Wednesday, June 16, 2010


Exhuming McCarthy: wackos re-write history

Last spring, I taught a social studies lesson to third graders on Cesar Chavez. It was something I felt passionate about. Chavez, like Martin Luther King, empowered and gave voice to a class of people (Mexican-American migrant workers) that, for generations, had been kept down.

There is an extraordinary civics lesson in Chavez’s story, but if a faction of right-wing extremists in Texas have their way, kids won’t get to hear it. The Texas Association of School Boards recently approved revisions to social studies textbooks that: downplays the role of minorities in American history; inflates the role of conservatives like Newt Gingrich (who like that godless, carousing, liberal Bill Clinton, was also on the receiving end of an extramarital blowjob) and Phyllis Schlafly (she stopped supporting Richard Nixon in 1960 because she felt he was too liberal, supporting integration and all); casts anti-Communist witch hunter Joe McCarthy in a favorable light; casts the Civil Rights Movement and government programs like Social Security, Medicare and Head Start in a critical light; gives Jefferson Davis’s inaugural address to the Confederate States the same weight as Lincoln’s address to the union; promotes the erroneous premise that the founding fathers created the United States as a “Christian nation” based on “Biblical principles”; and questions whether the founders really meant to have a “separation of church and state” --- you know, that idea expressed by Thomas Jefferson?

Hey, students are lucky he even gets a mention. Initially, board members wanted to leave Jefferson out of the textbooks because they thought the author of the Declaration of Independence wasn’t relevant to American history – not as relevant as John Calvin or St. Thomas Aquinas. I guess Ol’ Tom Jefferson doesn’t warrant the attention of Jeff Davis and the Confederacy.

They also wanted to leave out Thurgood Marshall. He only argued the most important case ever decided by the Supreme Court, Brown v. Topeka Board of Education, which declared segregation based on race to be unconstitutional. Marshall later became the first African-American Supreme Court justice, serving on the bench for nearly 30 years. Now, why do you suppose they would want to leave him out?

I own an old high school history book from the 1920s. This book actually refers to “ignorant blacks” and “pitiless savages” (Native Americans). If I were a minority, I wouldn’t want to be in a classroom, using a book that denigrates my entire race and culture. I also would not want to be one of the 4.8 million in Texas whom this school board is pledged to represent -- kids of different colors, ethnicities, religions, socio-economic backgrounds and national origins. Diversity is one of the great hallmarks of our country; it helped make the United States a world leader in the evolution of democracy, industry, science, the arts and culture. In pedagogic circles, the concept of teaching to the learner is a standard. Helping children discover how people of their cultures have contributed to society embodies that egalitarian philosophy so why would this board want to omit a name like Hector P. Garcia? A Hispanic physician and Civil Rights advocate, Garcia was the Medal of Freedom by Pres. Reagan in 1984.

To be fair, a member of the board’s “expert panel” on revising history standards, David Barton, does have a link to black heroes on his website. So maybe he was honest when he said he didn’t know that the “Christian Identity” group he addressed in Colorado in 1991 was made up of neo-Nazis.

So let’s give Barton the benefit of doubt and say he didn’t know. Let’s say the overly conservative board members are truthful when they claim that they are only trying to balance the liberal bias that has infiltrated textbooks over the past 30 or some years.
Perhaps that is why they make Joe McCarthy out to be a hero. After all, it has been confirmed in a report that some people in the U.S. government actually were communists (although several historians are dubious about the report’s credibility). Next, maybe they will point out that some of those girls drowned by Puritan tribunals in 17th century Salem actually were witches.

Right-wing cultural pride
 Textbook changes link MLK and the Civil Rights Movement to the more militant Black Panthers, while the pious Confederate Stonewall Jackson is singled out as a paragon of American virtue. What other American heroes will this board extol? How about Nathan Bedford Forest? Also, since we have only been exposed to the liberal slant on that organization Forest founded --the Klu Klux Klan -- why not get the other side?

We don’t need to focus on lynchings, cross burnings and church bombings committed by the KKK. That happened a long time ago and hell, it’s only a textbook. Why not shine a light on the civic functions performed by the Klan: giving money to churches that preached the superiority of the white race and acting as an extra arm for law enforcement through vigilante activities.

Board members want to eliminate mention of Ted Kennedy, a man who certainly had flaws. Still, he served nine terms in the U.S. Senate. Perhaps, they want to expound on the role of the longest serving senator in U.S. history, Strom Thurmond. Textbook references to the 1948 presidential race between Democrat Harry Truman and Republican Thomas Dewey could give equal consideration to Thurmond’s third-party run on the Dixiecrat ticket.

Students could ponder the merit of his party’s platform -- opposition to integration, interracial marriage, anti-poll taxes and anti-lynching laws. The history books could ignore Thurmond’s interracial gene pool (from his tryst with an underage black maid) and explore his concerns over the black male’s threat to white Southern womanhood.

Initially, board members didn’t think Barack Obama warranted any mention. They did not think the election of the first African-American president of the United States was historically significant. Board members did concede to including Obama, but wanted him to be identified as Barack Husein Obama. No ulterior motive there. They compromised by identifying him as Barack H. Obama. Most presidents who had middle names or initials have been identified by them (FDR, JFK, LBJ, James Knox Polk, James A. Garfield, Warren G. Harding), but not all. Will the changes include references to Herbert C. Hoover or Ronald W. Reagan?

Let’s call it for what it is. They want to imply that Obama is Muslim because that is considered a bad thing in their circles. Of course, most Muslims are moderates, as are most Christians. Unfortunately, the rational Christians in America are being overwhelmed by loud mouths in the fundamentalist ranks that have a lot in common with Islamic fascists.
I am working toward getting my teaching certification. As a teacher, I want to connect with every one of my students – kids of all colors, religions, ethnicities.

I share the view of board member Mary Helen Berlanga , that America is not just a white country. Berlanga was one of the dissenting voices in a 9-5 vote that was split along party lines. I would like to think that the nine conservatives who approved these changes do not represent the average Republican. Could you imagine the Weather Underground taking over the Democratic party? Come on Republicans, stop letting far-right crazies dictate your platform.

I’m from Kansas, which used to have the looniest state school board in America. Hopefully the half-baked actions of some rogue element in Texas would not affect the classroom materials I receive, but Texas has a lot of influence on textbooks other states purchase. If these changes actually make their way into textbooks, however, I think other states, in the best interests of their young people, should refuse them.

Surely, the Texas board would understand that. After all, they so value the concept of states’ rights, which the South valiantly fought for in the War for Southern Independence. They, of all people, would understand why folks in Nebraska, Ohio, Rhode Island, Kansas or Nevada would not want nine government officials from another state dictating what their children learn in their schools. That would be so despotic, so carpet-bagger-like.

Shouldn't we represent all children? And all cultures that have made the United States a uniquely free nation?

Cultural pride celebration -- Gladewater, Texas

Friday, June 4, 2010

Every rose has its thorn

I mentioned Alice Cooper in the last post so I should also mention Brett Michaels. It was the highlight of the show -- a show I normally don't like, but it was great to see this guy. I caught a few minutes of him recently on "The Apprentice." Then I heard he was at death's door & his Wichita Riverfest show was cancelled. But, lo & behold, there he was on live TV, singing a song that harkens me back to my youth.

Brett Michaels is a cool guy & a class act. Let's hope he's around for a long time to come. Seeing the old guys, the tried & true classics like Brett, Alice, Chicago & the Bee Gees was the only good thing about watching that cheesy show.

Casey James and Bret Michaels on American Idol

Alice Cooper - Under My Wheels (Old Grey Whistle Test)

18 and we like it

I saw Alice Cooper on “American Idol” last week. A blonde chick in a Catholic girl skirt tore into the E minor-A-E minor chords opening “School’s Out.” A chorus of kids pranced around the stage in some bizzarro combination of Roald Dahl surrealism, zombies and playground brats, sounding hokey as they sang lyrics evocative of Dickensian melodrama, flag burning and truant-inspired anarchy – all of it signaling Alice’s emergence on stage.

He’s part of the cannon now, an acknowledged pop rock elder statesman. You can’t get more mainstream than “American Idol,” but had the show existed 40 years ago, the name Alice Cooper would have been anathema, unutterable in such a legit Hollywood arena. Alice was the prince of darkness, an androgynous figure with a female name, the front man of a band projecting full-tilt, testosterone driven, balls-out rock. He was a nude figure draped within a boa constrictor, a demented, alcoholic unleashed from the psych ward, throwing decapitated dolls all about the place, staging mock executions and singing about graveyards and blowing school to pieces.

He’s tame by today’s standards. The shock factor is passé; it’s the rock n’ roll that endures.

I love the irony of the early 70s rock era. The kids in their sailor jeans and long, gnarled hair, drinking Jack Daniels and smoking weed -- lost in the night to Alice Cooper, Deep Purple and Grand Funk Railroad pummeling like howitzers from the speakers of their Plymouth Barracudas and Olds 442’s --were just getting born around the time rock n’ roll first chipped at the wheel of white bred America. At that time, middle aged squares were in a panic over a sideburn-wearing hoodlum thrusting his pelvic region and singing raunchy negro music. Likely, he was the product of a Communist conspiracy to overthrow the country by sending its youth into a paroxysm of juvenile delinquency.

Yet by the time Alice Cooper came along to corrupt the morals of a more desensitized America, Elvis Presley was standard, respectable entertainment. He was family friendly, giving concerts that 65-year-old grandmothers could enjoy.

Alice courted the mainstream about as quickly as Elvis did. If “American Idol” had been on television 35 years ago, his horror show act would have been a nice novelty to showcase. By that time, he was doing “Hollywood Squares” and singing a sappy duet with Miss Piggy on “The Muppet Show.” Kiss, with their blood and pyrotechnics, were the new bad boys on the block. Alice Cooper was really the alter ego of Vincent Furnier, a preacher’s son, but Kiss – they were devil worshipers.

In the ‘80s when Alice Cooper was forgotten and Kiss temporarily dropped from the klieg light, parents, politicians and church leaders were aghast over a rocker who truly was the devil incarnate. I was in junior high when kids were playing Ozzy Osbourne’s “Blizzard of Oz” tape on their Sony walkmans, indifferent to parental concerns that he was driving teens to commit suicide. The other guys may have been putting on a show (or maybe they were just forgotten), but Ozzy, with his upside down crucifixes and eyes, the color of demonic possession, had to be worshipping at the altar of the netherworld.

Who would have foreseen that, not 20 years later, his family would star in a reality show with Pat Boone --- Mr. Wholesome White Christian -- singing a big band-backed, loungy cover of “Crazy Train” over the opening credits? That his wife would become a respected celebrity mother figure? Or that Ozzy would parody his own image in TV commercials? When former Pres. George W. Bush acknowledged the Oz-man among audience members at a public event, everything became clear. It just happened. Ozzy never had to sing Engelbert Humperdinck songs or go on a game show. He simply hung around a long time and the mainstream came to him.

Ozzy’s public life prompts one to ponder how today’s controversial figures will be perceived in 20, 30 or 40 years. How can a cretin who names himself after a murderer and simulates oral sex with a midget ever be welcomed in the mainstream? Who knows? Perhaps his appearance in “Bowling for Columbine” a few years back was the first step toward normalizing this person.

Will Marilyn Manson one day be singled out with a friendly, jocular nod from a conservative, born again president of the United States? Will the extra-terrestrial, asexual, evil looking one someday serve up TV comedy with his wife and kids? Will the Jonas Brothers sing a sanitized version of “Anti-Christ Superstar”?

The American Way of Dying

                                              "Vehicle" -- The Ides of March My Nissan sitting in the parking lot of Fairview...