History, the old saw says, is written by the winners.
And, in Tennessee, history textbooks may be chosen by the winners, as well.
State House Majority Leader Rep. Glen Casada, Republican of Williamson County, has inserted himself into a local education issue — a controversy in his home county regarding the content of, primarily, social studies textbooks — and is using it as leverage to threaten to eliminate the state board charged with making textbook recommendations across Tennessee.
For more than six decades, the State Textbook Commission has OK’d lists of textbooks, which are then adopted by local school boards.
But a human geography textbook has drawn attention for having the temerity to suggest the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians is a complicated situation. Casada also hinted there are textbooks that praise foreign “despots” while disparaging America’s Founding Fathers.
While certainly it’d be interesting to know which despots earned praised in the classrooms of Franklin — perhaps the Turkmen fellow who changed the names of the days of the week and banned beards — and how, exactly, our Founders were being disparaged — maybe the textbook has the audacity to tell students the truth: that the Founders were hardly the monolithic, polite debating society of sinless philosophers that Casada seems to believe they were.
In any event, what we know about this book is that it challenges the existing worldview of some students (especially ones who share the worldview of their state representative), which in addition to faithfully relating facts, is what a textbook should do.
It is also clear that Casada and his cabal of radical fundamentalist confreres have no interest in local control.
Localism is a conservative virtue. The idea that smaller governments should control what they are capable of controlling, conceding power to larger governments only when they are unable (or unwilling) to tackle an issue, has been praised by conservative thinkers for centuries.
This new breed of faux “conservatism,” however, wants to exert itself into every facet of local government — the state dictating to counties what can be taught and how and from what books is an unprecedented reach, which if it were exercised by the federal government onto the state of Tennessee, would raise the hackles of Casada and his ilk.
Time and again the state legislature’s Republican power structure has shown what little regard it has for local government and indeed the lack of regard it has for conservatism, despite paying lip service to both.
Thankfully there are Republicans — House Education Committee Chairman Harry Brooks, for one — who defend the value of the process as it exists, which gives the bulk of decision-making on textbooks to school boards, which is exactly as it should be.
Meanwhile, Casada wants to wrest this authority — which is not an unimportant one — from localities (which are at least nominally nonpartisan) and give it to some sort of new-fangled state board, which will no doubt be chockablock with political appointees.
The question for them is, will they like history to be written by the winners when the winners aren’t them?