Teachers’ Rights

This essay may get me in trouble…

I grew up in the North. The town I grew up in, ok, really a village, while not outwardly prejudiced had some issues with racism. I didn’t know about most of those issues until later, and learned about them when I found out that my dad had broken some barriers. After the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s murder, my dad broke a barrier by selling a house to a black family. Now, it seems like nothing. Back then it was a big deal. That being said, in the North you didn’t see the Confederate Battle Flag known as the Stars and Bars very often. When I came down to Texas to go to school, I began seeing it around more often. Back then we didn’t have the internet – yes this was before the internet was developed; I AM that old! Most of the instances of the flag were on bumper stickers that included phrases like “The South is gonna do it again.”

I always laughed a bit derisively when I saw those flags. All I could think of was the question, “What? Rise up and fight a losing war over a terrible cause?” I was too polite to ask that question out loud, of course, but I did not have much sympathy with that idea. To me it represented the desire to enslave people, or at least treat them like second class citizens legally. (Remember, the village I grew up in had some issues back then, but they were not in the law. The South had actually encoded their hatred into the laws we know of as the Jim Crow laws at an earlier date.) I had never heard the so called States’ Rights arguments.

As I grew older, people started waving the Confederate Battle Flag around a lot more, but now they were singing a strange tune. They started talking about this being a symbol of states’ rights and standing up against tyranny. If I brought up the Civil War (or War Between the States as some prefer) they kept repeating the mantra of “states’ rights” as the cause for that war. I try to be curious and open to new ideas, so I looked at things and for the life of me, I couldn’t find any issue of states’ rights other than the right to enslave people during that time. In fact, recently my son pointed out that people in the South were furious when certain states in the North voted not to enforce the Fugitive Slaves Act which called on the states to return escaped slaves to their owners in the South. Those states apparently didn’t have the right to act against slavery?

In recent weeks controversy has erupted over the flag because of the murders in Charlestown, S.C. In the discussion about that issue, Texas standards on teaching about the Civil War have come to light. Yes, I’m a teacher, but since I don’t teach History, I hadn’t seen these standards. According to the Washington Post:

And when it comes to the Civil War, children are supposed to learn that the conflict was caused by “sectionalism, states’ rights and slavery” — written deliberately in that order to telegraph slavery’s secondary role in driving the conflict, according to some members of the state board of education.

I’m guessing that primary documents like the Texas Ordinance of Secession will be taboo in history classes. Especially words like these:

Texas abandoned her separate national existence and consented to become one of the Confederated States to promote her welfare, insure domestic tranquillity and secure more substantially the blessings of peace and liberty to her people. She was received into the confederacy with her own constitution under the guarantee of the federal constitution and the compact of annexation, that she should enjoy these blessings. She was received as a commonwealth holding, maintaining and protecting the institution known as negro slavery–the servitude of the African to the white race within her limits–a relation that had existed from the first settlement of her wilderness by the white race, and which her people intended should exist in all future time. Her institutions and geographical position established the strongest ties between her and other slave-holding States of the confederacy. Those ties have been strengthened by association. But what has been the course of the government of the United States, and of the people and authorities of the non-slave-holding States, since our connection with them?

And if you read the whole thing, it actually gets worse. Still believe that states’ rights, other than the “right” to hold slaves, is the cause? If you keep reading you will see in that Ordinance a direct attack on states’ rights when the exercise of states’ rights is opposed to slavery. And if you check the official documents relating to the secession of the other states in the Confederacy, I think you will find that their treatment of slavery is similar.

So let me just say that as a teacher I have rights. While I am not tasked to teach the version of the causes of the Civil War that are promulgated according to the standards of the State of Texas, when asked questions or given the opportunity, I will direct students towards those sources such as the Texas Ordinance of Secession – a primary document, rather than a textbook that was crafted to meet standards that skirt the truth. And lest you write me off as just another liberal educator, I am a conservative. I stopped calling myself a Republican a few years back because so many in the Republican party tend to move to close to the middle of the aisle. As a conservative, I value the truth. Only as we face the hate that actually happened then can we find ways to stop the hate now.

So go ahead and fly those Confederate flags. I wouldn’t ask you to stop using them – that’s your right…to look foolish. It’s your right to display that article of hate under the First Amendment. Please don’t act surprised or claim to be innocent, though, when others point out that the flag represents the Civil War’s number one issue: the right to enslave people.