Tim McMullen's Missives and Tomes

Friday, August 7, 2009

Painting the Roses Red—Changing the Texts in Texas

I have been a teacher for nearly forty years, so I am not shocked to discover that “the TX State Board of Education is choosing to allow biased ‘expert’ panelists to use their children's social studies curriculum as a platform for their political agendas” (a quote from a form letter from the UFW).

In all honesty, school textbooks have generally been used to propagate what e.e. cummings called "the shrill collective myth." Inglorious stories of collective cowardice, hypocrisy and deceit have often been "swept under the rug" or barely mentioned, and women and minorities have been woefully underrepresented in the curriculums; then, the curriculums have been used as proof that these "others" don't belong in the social science or literary collections. I am sorry to report that I have heard teachers say, “If they were important, they would be in the books.” Only in the last couple of decades has this overt marginalization of the non-white or non-male figure and movement been hesitantly addressed.

Corporations (including the publishers of text books) and local and national politicians have good reason to want to remove the struggle of workers and their unions from America’s story; therefore, Cesar Chavez, Dolores Huerta, and the incredible battle of the UFW to wrest fundamental human rights from an unscrupulous and entrenched industry and a disinterested government bureaucracy are natural targets for minimizing, then deriding, then expunging from the historical record.

It is not merely workers’ rights that corporations wish to undermine, however; all struggles for equality and basic human rights are fundamental challenges to the ideology that “might makes right” and that greed, selfishness, and personal aggrandizement are the only legitimate pillars upon which to build a society. The “laissez faire” capitalist agenda has been at the heart of our historical myth for many generations; however, with the recent help of Milton Friedman, Arthur Laffer, Ronald Reagan, Howard Jarvis, Phil Gramm, and George W. Bush, it may have reached its most virulent and debased form yet. As a result, “outsiders” or the “unprivileged” (i.e., women, people of color, immigrants, gays and lesbians—all those whose rights have been denied or ignored) are inconvenient to “history,” which is, of course, the “story” told by the “winners.”

These “others” are very problematic to the ironically named “free market” philosophy. If blacks have rights, then slavery is unacceptable. Downplay Frederick Douglass, W.E.B. Du Bois, or Paul Robeson, and you diminish their impact on America and the grotesque truth that the United States was the last “first world” nation to abandon slavery—An abolition, I might add, which took a civil war to accomplish and which many vitriolic bloggers obviously believe never really ended.

If blacks have rights, then lynchings, Jim Crow laws and systematized, supreme court-supported subjugation of these rights were an abomination. Keep in a couple of lines of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech so that we Americans can feel good about ourselves, but erase Thurgood Marshall, a remarkable champion of civil rights and an outstanding Supreme Court Justice, and you diminish the legitimacy of that on-going struggle.

If women and children have rights, then corporations can’t run sweatshops. By all means, purge from our collective memory the stories of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Margaret Sanger, Ida B. Wells, or Betty Friedan. Ignore the contributions of these women, and suddenly “equal” opportunity, the right to vote, and the right to privacy are all assailable and revocable.

Give us a romanticized Pocahontas or Sacagawea, but not the songs of Buffy Sainte-Marie, the leadership of Wilma Mankiller, or the advocacy of Charlene Teeters; give us sanitized, subservient versions of Squanto and Sequoya, but not the white man’s betrayals of Powhatan, or Tecumseh, or Osceola, or Chief Joseph, or Crazy Horse, or Sitting Bull.

Speaking of Native Americans, their stories, like the stories of Asians in America and the stories of Asian Americans, are, for the most part, simply too embarrassing to America’s self-image to be honestly told in the annals of American history.

Clearly, as Patrick Buchanan said recently on The Rachel Maddow Show, “…[W]hite men were 100% of the people who wrote the constitution…. This has been a country basically built by white people.” So why mention that it was built on the backs of slaves or on the backs of their wage-slave or sharecropping progeny who became fodder for the corporate economic machine? Why mention that the machine was built on the backs of Native Americans who were cheated out of their lands, or who were “recruited” to build missions, or whose surrender was “purchased” with disease-ridden blankets, or who were simply decimated to make way for the “more deserving” white men? Why mention the Asians who built the railroads or worked the mines while being forbidden to own property or to earn citizenship? Why mention the Latinos who planted and harvested our food and made our clothing while having their basic human rights denied?

If humans have a real right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, as our founding document claims, then they have a right to clean air, clean water, and safe food. They have a right to gainful employment or an alternative means to provide for themselves and their families (self-sufficient food production, communal systems, bartered services—yes, other forms can be contemplated). They have a right to a safe and healthy work place. They have a right to not be unduly exploited by the privileged and the unscrupulous. Finally, they have a right to an honest education. Unfortunately, none of these things fit the current corporate agenda.

Thoreau said, “It is truly enough said that a corporation has no conscience….” Free market guru Milton Friedman went much further; he unequivocally espoused the doctrine that corporations should not have a conscience. A conscience is bad for business. The title of his September 13, 1970, article in the New York Times Magazine, “The Social Responsibility of Business is to Increase Its Profits,” pretty much says it all, but let me clarify with a quote: “What does it mean to say that ‘business’ has responsibilities?” asks Friedman. “Only people can have responsibilities.” For a ruthlessly immoral and chilling account of the intellectual underpinnings of the current mess in which we find ourselves, simply read this article. It is truly horrifying.

These accusations of “socialism” that are currently being hurled at any attempt to improve social conditions in the United States come straight from Friedman and can be found in this and similar articles. He says that anyone who claims that “business” has any social responsibility is “preaching pure and unadulterated socialism.”

One wonders if the people being orchestrated to shout down reasoned dialogue about health care in town hall meetings, or if those being encouraged to spread such hate-filled, racist, sexist, profane and venomous blog comments across the internet really understand the current status quo that they are defending. I defy any rational person to read Friedman’s article and come away with the conclusion that this is the system that they wish to defend. It is indefensible, even as the absurd philosophical exercise that Friedman offers. Yet, for Friedman, his philosophy cannot be immoral because morality has no business in business, nor does the discussion of morality have any place in the discussion of business. Period.

When reading Friedman’s essay, I am reminded of the 1832 essay by Thomas R. Dew in which, in his defense of slavery, he posited the claims that slavery was endorsed by God and Christ, that the system of slavery in the south was the most moral and democratic form of government yet devised by man, and that “a merrier being does not exist on the face of the globe than the Negro slave of the United States.” Though superficially well reasoned, the underlying assumptions, like Friedman’s, reveal themselves to be either corrupt and cynical deceptions or self-induced delusions.

Nevertheless, judging from the last thirty years, it is obvious that most corporate boards, most CEO’s, and most of the politicians on both sides of the aisle who are put in and kept in office to do the bidding of corporations subscribe wholeheartedly to this now thoroughly, because concretely and empirically, discredited philosophy of the “free” market.

So, a couple of political ideologues in Texas have been appointed to try to revise history in order to protect the privileged, corporate, economic and ideological interests of the few and to perpetuate the prejudices of the many. Big whoop—that’s par for the course.

However, under no circumstances should they be allowed to succeed. It is up to the rest of us—the true grass roots—those who still cling to rational thought—those who still have hope for a modicum of decency and morality in our society—it is up to us to see that they don’t succeed in further debasing or erasing our truer history and replacing it with one that better suits their wallets or their politics!

You can go here to help the UFW's campaign against removing Thurgood Marshall and Cesar Chavez from the textbooks of Texas.

I have included a video of my "Talking Herstory" to provide a little historical perspective.

Thanks for reading, for listening, for thinking, for acting,
Tim McMullen


  1. Tim, I like this so much you cannot know. This is a flat out, straight ahead version of reality that stings the mind awake. It is the thing about you, capsulated in this write, that makes me glad you are my friend, and proud of you for offering, unabashedly, your intense and intelligent view, opinion, and knowledge on this subject. I say back to you, bravo my friend, bravo.

    Bobby ps I watched the video on myspace bulletins earlier. it was reposted there by scott. it's spot on.

  2. Who could not sigh from a breathe of fresh air after reading this. It is fine to know that amonst the madding crowd that there a men who think like you. Great Vid, by the way, I remember when I read Betty Friedanin the 60's and then "Backlash" by Susan Faludi, and then Friedan again. I shake my head and ask, "What is the problem with this world and us women?" thnks for your song, it sums much up in a few serious yet fun words. Paula

  3. Wow! My first visit here, and I come across this astounding piece. Nicely thought and nicely written. Thanks. I'll be back.

  4. Bobby, Paula and Whiteray—

    Thanks for your kind comments.

    Whiteray, I have been to your excellent blog a number of times, initially because of a posting on Bobby Jameson's blog. You provide a very fine service. Thanks.