Commentary: Ideological Biases Must Not Tarnish the Task.

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By George Seay, originally published in the Austin American-Statesman

Recently, members of the State Board of Education came under scrutiny for recommending elimination of many famous historical figures from the classroom. They also initially recommended removing the word “heroic” in describing the Alamo defenders. Following an inevitable outcry, they retreated, unlike the heroic Alamo defenders.

All kidding aside, anyone willing to volunteer for this group has to be “heroic.” It’s a classic lose-lose proposition – if they do their job well, few notice. If they perform poorly, there is outrage among some constituencies.

We are in a pickle educating our children in a politically correct society. Conservatives view the educational bureaucracy as a leviathan with an agenda – to roll back history written almost exclusively by victorious men, and to inject inclusive, diverse, progressive viewpoints. Aggressively. Leftist bureaucrats have provided conservatives a legion of examples. An attempt to remove “heroic” from the Alamo narrative is only the most recent.

And yet. Conservatives have now controlled state government for twenty years. It’s plausible that resentment of the progressive agenda has brought overreach in the review of social studies – an “over-backlash” if you will. Leftists point to removing Helen Keller and Hillary Clinton from this year’s list as an example.

What leftists fail to address are the multiple exclusions of those favorably viewed by conservatives – Francis Scott Key, Christopher Columbus (the “discoverer” of America), John Hancock, native Texan Dwight Eisenhower, “Stonewall” Jackson, John Paul Jones, Bill Gates, and Sam Walton. It’s a long list – all men by the way.

Another outcry from the left involves slavery. The study group recommends teaching slavery as the primary cause of the Civil War, but also mentioning lesser factors. When I was going through school, the south was so defensive of the Civil War that slavery was taught as “a” cause, not “the” cause. To call it for what it was, the primary cause, a morally indefensible peculiar institution that struck down more Americans than all of our other wars combined – that’s fine progress.

However, our children should also learn other factors – state versus federal power, industrial communities versus agrarian communities, and regional rivalries, as all played a smaller part. What’s the harm in that? In particular, an explanation of state versus federal power helps further understanding of our country today, the rise of Trump, and the deep suspicion of, and hostility toward, the federal government.

While debates over content and attempted humor are good fun, the education of our youth is no joke. At a divisive time, future generations deserve better than social studies parsed through an ideologically biased lens.

As a businessman with a history degree from the University of Texas, and as the founder of a historically-focused national security center at UT, I want the truth – all of our history represented faithfully, accurately and holistically. And I want the same for my children and grandchildren. Students need to understand the unvarnished truth about the evils of slavery, the Vietnam War, and Wounded Knee. But they also need to understand and appreciate the desperate struggle for freedom at the Alamo.

If we forget who we are, we lose our identity. Our educators must be duty-bound to pass comprehensive knowledge to future generations, so our citizens continue to be an informed force for good in the world, galvanized by our values and traditions. News coverage of this study group doesn’t seem to indicate bad faith, but it does indicate we can do better. Ideological biases must not tarnish the task.