from consideration would save a whopping 40 minutes.
Admittedly, I am not the best advocate for Ms. Clinton. I am not a fan or supporter. I chide friends who get misty eyed at what might have been. They live in an alternative universe in which a Clinton presidency would have ushered in peace and tranquility and a scandal free tenure full of hope and bright promise. They conveniently forget the haphazard way she operated her own email server, the still unanswered questions about Benghazi, improprieties at the Clinton foundation, and controversy related to the wresting away of the Democratic nomination from Bernie Sanders…just to name a few. However, with that being said; she most assuredly deserves at least 30 minutes of instructional time. She did make “history” by becoming the first woman nominated by a major party to run for the presidency. That is groundbreaking. She also has an impressive resume of service to
the country as first lady, senator from New York, and secretary of state. And she probably doesn’t get enough credit for helping to shape her husband’s policies during his stint as president. But she remains a polarizing figure and I wonder if being unpopular has more to do with her exclusion than anything else. We’re treading on dangerous ground however when we select historical figures for our children’s text books based on likes or dislikes akin to some social media platform. If that were the case, my textbook would look markedly different than yours.
The exclusion of Helen Keller is a real headscratcher. She certainly meets the criteria as laid out by the Board of Education in the questions they posed. She certainly helped trigger watershed changes as it relates to the sight and hearing impaired. She certainly came from an underrepresented group. And her life of activism on behalf of the disabled has certainly made a lasting impact. Why she should disappear from the history books, is beyond me. Could her political beliefs present a problem in a very red state? Keller was an avowed leftist who espoused socialism and was a member of the Industrial Workers of the World. But I doubt seriously if the working group had the intellectual curiosity to delve into that aspect of her life. And anyway, her home state of Alabama which is just as conservative if not more than Texas has honored her many times. Some historical figures
inspire, some don’t. The fact that Helen Keller has inspired millions should not go unnoticed. Texas lawmaker Chris Turner sums up the feelings of many, “If Helen Keller was an important historical figure when I went to school (and she was), then she still is today”.
Remember the Alamo? Well as a fourth generation Texan I do. And unlike the other two cases, the Alamo is not going away. There would be an insurrection of the worst kind, if the Texas Board of Education even hinted at removing the Alamo from instruction. But what they have suggested is that the word “heroic” should not be used when describing Davy Crockett, James Bowie, William Travis and the other 200 or so defenders of the Spanish mission. “Heroic” it seems was judged a “value-loaded” term”. What?? It seems political correctness has seeped into the curriculum. And some contend that defending the Alamo from Santa Anna’s Mexican army was counterproductive. These weren’t brave or heroic men they argue. And even the great Sam Houston thought defending the Alamo was next to useless. But what happened at the Alamo served
as a rallying cry for not only Sam Houston’s troops who eventually routed Santa Anna’s army, but serves as inspiration today for many Texas school children. Heroism is a value I like.
The George Santanya quote that, “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it”, is all well and good until you realize that if certain aspects of history are not even taught, how can you learn from it? I think I’ll just put my history book down and grab a comic book. The way things are going, I’ll be more enlightened.