Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Having The Talk

I knew the day would come when I would have to have The Talk with Fiona. No, not about boys; that will happen soon enough.

As a resident of Virginia, even Northern Virginia, even Union-occupied Arlington (our dog park is right next to the remnants of Fort Ethan Allen) I knew that there would need to be a discussion of the way the Civil War is taught in our otherwise exceptional school system. I was tipped off to this when reviewing her teacher's summary of the Civil War study section. There they were: those innocuous, even noble words "states' rights," included in a commonwealth-provided list of several causes for the Civil War.

Let's cut to the chase: "States' rights" is bullshit. Those who yammer loudest about "states' rights" are the first to run to the federal government to impose their will on the country, then (Fugitive Slave Act etc.) as now (marriage definition amendments etc.).

The sole cause of the Civil War was slavery. Full stop. All other causes cited are subordinate thereto.

Fiona told me that she had answered "slavery" to a quiz question asking for the cause of the war, and got it back with the teacher's notation "and states' rights." Fiona's teacher is great and we are thrilled she is in her class, but I explained to Fiona that her teacher has to teach in the manner prescribed by the Commonwealth of Virginia. I also praised Fiona for giving the correct answer, but advised her to provide the looked-for answer while understanding that the truth may be somewhat at odds with that. (Hell, any adult can do that, right? Piece of cake. Hoo boy.)

Think I am over-reacting to something safely in our past? Think again.


J. said...

Wonder if Fiona's class will be watching Lincoln.

FYI, it's not just Virginia that teaches states' rights. I went to school in NYC and MA and while slavery was in the mix, I distinctly remember being taught that the Civil War was caused by a mixture of economic and political issues. While many viewed the Civil War as a war about or over slavery, there were plenty of people who did view it as about states' rights (albeit a state's right to allow slavery).

Dave S. said...

That's a good point. The Salon article makes it clear that the South is not alone in presenting a, shall we say, whitewashed view of history.

smrty.mrty said...

In upstate NY I was taught the war was inevitable--economic issues, states' rights, and slavery. Of course, the economic issue was "the south can't make money unless it has free labor," and the states' rights issue was "we have the right to have slavery." (Indeed, our Constitution included a provision authorizing slavery, though I don't recall our teacher pointing that out.) Maybe Virginia is using an old textbook.
- Marty

Anonymous said...

What it really comes down to...


J. said...

@Anonymous, thank you for reminding us of the right to bear facial hair.

@Dave, didn't read the Salon article, but I edited quite a few history textbooks back in the day and you would be surprised (or not) as to how much text is influenced by state adoption committees, especially states like Texas.

JCC said...

If you go back to the actually articles of secession adopted by each of the CSA states in turn, it becomes immediately apparent that the issue for them was slavery. I say we take them at their word.

JCC said...

"Actual." The "actual" articles of secession. Grrr.

Dave S. said...

Anonymous - YES. When I started growing a beard (RIP) I happened to be at JJV's apartment watching Gettysburg and it was a beard catalog first and foremost.

J, that surprises me not at all, and in fact the real danger is the influence of high-population states run by loons (howdy, Texas!) on the market for textbooks.

JCC - See in particularly the Cornerstone Speech, by coincidence delivered 152 years ago tomorrow.

Anonymous said...

I am reading the Lost Cause by a real hard core Confederate. I think the proper view is that it was about the State Right's view of the Constitution-supported by no less a light than Thomas Jefferson-and the Lincolnian/Hamilton/Jackson view. But the issue that drove the fight on all practical levels was slavery.

Federalism is not "bullshit." You liberals always federalize things through the Supreme Court or Court order--like you did Slavery with Dredd Scott(the first use of substantive due process in our history) and then claim those trying to stop your federalization of the issue of being against State's Rights. What crap.


Anonymous said...

Also, I generally have this talk with the boys on all the environmental agitprop they suffer. In fact, even if you get your kids out of the Government Schools you rarely escape that. Also, I think your asking a little much for J.E.B. Stuart Highschool or Fairfax High on Rebel Run Rd. to teach Yankee history.

Just be glad their for "internal improvements" now.


Dave S. said...

Looking at text on a page is not the same as reading. To wit, I wrote "States' rights is bullshit."

I am fine with Federalism, and find it hilarious that the least Jeffersonian person I know is citing Jefferson in support. You also immediately contradict yourself in your first paragraph but it ends up in my favor, so "Please proceed."

My intention was always to insist to the kids that Lee Highway is named after Light Horse Harry, but I think I gave up on that. Gotta pick your battles, ya know.

JCC said...

I do seek some clarification on JJV's position on slavery as a Constitutional question (I am willing to accept that JJV is against slavery personally). It seems to me from JJV's second paragraph that states should have been allowed to permit slavery in perpetuity, as they saw fit, without interference from the overbearing Feds. Is that correct?

And Dave, don't be so hard on JJV for contradiction. Arguably Jefferson's approval of the Louisiana Purchase was inconsistant with his views on the limited role of the Federal government (since the Constitution does not contain provisions for the acquisition of territory, the action should not be considered an enumerated power and therefore remained with the States ... unless you get a really good bargain, of course!). So there is ample precedent there.

Dave S. said...

JCC, in re contradiction I think Jefferson at least tried to keep from contradicting himself in consecutive sentences. Again, I note with amusement that in this instance Jefferson is the last refuge of a Hamiltonian.

I completely agree that Jefferson is one of the more slender reeds in terms of consistency. As far as the Louisiana Purchase is concerned, thank goodness for that!