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Red-Blue America: Liberal-conservative battle over history books continues

Nothing wrong with presenting our best moments ... along with our lesser ones

Well now, the shoe is on the other foot.

For years now, liberals have been complaining that conservative partisans on the Texas Board of Education — which buys 48 million textbooks a year — have de facto control over the national history curriculum: Other states buy textbooks geared to Texas tastes, and there’s nothing Texans seem to like more than a little bit of puffed-up myth-


The result: Texas officials essentially mandated that history textbooks become a primer on the modern conservative movement, with instructions that “the conservative resurgence of the 1980s and 1990s, including Phyllis Schlafly, the Contract With America, the Heritage Foundation, the Moral Majority and the National Rifle Association” be part of every youngster’s education.

History — according to Texas rules — would be little more than exercise in indoctrination. That’s not the proper role of history, but that’s how it’s often used by conservatives.

Now conservatives have the gall to suggest it’s liberals who have politicized history. Why? Because the history taught in the new standards isn’t a whitewash.

We Americans believe we’re good. More than that, though, we want to be told, over and over again, how good we are — to have our goodness as a country affirmed, constantly, and it is all to often the case that anybody who pauses the contemplate the darker side of our country’s past will stand accused of “hating” America or siding with the country’s enemies.

It’s a paper-thin patriot who can only live the country if it has no warts. And it’s a paper-thin academic who only finds history worth teaching if it makes him or her feel good, all the time, about the country.

The new AP standards are probably not perfect, but they appear to represent an honest and honorable attempt to help students deal critically and thoughtfully both with the best moments of our country’s past, we well as our lesser moments. There’s nothing to be afraid of in that. Too bad conservatives are so scared.

Joel Mathis ( is associate editor for Philadelphia Magazine. Visit him on Facebook: