Spinning History

March 16, 2010

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Thomas Jefferson loses, Jefferson Davis wins. That’s my headline from the Texas State Board of Education‘s preliminary approval last week of changes to textbooks.

The board voted to delete Thomas Jefferson from the list of luminaries who contributed to the Enlightenment, the period in the 17th and 18th centuries when ideas like revolution, democracy, and capitalism took root. In fact, the board dropped the word Enlightenment from its social studies curriculum.

Jefferson Davis, meanwhile, was promoted to the same prominence as Abraham Lincoln. As president of the Confederacy, Davis approved the attack on Fort Sumter, starting the Civil War. In case anyone has forgotten, the war killed 620,000 Americans. A Los Angeles Times editorial noted that Texas made clear in its declaration of secession why it joined the Confederacy: to preserve slavery then and into “all future time.”

While reading about the Board of Education’s decisions, an imaginary place in comic books came to mind — Bizarro World. As a kid, I devoured tales of this place, formally called “Htrae,” or Earth spelled backward. Its inhabitants lived by a code:

Us do opposite of all Earthly things! Us hate beauty! Us love ugliness! Is big crime to make anything perfect on Bizarro World!

Texas hasn’t sunk low enough to join the cube-shaped planet, although its governor has come close to advocating a second secession from the United States. Maybe more relevant is the joke popular in Russia during the Soviet Union’s rule, which included frequent rewriting of history:

It’s hard to predict the future in the West, but in Russia it’s even harder to predict the past.