Banned Books Awareness: Revising history


\"\"Most people are familiar with the classic saying, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,\” uttered by George Santayana. He, himself, identified as an American and wrote exclusively in English, but the famous philosopher was born in Madrid and was a lifelong Spanish citizen even though he was raised and educated in the United States.

But if certain political groups get their way, such wise words as his will never be allowed to be shared again. That\’s because the political landscape today is not content with merely forgetting history, but revising it and even attempting to erase it completely.

The latest political diatribe from the Tea Party of Tennessee is aimed at textbooks on American history. The Party wants any incidents involving slavery and genocide linked to the founders of the United States removed from teaching for fear that such references would tarnish the fictional image they maintain about our Founding Fathers.

Hal Rounds, a Fayette County attorney and the group’s lead spokesman, said during a news conference that the group wants to address “an awful lot of made-up criticism about, for instance, the founders intruding on the Indians or having slaves or being hypocrites in one way or another.”

In a manifesto provided to legislators, the party demanded that school textbook criteria be amended to say that “No portrayal of minority experience in the history which actually occurred shall obscure the experience or contributions of the Founding Fathers, or the majority of citizens, including those who reached positions of leadership.”

Members of Tennessee’s Tea Party pressed that state’s legislators with five “priorities for action” on January 11, including “rejecting” the federal health reform act, establishing an elected “chief litigator” for the state, and “educating students the truth about America.”

The material they distributed further explained that “neglect and outright ill will have distorted the teaching of the history and character of the United States. We seek to compel the teaching of students in Tennessee the truth regarding the history of our nation and the nature of its government.” They further claim that “the Constitution created a Republic, not a Democracy.”

We’ve heard this before when I covered the revised edition of Mark Twain that replaced “politically incorrect terms” of the day; the “cleaned up” version of The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin; and the Texas State Board of Education erasing Thomas Jefferson and others from texts in an effort to support a slanted ideal on history and economics by favoring American capitalism, and denying claims that the Founders had clear opinions on the separation of Church and State by accentuating a misguided belief that the founders were devout Christians and that the religion played a key part in the country’s mission and governmental design.

In 2002, that school board, pressured by influential political lobbyists, barred \”Out of Many: A History of the American People,\” for a perceived offensive passage discussing prostitution on the Western frontier.

Along with history, merely learning about other cultures and their relevance to today is now a crime in some states.

The State of Arizona has become so xenophobic that their anti-immigration laws have sparked outrage around the world. Now they are banning all ethnic studies from school districts in Tucson, specifically any text- fictional or otherwise- that deals with Mexican-American history. More than 60% of the district\’s students are from Mexican-American backgrounds.

Teachers are being required to remove any course material in which race, ethnicity, and oppression are central themes. As such, even Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” is out.

“Rethinking Columbus: The Next 500 Years,” which served as a textbook for 20 years, and which includes an essay by author Leslie Silko, a resident of Tucson, has also been removed from the curriculum.

The Tucson Unified School District said the ban was part of a curriculum change to avoid “biased, political and emotionally-charged teaching.”

Quick, someone read to them the definition of “hypocrisy.” Oh, wait, we can’t- the dictionary has been banned, too.

Schools which do not comply with the new curriculum face multimillion-dollar fines.

According to a report on the Latino edition of Fox News, a group of writers and activists will begin a multi-state journey to “smuggle” books by Latino authors into Arizona. The caravan will start in Houston, Texas on March 12th, and arrive in Tucson on March 27th. Tony Diaz, the organizer of the caravan said, \”In each city we visit we\’re going to organize community libraries, we\’re going to (give them) examples of the books that are prohibited.\” Information on the cause, known as Librotraficante (“book smuggler”), can be found at

Were the Founding Fathers and other visionaries throughout our history great men? That is without question. But they were still human, and as such were susceptible to the same flaws you and I have.

For all the good and honorable acts that shaped our history, there have been the immoral and shameful acts; but our arrogance that we are “the greatest nation on Earth” has prevented us time and again from learning from past mistakes.

American history cannot ignore the facts when it comes to its treatment of women, blacks, Latinos, and other immigrants. This is also a nation that has seen a major war in every generation before and since its founding; what’s more, it doesn’t look like this trend will stop any time soon.

The land we so proudly hail as the America we know today was invaded and colonized by cultures from all over the globe, to be built by the sweat, tears, and often blood of millions. It was shaped over the last 300 years by countless wars and conflicts that defined entire generations, as much as it did the men and women who fought in those conflicts.

Are we condemned, as Santayana thought?

At the 2010 San Diego Comic Con I was humbly honored to meet a lifelong literary hero, cartoonist Sergio Aragonés- Mad Magazine contributor and creator of the comic Groo the Wanderer. Born in Spain in 1937, he moved to France, then Mexico at the age of 6. He eventually arrived in the United States in 1962 with nothing more than $20 and a portfolio of drawings.

Santayana’s historical musing was mirrored in the moral from Groo the Wanderer #75 that has always been a favorite of mine. It is so often on the backburner of my mind as I write these articles: “The learned man makes a mistake but once; the truly stupid keep practicing until they get it right.”

So long as we allow narrow-minded and egocentric rhetoric to cloud our understanding of the injustice and inequality that stains the roads behind us we can never hope to travel ahead with a clear view. We can not know where we are headed if we do not reflect on where it is we have been. That is why a car has a large windshield and a small rear-view mirror, that at the proper angle we can also see ourselves in.

That is why we need history; and we need our diversity. Only by studying and discussing an unbiased, raw, and sometimes brutally honest account of our successes and our failures can we together build a society worthy of our praise.


For more information on the Banned Books Awareness and Reading for Knowledge project and the complete list of titles covered, please visit the official website at

Sources: American Library Association, Wikipedia, Plymouth-Canton Community Schools, CNN, Fox News, Memphis Commercial Appeal, New York Daily News, Huffington Post
© 2012 R. Wolf Baldassarro/Deep Forest Productions