Texas textbooks dangerously misrepresent causes of Civil War

Rohan Batlanki

Today’s media deals in alternative facts! SAD! However, the media is not the only culprit; alternate facts also stem from an overlooked— yet equally dangerous— source: children’s textbooks.

In 2010, Texas Board of Education began enforcing more conservative learning standards for K-12 students studying the Civil War. These changes include dismissing slavery as the main cause of the war, downplaying the cruelty and inherent racism of slavery, and softening the portrayal of institutionalized racism and Jim Crow Laws.

Before the BOE can muddle our history in alternative facts, let’s set the record straight and examine history as it actually happened. Yes, slavery represented a huge economic benefit to the south. Southern plantations were 35 percent more efficient due to slavery, and between 1840-1860, the per capita income increased faster in the South than anywhere else in the nation. Losing slavery as the primary driver for southern plantations was perceived as a huge loss for the South. It’s also important to note that not all Southerners were intrinsically racist — slavery was considered a fiscally sound decision. But despite any fathomable arguments for the Civil War, it ultimately condenses down to the right to own human beings.

The South knew this. In an effort to save face, the Antebellum Era gave rise to a philosophy known as the Lost Cause. The philosophy falsely professed that the Southern Cause was justified, and that seeking independence from a decentralized and distant government was patriotic and in line with the U.S Declaration. It was this philosophy that propagated the fallacy that State’s Rights was the main cause for the Civil War. Though one would expect this retrogressive excuse to remain in the past, more than 150 years later, the Lost Cause philosophy proves to be a sore loser, rearing its ugly head back into modern annals of history.  

Prior to changing our history books, members of the BOE should bother reading one. Our state’s senior most educators are hellbent on breathing life into the Lost Cause, as in the regressively conservative viewpoint, of Patricia Hardy, a board member and proponent of the changes: “States’ rights were the real issue behind the Civil War. Slavery was an after issue.” The Lost Cause is innately false. It’s a gross misrepresentation of the facts that acted as Southern propaganda to preserve its dignity. It’s apparently unclear to the BOE that any callback to this ideology should only serve to exemplify itself as a fallacy.

The BOE seems intent upon exposing young students to this debilitating and erroneous philosophy. Books printed by companies such as Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and Pearson, have been subject to severe edits that pervert the main ideas. Changing words like “slaves” to “workers” and using passive voice such as saying “torture was used” instead of “masters and overseers tortured slaves,” whitewashes the cruel reality of slavery.

Additionally, textbooks over-emphasize misleading anecdotes about the true nature of slavery such as this excerpt from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt:

“Some slaves reported that their masters treated them kindly. To protect their investment, some slaveholders provided adequate food and clothing for their slaves.”

Changing the way educators present information, even on the grammatical level, drastically alters the meaning. Overemphasizing certain aspects of history while undercutting other more major effectors is deleterious to students' education.

The Civil War was fought over slavery and slavery is wrong — censoring history to push a political agenda deceives Texas students and sets a dangerous precedent for future generations. It’s far beyond time to acknowledge the mistakes this country has made so that we may better avoid them in the future.

Batlanki is a neuroscience sophomore from Flower Mound. Follow him on Twitter @RohanBatlanki.