by David Safier
Arizona Ed Supe John Huppenthal hated Mexican American Studies and went on a "Take up the White Man's Burden" crusade to dismantle it, which he accomplished in 2012. Now he hates TUSD's new Culturally Relevant Curriculum with what looks to be an equal passion, and he's launching a new crusade to demolish it as well.
TUSD needs a bit of guidance from Huppenthal on how to teach U.S. history so the district understands what changes Hupp expects. Fortunately, we have a mini-lesson from Hupp, where he explains how Ben Franklin's relationship to slavery should be taught, making three grossly inaccurate statements in the course of 50 words.
It was August, 2010, when Huppenthal and other candidates for Superintendent of Education gathered at a forum in Tucson. I was there with a tape recorder. The evils of Mexican American Studies program, which Ed Supe Tom Horne had turned into a right wing talking point, were a central part of Hupp's campaign. He explained why he objected to the program by mentioning his experience sitting in on a MAS class.
"My firsthand, classroom encounter clearly revealed an unbalanced, politicized and historically inaccurate view of American History being taught."
Then he demonstrated how to present a historically accurate view of Ben Franklin.
"Ben Franklin . . . was the president of the Abolitionist Society in Pennsylvania, he led the fight against the slave trade, successfully stopping the slave trade. He freed all of his own slaves, and not only freed them but gave them positions of responsibility so that they could grow into leaders."
I'm a retired high school English teacher, not a historian, but it doesn't take much digging to uncover Hupp's whitewashing of Franklin's record regarding slavery.
- Franklin obviously did not successfully stop the slave trade during his lifetime. As president of the Abolitionist Society, he proposed getting rid of it, though he wasn't especially eager to get rid of his own slaves.
- Franklin did free his slaves eventually, but it was long after he began his fight for abolition.
- Franklin did not give his slaves "positions of responsibility so that they could grow into leaders," so far as I can tell from what I have read. He believed freed slaves should be educated so they could advance in society, but I see no indication that he elevated his own freed slaves to "positions of responsibility."
I happen to be very fond of old Mr. Franklin, but I'm aware he was a deeply flawed human being, as were many of the other Founding Fathers, nowhere more clearly and cruelly than when it came to the institution of slavery. There's no better example of the corrupting nature of the slavery than the way it made hypocrites out of these men, many of them slave owners, who were striving to establish a democratic nation in which one of the central, self-evident truths was that "All men are created equal." It's important to learn that the ability to wield absolute power over other human beings –their bodies, their lives — corrupts the wielders of power at the same time it destroys the lives of those who are enslaved. And the lessons we learn from the institution of slavery can be applied to other forms of discrimination and oppression which are woven into the fabric of this country's complex and often disturbing history.
If we sanitize the U.S. history of slavery and the oppression of minorities as Huppenthal wishes, it may make it easier for us white folk to feel better about ourselves, though it cripples our ability to understand the racial and ethnic dynamics of today's society. But the whitewash makes it far more difficult for those people and groups who have been on the wrong side of racial and ethnic discrimination and oppression to understand the historic forces that shaped them and the society in which they live. It robs them of their history. Better for people to learn an unvarnished history of this country in school than to find out later they've been lied to in their history and government classes.