Tennessee tea party activists presented state legislators yesterday with a list of “demands” for the 2011 legislative session, which opened earlier this week, including, “educating students [about] the truth about America.” “Neglect and outright ill will have distorted the teaching of the history and character of the United States,” according to a document the two dozen activists distributed to reporters. “We seek to compel the teaching of students in Tennessee the truth regarding the history of our nation and the nature of its government.”
What “truth” do these conservative activists demand be taught? Apparently it doesn’t involve portrayals of the “minority experience” or anything else that might taint their mythical hagiographies of the Founding Fathers. At a press conference, the activists said they want a focus on the “progress” the Founders and “the majority of citizens” made, to the exclusion of supposedly “made-up criticism” about slavery and the treatment of Native Americans:
The material calls for lawmakers to amend state laws governing school curriculums, and for textbook selection criteria to say that “No portrayal of minority experience in the history which actually occurred shall obscure the experience or contributions of the Founding Fathers, or the majority of citizens, including those who reached positions of leadership.”
Fayette County attorney Hal Rounds, the group’s lead spokesman during the news conference, said the group wants to address “an awful lot of made-up criticism about, for instance, the founders intruding on the Indians or having slaves or being hypocrites in one way or another.
“The thing we need to focus on about the founders is that, given the social structure of their time, they were revolutionaries who brought liberty into a world where it hadn’t existed, to everybody — not all equally instantly — and it was their progress that we need to look at,” said Rounds
It’s unclear what these activists think is “made-up” about the very real history of slavery in America or the very real intrusion on Native American lands by early American settlers.
This effort could be dismissed as a the work of handful of obscure activists in Tennessee were it not part of a much larger conservative attempt to rewrite American history without all the unflattering bits. Like their supposed reverence for the Constitution, when conservatives speak warmly of American history, they tend to pick and choose only the parts which reflect their contemporary world-view — and they are equally eager to sanitize the parts that do not.
The Founders should indeed be praised as visionaries, but they were humans and thus fallible products of their time. Any attempt to white-out the darker parts of their history does a disservice to the “truth” these tea party activists claim to promote.