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“How Texas Teaches History”: Teaching Texas’ Children Without Challenging Conservative Political Views That Are At Odds With History

A Texas high school student and his mother recently called attention to a curious line in a geography textbook: a description of the Atlantic slave trade as bringing “millions of workers” to plantations in the American South. McGraw-Hill Education, the publisher of the textbook, has since acknowledged that the term “workers” was a misnomer.

The company’s chief executive also promised to revise the textbook so that its digital version as well as its next edition would more accurately describe the forced migration and enslavement of Africans. In the meantime, the company is also offering to send stickers to cover the passage.

But it will take more than that to fix the way slavery is taught in Texas textbooks. In 2010, the Texas Board of Education approved a social studies curriculum that promotes capitalism and Republican political philosophies. The curriculum guidelines prompted many concerns, including that new textbooks would downplay slavery as the cause of the Civil War.

This fall, five million public school students in Texas began using the textbooks based on the new guidelines. And some of these books distort history not through word choices but through a tool we often think of as apolitical: grammar.

In September, Bobby Finger of the website Jezebel obtained and published some excerpts from the new books, showing much of what is objectionable about their content. The books play down the horror of slavery and even seem to claim that it had an upside. This upside took the form of a distinctive African-American culture, in which family was central, Christianity provided “hope,” folk tales expressed “joy” and community dances were important social events.

But it is not only the substance of the passages that is a problem. It is also their form. The writers’ decisions about how to construct sentences, about what the subject of the sentence will be, about whether the verb will be active or passive, shape the message that slavery was not all that bad.

I teach freshman writing at Dartmouth College. My colleagues and I consistently try to convey to our students the importance of clear writing. Among the guiding principles of clear writing are these: Whenever possible, use human subjects, not abstract nouns; use active verbs, not passive. We don’t want our students to write, “Torture was used,” because that sentence obscures who was torturing whom.

In the excerpts published by Jezebel, the Texas textbooks employ all the principles of good, strong, clear writing when talking about the “upside” of slavery. But when writing about the brutality of slavery, the writers use all the tricks of obfuscation. You can see all this at play in the following passage from a textbook, published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, called Texas United States History:

Some slaves reported that their masters treated them kindly. To protect their investment, some slaveholders provided adequate food and clothing for their slaves. However, severe treatment was very common. Whippings, brandings, and even worse torture were all part of American slavery.

Notice how in the first two sentences, the “slavery wasn’t that bad” sentences, the main subject of each clause is a person: slaves, masters, slaveholders. What those people, especially the slave owners, are doing is clear: They are treating their slaves kindly; they are providing adequate food and clothing. But after those two sentences there is a change, not just in the writers’ outlook on slavery but also in their sentence construction. There are no people in the last two sentences, only nouns. Yes, there is severe treatment, whippings, brandings and torture. And yes, those are all bad things. But where are the slave owners who were actually doing the whipping and branding and torturing? And where are the slaves who were whipped, branded and tortured? They are nowhere to be found in the sentence.

In another passage, slave owners and their institutionalized cruelty are similarly absent: “Families were often broken apart when a family member was sold to another owner.”

Note the use of the passive voice in the verbs “were broken apart” and “was sold.” If the sentence had been written according to the principles of good draftsmanship, it would have looked like this: Slave owners often broke slave families apart by selling a family member to another owner. A bit more powerful, no? Through grammatical manipulation, the textbook authors obscure the role of slave owners in the institution of slavery.

It may appear at first glance that the authors do a better job of focusing on the actions of slaves. After all, there are many sentences in which “slaves” are the subjects, the main characters in their own narrative. But what are the verbs in those sentences? Are the slaves suffering? No, in the sentences that feature slaves as the subject, as the main actors in the sentence, the slaves are contributing their agricultural knowledge to the growing Southern economy; they are singing songs and telling folk tales; they are expressing themselves through art and dance.

There are no sentences, in these excerpts, anyway, in which slaves are doing what slaves actually did: toiling relentlessly, without remuneration or reprieve, constantly subject to confinement, corporal punishment and death.

The textbook publishers were put in a difficult position. They had to teach history to Texas’ children without challenging conservative political views that are at odds with history. In doing so, they made many grammatical choices. Though we don’t always recognize it, grammatical choices can be moral choices, and these publishers made the wrong ones.

 

By: Ellen Bresler Rockmore, Op-Ed Contributor, The New York Times, October 21, 2015

October 23, 2015 Posted by | American History, Slavery, Texas Board of Education | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“GOP Establishment Is Beginning To Panic”: Are Republican Voters Going To Come To Their Senses About Donald Trump?

The metaphor most often used about Donald Trump’s candidacy these days is that he’s “defying gravity,” which implies that while a real candidate can rise and then stay high all the way to the nomination, a candidate like Trump is supposed to bounce up and then fall back down to earth. But even as Trump is no longer enjoying the blanket coverage that he did a month or two ago, he’s still leading the Republican field.

Meanwhile, the candidate in second place, Ben Carson, is every bit Trump’s equal when it comes to policy ignorance, appalling statements, and the potential for a disastrous general election. The establishment’s early choice, Jeb Bush, has cratered, while its second choice, Marco Rubio, is creeping up slowly, but so far seems to be generating much more interest from funders and strategists than from actual voters.

So as Byron York reports today, the GOP establishment is beginning to panic, about Trump in particular:

This weekend was an inflection point in the Republican presidential race — a moment in which some significant part of the GOP establishment came out of denial and realized Donald Trump might well become their party’s nominee.

“The Republican establishment, for the first time, is saying, off the record, this guy can win,” noted Joe Scarborough on MSNBC Monday morning. “I’ve heard that from everybody. I don’t hear anybody saying he can’t win the nomination anymore.”

That doesn’t mean Republicans have made their peace with a Trump victory. On the contrary — some are preparing to do whatever it takes to bring him down. Which could lead to an extraordinary scenario in which GOP stalwarts go to war to destroy their own party’s likely nominee.

The trouble is that they don’t have much of a war plan, partly because “the establishment” is far less organized and unified than you might think, and partly because there are only so many tools at their disposal. There’s talk of a large TV ad campaign against Trump, built on “the political insiders’ unshakable faith that negative ads work.” You can also see that faith in this interview with longtime GOP strategist Mike Murphy, who’s running Jeb Bush’s “Right to Rise” Super PAC. Murphy’s argument for why Jeb is still the candidate to beat, despite the fact that his support has fallen to single digits and he’s now in fourth or fifth place in most polls, is essentially that Jeb will win because unlike the other candidates, he has a lot of money to run ads.

Ads can work, in the right context (though they have a short half-life; their effect tends to fade quickly). But they’re not a guarantee of anything, particularly when you have a candidate who has performed as poorly as Jeb, whose latest genius campaign maneuver is getting into an argument with Trump about whether his brother was actually president when the September 11 attacks happened. And the truth is that while Jeb may have raised the most money, some other candidates aren’t doing too badly either, particularly Carson and Ted Cruz.

In any case, the theory underlying not just Jeb’s candidacy but also Rubio’s is that eventually, the voters will come around to someone reasonable. They may need to be pushed in the right direction, but they can’t stick with the likes of Trump and Carson forever. The lower-tier candidates will drop out, the voters will coalesce around a smaller number of alternatives, and the choice will become clear, at which point one of the sane candidates will win.

Which could well happen. But by now, we should be wary of assuming anything about this race. How many people expected Trump to do as well as he has for as long as he has? The establishment and his opponents have tried a series of arguments against Trump, none of which have worked. He’s not a real conservative. He’s erratic. He’s ignorant. He’s killing us with Hispanics. If he was the nominee, we’d lose in a landslide.

All of which is true, but so far it hasn’t mattered. Trump is still leading, as he has from almost the moment he got into the race. As NBC News said this morning, “Donald Trump and Ben Carson are only getting STRONGER as we head into next week’s third GOP debate.” Nobody supporting Trump is unfamiliar with him; it’s getting less and less likely that an opponent will be able to say, “Did you know this about Trump?” and watch his support ebb away. They know who and what he is, and that’s why they’re behind him.

Trump is now putting together an actual campaign organization, with things like ballot-access specialists and ground operatives, which he didn’t have before. As Ron Brownstein points out, “Trump is ce­ment­ing a strong blue-col­lar base, while the white-col­lar voters re­l­at­ively more res­ist­ant to him have yet to uni­fy around any single al­tern­at­ive.” The longer that unification takes, the better position Trump will be in; it isn’t hard to imagine him winning one early state after another and building up an unstoppable momentum.

Those who have been observing politics for a long time — whether you’re talking about journalists or the insiders now trying to figure out how to stop Trump — still have trouble wrapping their heads around the idea that he could really win. They now acknowledge that it’s possible, but it still seems crazy. Which it certainly is. But it’s looking like the establishment is going to have to do more than wait for primary voters to come to their senses if they want to stop him.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line Blog, The Washington Post,  October 20, 2015

October 23, 2015 Posted by | Donald Trump, Establishment Republicans, GOP Presidential Candidates | , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

“Trump Speaks The Truth”: The Donald Has The Better Of Jeb Bush In Their Spat Over 9/11

Here at the Country Mart, on the edge of Brentwood and Santa Monica, politics is not on the menu. The Sunday talk shows are no big thing. Imagine, people are not that excited about Hillary Clinton’s upcoming date with Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., chairman of the House Benghazi committee.

This is Hillaryland, a rare state with two Democratic women senators. But one flare from the presidential primary season has made its way west: Donald Trump said something simple and true, which needed to be said. I never thought I’d say it, but thanks for clearing the air on the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Trump.

The failing presidential contender Jeb Bush has made this absurd statement his signature as a candidate: “My brother kept us safe.” No, President George W. Bush did not do that. Trump only pointed out that almost 3,000 died on that day and the World Trade Center towers fell. That’s the record of a day that broke the nation’s heart.

It happened on President Bush’s watch, while he was ignoring his CIA August intelligence briefings that a plot involving planes was in the air, so to speak. Most of the hijackers were from Saudi Arabia, not Afghanistan nor Iraq. We stayed friends with the desert kingdom for some reason; the Bushes were chummy with Prince Bandar. Bush fell down on the job, to say the least.

We are still paying dearly for the 2003 invasion of Iraq. The fearsome Islamic State group is not keeping us safe, little brother. President Barack Obama had to own that grim truth, keeping more troops than planned in the warring Middle East neighborhood. Much of Syria has been destroyed, like a contemporary Carthage.

“My brother kept us safe” shows a tragic chorus of Bush blind loyalty at work again. Jeb Bush has clearly not learned any lessons from the past, asking the same family crowd of foreign policy advisors to help him, including that shrewd player and hawk, Paul Wolfowitz.

It’s his birthright, his inheritance. Jeb is very proud of being a Bush team player.

Finally, as a matter of finesse, “my brother” sounds like he’s running for home room president. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy always referred in public to his late brother, John F. Kennedy, as President Kennedy. That has more dignity, not the Bush strong suit.

Trump spoke the plain truth. It’s refreshing. Let’s have more of it from Republicans running for president.

 

By: Jamie Stiehm, Washington Whispers, U. S. News and World Report, October 19, 2015

October 23, 2015 Posted by | 9-11, Donald Trump, Jeb Bush | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“More Irrational Chatter”: Ben Carson Thinks Hillary Clinton Is Going To Jail

Ben Carson has predicted many things in his day. He has claimed that End Times were nigh. He has said that a new Hitler could rise. And yesterday, he said that Hillary Clinton will end up behind bars for her actions as Secretary of State.

“Hillary can well be in jail and it’s hard to run from there,” Carson said bemusedly during an interview on The John Gibson Show. He claimed that Joe Biden would be the Democratic nominee less than an hour before the vice president announced that he would not seek the nomination. Gibson’s show runs from noon to 3 p.m.; the announcement came a little before 1 p.m.

“I would think that it would be Biden,” Carson said in his traditional deep-toned whisper, when asked who he would place his bets on.

After Gibson began laughing at the suggestion that Clinton would be in jail, he questioned whether Carson believed that an indictable offense would be discovered in Thursday’s Benghazi hearing.

“Or the computer server—uh—problems,” Carson drawled. Then he started walking it back on the spot.

“I think she may not be actually in jail but I think the controversy swirling around that will have an extremely damaging effect.”

Carson’s campaign did not respond when I asked what Carson had thought of the hearing, now entering its sixth hour, so far.

He spent the remainder of the interview discussing Paul Ryan’s bid for Speaker of the House, which he said he would support if the various caucuses did likewise, and suggested that saying President George W. Bush was responsible for 9/11 is a “blame game” that is not productive.

“Was there chatter going on about terrorist activity?” Carson asked, then proceeded to answer himself. “Of course there was. But not the kind of specific thing that would allow you to, through executive action, prevent such a thing. He certainly went into overdrive after that.”

The campaign has not provided clarification on what he meant by “chatter.”

 

By: Gideon Resnick, The Daily Beast, October 22, 2015

October 23, 2015 Posted by | Ben Carson, Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden | , , , , | 4 Comments

“Paul Ryan Is Doomed, Too”: He Will End Up In The Same Position As Boehner — Held Hostage By The Freedom Caucus

A week ago, Paul Ryan looked doomed. Now, he looks really, truly doomed.

The Wisconsin Republican, who achieved national prominence as Mitt Romney’s running mate in 2012, seems more likely than ever to become the next speaker of the House. A devout man of faith, he will need your prayers.

When incumbent John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) announced his resignation, Ryan made clear he did not want the job. Who on earth would? Boehner spent his tenure trying — and failing — to corral ultra-conservative Republicans into a working majority.

GOP victories in the 2010 midterm elections had swept into office a group of nihilistic renegades who believe the way to change Washington is to blow it up.

Now calling themselves the Freedom Caucus, these 40 or so legislative bomb-throwers insisted on fighting battles they had no chance of winning and repeatedly took the country to the brink of calamity.

They threatened government shutdowns (and achieved one). They tried to block routine increases in the federal debt ceiling. They kept the House from passing spending bills in key areas, such as transportation, where there once was bipartisan agreement. They insisted on more than 50 useless attempts to repeal all or part of the Affordable Care Act, knowing these measures would fail in the Senate or be vetoed by President Obama.

As presumptive speaker, Ryan can look forward to more of the same.

Ryan is seen as the only figure who could potentially unite the fractious GOP caucus. As such, he has leverage — and he is trying his best to use it.

He insisted on having the support of all 247 Republicans before he would accept the job. But now he is reportedly willing to settle for less.

The Freedom Caucus announced Wednesday that a “supermajority” of its members would back Ryan. There was no official endorsement from the group, however, which means the unspecified majority fell short of 80 percent.

That doesn’t sound so bad — perhaps 10 or fewer unreconciled renegades, who theoretically could be marginalized. “I believe this is a positive step toward a unified Republican team,” Ryan said. But in courting the ultra-conservatives, he reportedly made concessions that seem to guarantee that the speaker’s gavel will be a symbol of misery, not of power.

The main problem is that Ryan is said to have promised to follow the “Hastert rule,” named for former speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), requiring that legislation have the support of a majority of the GOP caucus before it is brought to the House floor.

Boehner had to break the Hastert rule whenever ultra-conservatives threatened to bring about disaster — a potentially catastrophic default because the debt limit needed to be raised, for example. In those instances, Boehner got the legislation passed with a cobbled-together majority comprising Democrats and moderate Republicans.

To keep his job, Boehner generally kept to the Hastert rule on other, less critical legislation. This is what made the Congresses he led so spectacularly unproductive.

In 2013, the Senate passed a comprehensive immigration reform bill. Had Boehner brought the legislation to the floor of the House, it almost surely would have passed — but with the votes of Democrats and GOP moderates. A majority of the Republican caucus opposed comprehensive reform, so Boehner never allowed a vote on it.

Immigration, at least, is a hot-button issue; transportation is not. Yet Boehner could not even get a majority of his caucus to support a routine six-year transportation bill. This is the kind of legislation that used to be a simple matter of arithmetic and routinely passed with broad bipartisan support. For today’s House Republicans, however, fixing roads and bridges is somehow an ideological issue. Just about everything, in fact, is an ideological issue.

If Ryan does become speaker and respects the Hastert rule, he will end up in the same position as Boehner — held hostage by the Freedom Caucus. In his meeting with the group, moreover, he reportedly softened his demand to eliminate a House procedure in which any member can call for a vote to “vacate the chair,” or kick the speaker out of his job. And he also reportedly promised to devolve more power to the rank and file, which is precisely the opposite of what needs to happen.

If Ryan gets the job, he will likely enjoy a honeymoon period. But the fundamental problem — no functional GOP majority — will remain. Ryan believes government should be small. Much of his caucus believes it should be thwarted.

Sounds like doom to me.

 

By: Eugene Robinson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, October 22, 2015

October 23, 2015 Posted by | House Freedom Caucus, Paul Ryan, Speaker of The House of Representatives | , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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