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Texas Teaches

Texas now requires its public schools to teach the “good side” of the Holocaust, whatever that is. “Focus on the trees and ignore the forest” ‘progressives’ think that this is horrible, apparently unable to see the good side of this seemingly insane legislation. 

 What Texas HB 3979 actually says is two things. First, teachers should not teach anything controversial; and second, if a controversial subject arises in a classroom, the teacher must present various views on the subject. Teachers have no flexibility in this, they are required to teach all sides of controversial subjects. Thus, they are required to teach the view that the Holocaust was good. 

Think of all the medical and weapons research and development those smart Nazis did, that has outlasted the horrors of how they did that research and development. Think of the entertainment value they provided to us, from Hogan’s Heroes to Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds. 

What Texas HB 3979 actually says is two things. First, teachers should not teach anything controversial; and second, if a controversial subject arises in a classroom, the teacher must present various views on the subject. 

Now think beyond the Holocaust. Think CRT. 

Decades ago, the Texas Republican Party set an example now followed by the national Republican Party. They adopted a Platform Plank officially opposing public schools teaching students to think critically, about anything. Don’t question advertising. Don’t think about the arterial impact of two quarter-pounders with cheese plus two large orders of fries for lunch. Don’t try to analyze the fabricated data of people who want to peddle magic cures for Covid-45. 

CRT: Critical Race Theory. Uh Oh! There’s that evil word “critical.” So it must be bad. And it also has “race”, something we don’t want to talk about, and “theory.” which is like science, also a bad thing. So CRT is obviously triple bad compared to mere critical thinking. 

 So CRT is as bad as the Holocaust. Which means parents who want their children to learn about this evil concept now have the statutory right in Texas to demand that teachers expose their students to alternate thinking about CRT - to thinking that claims CRT is accurate history rather than suburban-friendly white-washed history. 

The same thinking can be applied to other disciplines. A decade or more ago, white “christian” fundagelical, anti-science activists argued that “Creation Science” had to be included in biology classes that taught evolution. Now, under HB 3979, Native Americans, and people interested in other creation stories can demand that their “truths” about how god(s) created the world or universe be taught. 

Even within the Abrahamic tradition, parents can demand that accurate information about the Qur’an be taught in any classroom which contains a bible, crucifix or other “christian” iconography. The U.S. alt-white movement is full of misinformation about Islamic beliefs and practices. Texas has now provided concerned parents a convenient, safe and government paid-for way of getting accurate information about Islam given to all school children. 

Texans are proud of what they say is their history. “Remember the Alamo” and all the John Wayne “documentaries” about defending peaceful, freedom seeking Anglo farmers against the depredations of rampaging indians. But Texans are also nervous about historical facts. A few years ago, the state banned its public schools from teaching Latino Studies, fearing that such courses would end up examining the realities of those Anglo farmers seeking freedom. 

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 (A suggestion for a student research project: Using local sources like historical society archives, microfiched ancient newspaper records and court archives, search for any early 19th century records of Anglo settlers in Texas who were abolitionists. Then find out how their neighbors, newspapers and courts treated them for their abolitionist view. Write it up into a report for history class.)

 The reality was that in the early 19th century, all the men settling Texas were southerners bent on bringing the plantation system, with its slave workforce, to Texas. A competing reality is that Mexico, which owned Texas, outlawed slavery in 1828. So the entire struggle for “freedom for Texas” was actually for the “freedom” to own human beings as pieces of property. The fight at the Alamo was between the Mexican army and men intent on creating a new nation founded on the principle of slavery. 

Although Texas law forbade the teaching of Latino Studies, HB 3979 mandates that parents who want their children to learn real facts can now demand that their public schools teach more accurately who the Anglo settlers were, what they actually believed about the “freedom” of all people, and how they have treated non-white people since the battle at the Alamo. 

Classes should show how traditional racist beliefs and practices have continued to affect new immigrants, like the thousands of South Vietnamese soldiers and their families who were settled in Texas after loyal Vietnamese reunited their nation. Discriminatory language and violence continue to find an outlet, aimed at Vietnamese fishermen and farmers along the Texas coast. 

Economics and politics are in the minds of Texas politicians every day. Texas is following the lead of Florida, and being followed by Kansas and Ohio in attacking free market business practices. The “free market” and capitalism used to be important to Texans. But now Texas, and other states, are trying to mandate how capitalist businesses operate. They are passing laws requiring businesses to abandon health and safety measures in the workplace.

While the current attacks on business practices focus on ending health protections for workers, it is easy to see this effort extended to ending workplace safety measures, pollution controls, gender equity rules, and a host of other matters Republicans oppose. It is equally easy to see how this effort to supplant centralized government control for local business decision-making is a change in social policy that is appropriate for parents to demand that their children be educated about. Particularly in a state with long standing policies and political stridency against centralized controls and freedom for businesses to decide on their own best interests. 

Progressives, liberals and even Democrats should be applauding HB 3979 and its break with Texas tradition of discouraging real education in public schools. One of the most interesting sections of the bill is “h-5". Section h-5 prohibits schools from adopting or imposing any rules that punish students for, or have a chilling effect on students, discussion controversial issues involving race, gender and disputed history. 

HB 3979 was authored by racist, misogynist state senator Doug B. Hughes, who also authored one of Texas’ new voter suppression laws, and is a cosponsor of the anti-abortion law currently headed for the Supreme Court. It is an example of the extreme overreach that Republicans have been attempting in every state in which they hold large majorities. 

But overreach always risks going too far. And in the case of HB 3979, Texas has reversed its previous positions against Latino Studies and any forms of critical thinking. Texas used to punish students for advocating for Latino Studies. HB 3979 now protects such student, not just from punishment but from any actions that have “a chilling effect” on student advocacy. 

tom hall

This is clearly not what the stridently racist state senator Hughes intended. But it is, historically, a normal part of power-grabbing overreach. This bill should be seen by families and activists alike as an invitation to demand that schools teach, accurately, all the subjects that the Texas legislature wants to deny. 

Like so many other opportunities, this one will only be realized if students or their families, and groups concerned to maximize the education potential of Texas schools, step up and assert their rights. Just as alt-white groups are soliciting funds for the Donald’s legal assaults on proper medical care and on our Constitutional form of government, groups should organize to coordinate demands on local school boards, and to aggregate donations to fund legal challenges to school boards which refuse to comply with the educational opportunities provided by HB 3979. 

Tom Hall

 On this Thanksgiving week, Progressives liberals and Democrats should be cheering at, and thankful for, the opportunities provided by a pretty dumb racist’s effort to stamp out CRT with his ludicrous, but potentially very helpful, HB 3979. 

Tom Hall