Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Deconstructing the Texas Board of Education

Note: unlike many guest pieces on Et tu, Mr. Destructo? today's article comes from a real, live person: the mysterious Mr. Awesome, a law student who is not a pundit and fears nothing. He previously paid us a visit to describe how Newsweek Sucks Really Bad. Thanks to instant messaging and on-the-fly editing, plus trading jokes, this piece wound up being something of a joint effort. Full credit for all the funny and insightful bits to Mr. Awesome. The filler goes to Mr. Sese Seko.

American History (R)

The Texas State Board of Education has been overrun by hard-right fundamentalist types. If you’re familiar with that sort of thing, you expect them to try to remove evolution from the school curriculum. You expect Scopes Monkey Trial-type stuff.

However, this paradigm has changed. They’ve broadened their scope from a single pet peeve to an attack on facts they don’t like. This extends conservative America’s long-standing push towards a hermetically sealed alternative history for right-wingers, like the Politically Incorrect Guide to... series of "history books." They want to bring the reactionary world-view into the classroom and teach it as fact.

Check out this liveblog of a recent Texas BoE meeting, or this article. They design a curriculum by shouting discrete, disconnected sentences about stuff they imagine should be true. I guess they think a court reporter's typing the words makes it a working document. It's as if Christ said to Saint Peter, "Blessed are the meek. Man, we are gonna be late. You know, I could really go for a falafel." Peter nodded, and Christ said, "Go. On that rock you shall build my church." The Roman Catholic Church is now a Lebanese Deli, and the Dark Ages extend on for another thousand years, because man can tolerate any amount of ignorance and repression when matched with commensurate deliciousness.

These board members don’t understand that history fits because it happened. A series of isolated stuff and ideas you make up won’t. Fiction writing is difficult, and plot holes exist even in solid narratives. But the Texas BoE’s narrative is anything but solid, and they have no narrative discipline. They want to cut the Enlightenment out as an influence on Jefferson. They want to insert John Calvin and Thomas Aquinas into a discussion on the Declaration of Independence. They want to strip the term "capitalism" as a phrase because liberal college professors ruined it… somehow. They want to change the education of American racial history to a denial of American racial history.

It’s impossible to tie all these threads together into a cohesive narrative. This is Stuff Happening, with no relationship between the disparate parts. History may be messy, but it is supported by the honesty of reality, the truth of having happened. History is tied together by actual causation. This is just a scattershot re-imagining of an entire historical and cultural landscape. Like peering at a potpourri dish on some Texan's guest toilet tank and finding cloves, cinnamon, a rib stolen from John Marshall's coffin and some bits and pieces of Leviathan, pages ripped out like letters from a kidnapper's manifesto.

These people couldn’t even be bothered to revise our history by replacing it with another coherent set of facts. Instead, they advance a thousand little reactions. They have reactions to facts they don’t like, they have reactions to people and ideas they don’t like. They even have reactions to things that don’t exist, to words no one actually said. They pen their foundational ethos with the authorial vision of a neurotic cat with feet soaked in ink, wandering a papered floor. The little guy meanders around, sometimes jerking or spasming at something he imagines, some flyspeck invisible to man. And that's why the Enlightenment was wrong.

We tried to imagine, on some level, how some poor bastard could teach this to a classroom of teenagers. Sure, when you’re preaching to the choir you can skate by on euphemisms and tacit agreement. But how do you get demanding, cynical or disrespectful adolescents to fall into line behind a ramshackle, counterfactual worldview? We couldn’t do it. We couldn't picture a teacher telling a class about how Calvinism and Thomas Aquinas fit into the Declaration of Independence. Instead, we tried to imagine what these weird thundering idiots thought their brainstorming would look and feel like in glorious practice.


Class convenes. The students file into their pure, white seats. The classroom is stark and clean. Sunlight peeks in from gaps in the metal shutters over the windows. The students sit staring calmly at their teacher. They are alert.

"Free expression," says the teacher, a preamble. She is a female, and her pay is contingent on performance. She knows this, and will not complain. A good teacher, she will not unionize because her nation is her union. Her husband will pay for her maternity leave when he impregnates her.

She has a gun.

The teacher asks, "What does free expression mean?"

Many good students raise their hands.

The teacher ignores their hands. The question was rhetorical.

"Free expression means you can have a gun, you can start a business, and you can create contracts. Free expression means you can buy things with currency, or sell currency for things, such as a gun, with which you can freely express yourself through un-infringed possession. Freedom of expression means freedom of business, free enterprise. This ideal is found in the writings of John Calvin and Thomas Hobbes, who teamed up with John Locke long ago to say, 'This shit is mine,' with a gun."

The students copy this word for word. They use pencils and they write on notebook paper.

“This ideal is an ancient American heritage. Thomas Aquinas, a 13th century American economist, famously referred to free enterprise as the 'city on a hill,' a reference to the Biblical ideal of a city of man in contract with God’s higher laws of the marketplace. Aquinas inspired the Founding Fathers, who sought to create this perfect society of free enterprise, and to carry guns. John Winthrop was the first American leader to apply Aquinas’ economic truth to American government, and the second to carry guns. The first was the proto-American Christopher Columbus. Thomas Paine once famously argued that 'It is error only, and not truth, that shrinks from business.' He had a gun when he said this."

The teacher points at a picture, hanging from the ceiling. The picture shows a circle, labeled America. In the center of the circle is a businessman (labeled businessman), with guns. Jesus is there, but he is not labeled because that would be unnecessary. He points at the businessman with one hand. The other holds a rifle by the barrel, pointed up, towards Heaven. The ubiquitous gaze of Jesus Christ catches the viewer’s eye, as if to say, "I’m all about that." There is a jumble of words outside the circle, such as "tyranny," "slavery," and "class action liability." This is a map. You can pull on this map, and it will retract, roll up into a lodge in the ceiling. That is where maps go, so this is a map.

The teacher continues, "As you can see from this map, America's borders protect free enterprise, and guns. Thomas Jefferson wrote the Bill of Rights to ensure this protection. When Thomas Jefferson wrote it, he operated by the Rule of Three, a 'Trinity.' This is why the most important Amendments — the First, Second, and Third — are joined. They are, in fact, one Amendment, each supporting the other to create free expression. They cannot be separated because Trinities cannot be divided. There are many other Amendments outside the Bill of Rights, but these are false Amendments created by God to test our faith and confuse our enemies. Thomas Jefferson created the 10th Amendment to warn us away from these false Amendments. He also also tested our faith by writing a Bible without Jesus. Of course, this was a false flag operation, like the Civil War. But Jesus still existed — with his Gun."

The students echo, "With his Gun."