Doonesbury as Documentary: Or, Comic Strip Imitates Lifetags: textbooks, Confederacy, Confederate flag
Sociologist James W. Loewen is the author of Lies My Teacher Told Me.
Last Sunday's "Doonesbury" comic strip shows a high school teacher of U.S. History in Texas struggling to control his class while staying within the state guidelines about Southern secession. In two panels omitted from the Washington Post print edition, he first asks himself, "I have to teach this?" He answers, "You do, George. You have a family to support."
In class, he then asks his students a question: "So why did Texas secede?" He rushes to answer it: "Because of sectionalism, states' rights, and slavery, in that order," exactly as mandated by the new Texas guidelines. Recently here at HNN, I discussed this Texas requirement and a national textbook "by" Gerald A. Danzer that already teaches secession this way.
A student rises to challenge him, by reading from Texas's "Declaration of the Causes Which Impel the State of Texas to Secede from the Federal Union." (This document and similar documents from other Confederate states are available in The Confederate and Neo-Confederate Reader.) Of course, what he reads is all about slavery. Texas's Declaration is all about slavery.
The teacher stops his student from reading more from the document.
The teacher then reminds his student to stick to the textbook. "What did I say about outside sources?"
"That they're liberal," the student replies. "But this was written by racists!"
In February, 2005, I spoke to a large public audience in Columbia, South Carolina. A sizable contingent of neo-Confederates attended, drawn by an interview I had given to The State, Columbia's daily newspaper, stressing how I would be telling the truth about secession. My long (70-minute) talk included quoting from South Carolina's "Declaration of the Immediate Causes Which Induce and Justify the State of South Carolina to Secede from the Federal Union." Since South Carolina attacks states' rights throughout that document, after considering it, no one can honestly claim that the state seceded for states' rights. Like Texas, South Carolina is all about slavery.
The neo-Confederates sat quietly and attentively through my talk but then dominated the question period. I had no quarrel with that. They made short statements that did end with questions; if I could not answer, I should not have been speaking.
Afterward, however, in the book-signing line, a woman came up to harangue me. She told me she had home-schooled her children to protect them from the influence of the Richland County Public Schools (which were under Dixiecrat/Republican control). Then she said, "I don't care what you say, the Confederacy seceded for states' rights!"
"But, but what about the document?" I stammered, referring of course to South Carolina's "Declaration of Causes."
"You can find documents to prove anything!" she replied. "That was a liberal document," she added, with a withering emphasis on "liberal."
I sat speechless. Never before on the planet had South Carolina's "Declaration of the Immediate Causes Which Induce and Justify the State of South Carolina to Secede from the Federal Union" been called "a liberal document." Eventually, an organizer of the event came over to lead her away so the booksigning might continue.
Garry Trudeau nailed it, this past Sunday. Texas now teaches history in the service of stupidity.
Copyright James W. Loewen
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