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The Power of History Textbooks: A 1619/Critical Race Theory Case Study

Ten Sermons of Religion (1853) - It must be a very long arc

History textbooks are in the news. So is the history curriculum. The source of the news is not the federal Department of Education over some new regulation (remember Common Core?). It is not even from the state education departments. Instead it is from the state legislatures plus some Senators, Representatives, and talk-show hosts. The cause of the fuss is The New York Times 1619 Project and/or Critical race Theory.

I have written before about the deeply flawed 1619 Project is if you are actually interested in the history of 1619 (it’s not even in The New York Times magazine). But even though The 1619 Project contains scarcely any information at all about 1619, it remains important because of that title. The New York Times picked that title because of the message it delivers and not because of the content in the publication. That choice is a clue that what we are dealing with here are political/cultural messages delivered through memes and slogans in history. One should keep this realization in mind when deciphering the language of the public speakers on the subject. Regardless of what 1619 could mean in a purely academic context, that meaning is secondary to its meaning as a weapon in the Culture Wars. The same considerations apply to the once strictly academic jargon term “Critical Race Theory” that now is wielded and defend against as a weapon in that war.


An article with this title was posted May 6, 2021, by Michael Harriot for The Root. Harriot had the ingenious idea of seeking to determine the history textbooks used by the 38 Republican Senators who sent a letter to the Secretary of Education expressing their opposition to The 1619 Project and Critical Race Theory being taught in the public school classrooms.  He wanted to know that if history was being rewritten to conform to these teachings, “which version of history does the GOP fear is being altered?”

As part of his investigation, Harriot examined “state curriculum standards, yearbooks, and spoke with the teachers to see which interpretation of history the white tears-spewing politicians learned when they were in elementary and high school.” Readers of this blog will quickly grasp that the inclusion of “white tears-spewing” was not necessary to advance the reasoning of his analysis. It was necessary for the author to take this judgmental cheap shot at his target while being self-righteous. The technique is counter-productive as it alienates people who are not part of your sect. On the other hand, it feels good taking cheap shots at people so you do it. Think of our former President’s press conferences and tweets.

Returning to his serious research, Harriot identified six lessons learned from his investigation

1. There is no one Social Studies curriculum at the national or state level although there may be standards.
2. There are two histories taught by which Harriot means two cycles of social studies, one in elementary and middle school and a second in high school.
3. Sometimes there are three histories – Harriot is referring to the states that mandate a “state history” course generally with a state-approved textbook which may contradict what is taught in the American history classes.
4. Sometimes there are four histories if two state histories are taught, one at the elementary level and one at the secondary level.
5. World history adds another level. Different textbooks and publishers are used and what is taught in world history which can include the United States may differ from what is taught in the American history class.
6. No matter how histories there are, there is no Black History. By this, he means there may be cursory mention of the Civil War, Martin Luther King Jr., and the civil rights movement, but that is it.

These general observations seem reasonable and probably would not draw a second glance unless one was participating in the Culture Wars.


With this background, Harriot then turns to the textbooks of Republican Senators.

To our surprise. Most received a well-rounded education on the history of Black people in America.
 Just kidding. They all learned variations of the same white lies. And, apparently, they’d like to keep it that way.

Once again, Harriot deploys the cheap shot which work well when preaching to the choir and is a turnoff when not. Even before presenting the evidence he has already condemned the results in derogatory terms. Clearly he is not interested in a dialog. Fair enough. It is his blog.

The Senators he reviews for their history textbooks are:

Marsha Blackburn (Tennessee) who attended school in Mississippi
Tom Cotton (Arkansas)
Ted Cruz (Texas)
Lindsey Graham (South Carolina)
John Kennedy (Louisiana)
Mitch McConnell (Kentucky)
Tim Scott (South Carolina)
Tommy Tuberville (Alabama).

One notes the Confederate location of these all-but-one white Senators. Harriot reports the obvious results. Yes, one should not be surprised to see the role of the United Daughters of the Confederacy in influencing the curriculum.  Yes, masters were kindly. Yes, slaves were loyal to “ole Massa.” Yes, there was the War for Southern Independence. Yes, there is the Lost Cause. Yes, the Klan punished Negroes when the courts did not. Interestingly, the Indians of Georgia receive far more attention than did the Negroes of Georgia who only are mentioned five times.

There is no need to review each Senator one by one. The pattern is clear. Harriot ends by asking the reader to imagine what it would be like for a white person to have one’s entire education even through graduate school based on these teachings only to be confronted by The 1619 Project. He concludes by saying these Senators, and presumably all 38 who signed the letter to the Secretary of Education including those not from Confederate states, have all been educated in “critical racist theory this whole time” [bold added].


There are lessons to be learned including with Harriot’s cheap shots. The idea of examining the history textbooks is an insightful one. His argument would be strengthened if he could include the other sources of learning to determine if they reinforce or contradict his textbook findings. Yes, I realize he wrote a blog and not a journal article or a monograph, but I would like to know more before attributing such power to the history textbooks in public schools. Here are three other sources of information that would have influenced the child.

1. Oral – what did the child learn from parents, grandparents, family and so forth about the history of the United States and especially the Confederacy?

2. Visual – what did the child see in the statues, monuments, memorials, street and building names?

3. Public – what parades, processions, battle-reenactments, and flags did the child see?

The odds are all these facets of education deliver the same message. The removal of a history textbook or even a change in one would not necessarily invalidate the message a child receives if the other components remained intact. Still it is worthwhile to examine the history textbooks of the current Senators. I also would be interested to know what the future Senators from the Confederacy are learning from the current history textbooks today.

Unfortunately the key lesson from this analysis is not being learned. History facts are a casualty in a Culture War. Did you ever try to win a religion discussion with facts? Besides, these days everyone is entitled to their own facts anyway.

The opposition to The 1619 Project and Critical Race Theory is based on the culture war in the present and not the history in the past. The academic meaning of Critical Race Theory is insignificant compared to the political/cultural message expressed by those who are wielding it was a weapon of war. When the Woke say The 1619 Project and Critical Race Theory, the Republican Senators, state legislators, the talk-show hosts and the voters poised to return Republicans to power in 2022 hear:

Your white ancestors were monsters.
The country you love was born in sin.
Your country’s success is due to systemic white racism.
You are the beneficiary of white privilege.
You owe us.
It is our turn now.

They hear these words because that is what the Woke are saying regardless of the technical meaning of the terms. While the country may not legally separate into the United States of America and the United States of Trump, it will or is separating culturally and politically. The New York Times 1619 Project and Critical Race Theory are simply examples of the drawing of the boundaries dividing country just as gerrymandering does.

Ameristan: Did He Bring the War Home?

He Built a Wall

America’s Third Civil War is not a new topic. Typically, people have spoken a “culture wars” which sounds less violent than “civil war.” But underneath the more refined talk of a difference in culture or values was the threat of violence. That violence spilled out into the open on January 6, 2021. Now people are wondering if that was a one-time event or whether it signaled the elevation of a verbal conflict to a physical one: are we at Defcon OMG!?

The Third Civil War: A Look Back

America’s Third Civil War (The Atlantic)

In December, 2019, The Atlantic magazine cover proclaimed the need to act to prevent the culture wars from becoming violent civil war. In December 2020, I decided to do an anniversary examination of the articles in that issue. The goal was to compare what the writers thought back then with what had actually happened since their articles were written.

I did manage to write a couple of blogs that did just that. The blogs were

America’s Third Civil War: An Update

 The Texas Secession: Legally Dividing America

I thought I would be able to proceed in a nice methodical and leisurely manner through the magazine reviewing what people had written. Little did I know that the President of the United States would launch a “Steal the Election” campaign to undermine American democracy. Little did I know how far he would go to prevent the country from being able to celebrate its 250th anniversary because it no longer existed as a constitutional republic. As a result, I had to recalibrate. Perhaps I will resume this retrospective after January 20, 2021, depending on what happens.


New York Times Magazine, November 10, 2019, by Paul Sahre


My first foray into America’s Third Civil War occurred during a battle for a Supreme Court appointment

America’s Third Civil War: Kava-Noes versus Kava-Yeses (10/19/18)

After writing about the first civil war in the American Revolution and the second civil war in the Civil War, I turned to the third one.

The third civil is different from the previous two.

It may be said to have begun in the 1960s. At that time, baby boomer males could be drafted into a war they did not want to fight and baby boomer females could have babies they did not want to have.

It may be said to have begun on August 17, 1992, when Pat Buchanan delivered his “Culture War” speech to the Republican National Convention.

It may be said to have begun in 2008 with Sarah Palin’s rally cry “to take back the country.”

Regardless of the preliminaries, history may well record that with the contentious and close vote on October 6, 2018, of 50-48 between Kava-Yeses and Kava-Noes the battle was fully engaged. There is no turning back now. When Charles Blow writes an op-ed in the New York Times that “Liberals, This Is War,” he fails to recognize that for conservatives it has been war for decades and appointing a fifth Republican legislator to the Supreme Court is a long overdue victory.

As with America’s first civil war, America’s third civil war will be intensely divisive at the local level. People who have known each other for years as best friends for life suddenly will morph into combatants. The family Thanksgiving meal will become a battleground. While it will be illegal for Kava-Noes and Kava-Yeses to marry, there is always the possibility that some of the guests will be from opposite sides of the divide. Any social engagement will run the risk of degenerating into a brawl. Hosts and hostesses will be obligated to do due diligence to ensure a peaceful event. College admission officers will need to scrutinize applicants carefully to maintain the purity of the campus. God forbid people from different sides should be assigned as roommates!  In short, people will constantly have to be on guard to make sure they know when it is safe to speak….

[W]e have a president who feasts on divisiveness. There will be no “come let us reason together” in this administration. Far from it. Instead he will stoke the flames of hatred and rejoice in the dividing of America. Never have We the People had a president who is so antagonistic to the very idea of We the People. Never have We the People had a president who is so willing, eager, and ready to campaign on behalf of hatred. Never have We the People had a president who is so antagonistic to the very goal of e pluribus unum, a motto that has been abandoned by both national political parties and mocked by our president. But there should not be any surprise that our president promotes the division of the country. What else would you expect from Putin’s poodle?

The Third Civil War (New York Times Magazine)

In general terms, the preview has come true. The Senate vote on the judicial appointment did not prove to be the breaking point nor did the judicial appointment two years later just before the presidential election. I was still writing from a cultural wars perspective and not a physical war with deaths from violence. I expected the presidential election to be the point of no return.

In my second blog on America’s Third Civil War (7/23/19), I quoted Nancy Pelosi saying:

This coming election, it is really an election that the fate of this country is riding on. This presidency is an existential threat to our democracy and our country as we know it.

Turns out she was exactly right. During the second impeachment she almost said the same words only now the election was in the past tense. Still the conflict was verbal. Then it changed.

JANUARY 6, 2021

Now the war has turned violent. My two political thriller blogs Seven Days in January: This Time It Is Not a Movie and Seven Days in January: Impeached Again were written immediately before and after the failed insurrection attempt. What happens now?

For the domestic trumperists, there are consequences to their actions.

1. They face the prospect of prison time.
2. They face mounting and expensive legal bills.
3. They may have lost their job.
4. They may rethink what it means to assault the government in the real world as opposed to at a political rally or in online chatter.

On the other hand, for many who participated in the attack or watched it, it was victory that produced a natural high. That intoxication may embolden them to try again.

For the country, there are consequences just as there were after 9/11. The post-9/11 changes have mostly been confined to airports where people now take security inspections for granted. Otherwise, life pretty much has returned to normal. This time may be different.

1. The Capitol is now in the Green Zone – How long will that last? What will it mean to tourists and school trips to see the nation’s capital in a permanent shutdown due to terrorist threat?

2. How many more Green Zones will be needed? Will even Alabama and South Dakota need to protect themselves? A lot of the chatter may turn out to be hype. Think of the army of 50,000 poll watchers that was supposed to be raised on November 3. Maybe the expected assaults will fizzle out.

3. Will there be lone wolves and soft targets? – After 9/11 there was a lot of attention/discussion on soft targets. The veterans with Iraq and Afghanistan experiences are well-trained in such tactics. There is plenty of information on the web about how prepare a bomb and the tactics to be used to deploy it to maximize effect. Will mentally-ill young males switch from attacking schools to attacking other locations that provide more vulnerable targets?

4. Who can you trust? – The supporters of the insurrection can be in Congress, the Capitol Police, the National Guard, the local police, the military, and the Secret Service. They could be your neighbors, your co-workers, and even members of your friendly local historical society. How do you know?

At this point it is too early to tell what will happen. The people who participated in the insurrection and who have been arrested are claiming they were following orders, answering the call of their President, and requesting pardons. Such pardons would be an open admission that the President really is an “existential threat to our democracy and our country as we know it” just as Pelosi said and the second impeachment claims.

The next round in the war will be the pardons issued on the final full day of his presidency. The parting gesture of the Loser undoubtedly will unleash another round of at least verbal conflict. It also may be seen as throwing the insurrectionists under the bus if they are excluded.

January 6, 2021 transformed the culture war into a civil war. It’s become a double civil war. It is a war between the Trumpicans and the Woke for control of the country. But it also is a war between the Trumpicans and the Republicans for the control of a political party. No one knows how either war will turnout. What can be said, is that it won’t end on January 20, 2021 and it will prove more dangerous to the future of this country than COVID-19 has been.