Race-Baiting Propagandists Come for Texas

Progressives smear Texas Republicans as giving cover to the Ku Klux Klan

Did you open Twitter today and discover that the Texas Senate passed a bill to prevent schools from teaching that the Ku Klux Klan is “morally wrong”? Did you feel a pang of outrage?

If so, you were the victim of a class propaganda ploy.

“To be effective, propaganda must constantly short-circuit all thought and decision,” writes Jacques Ellul in Propaganda: the Formation of Men’s Attitudes. “It must operate on the individual at the level of the unconscious. He must not know that he is being shaped by outside forces … but some central core in him must be reached in order to release the mechanism in the unconscious which will provide the appropriate—and expected—action.”

The propagandist understands that the surest way to “short-circuit all thought and decision” is to arouse moral indignation. When we are indignant, we do not care for context or qualifications, we remain on the surface of things—lest nuance rob us of our emotional satisfaction.

“Texas Senate Bill Drops Teaching Requirement That Ku Klux Klan Is ‘Morally Wrong’” declares HuffPost. Nearly identical headlines have appeared in The Independent, The Hill and other outlets, but Mary Papenfuss’s HuffPost article has drawn the most attention, going viral on Twitter.

The bill in question, S.B. 3, builds on and amends elements of the recently passed H.B. 3979, the purpose of which was to prohibit the teaching of certain ideas derived from critical race theory.

Papenfuss’s article, presented as straight reportage, claims that

The cut is among some two dozen curriculum requirements dropped in the measure, along with studying Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, the works of United Farm Workers leader Cesar Chavez, Susan B. Anthony’s writings about the women’s suffragist movement, and Native American history.

Citing an only slightly less misleading article in Bloomberg Law, Papenfuss further claims that S.B. 3 “drops most mentions of people of color and women from the state’s required curriculum.”

Naturally, prominent Democrats took the report at its word and repaired to Twitter in outrage.

The Democrat-boosting commentariat was similarly incensed. Bloviating New York Times’s columnist Charles Blow offered the following paranoid augury:

Twitter is awash in similar examples of indignation. Suffice it to say that HuffPost’s propaganda succeeded in provoking “the appropriate—and expected—action.”

The problem, of course, is that Papenfuss’s article is transparently mendacious. It paints H.B. 3979 and S.B. 3 as representative of the state’s entire set of curricular standards, rather than what the plain text of each bill states they are: amendments to a handful of sections in the state’s compendious Education Code.

“What we’re doing with this bill, we’re saying that specific reading list doesn’t belong in statute,” said the bill’s author, state Sen. Bryan Hughes (R), according to the very Bloomberg Law article Papenfuss cites. Hughes believes the proper place for such requirements is in the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) standards. Whereas the Education Code paints curricular expectations with a broad brush, they are delineated in great detail in the TEKS standards developed by the State Board of Education and codified in Title 19 of the Texas Administrative Code.

The items over which Papenfuss and others are hyperventilating are found in the earlier version of Subsection (h-2), which H.B. 3979 added to Section 28.002 of the Education Code. Subsection (h-2) identifies “essential knowledge and skills” pertaining to civics education, which is only one part of a much more comprehensive social studies curriculum, a curriculum which already includes the very lessons detractors of the new bill claim are being entirely excised.

In addition to tightening some over-broad, easily misinterpreted language, S.B. 3 merely streamlines elements of H.B. 3979 and removes certain redundancies.

Journalistic due-diligence should have required Papenfuss to acquaint herself with the broader curricular standards, especially the Texas Education Agency’s Social Studies TEKS.

In the Social Studies TEKS, one finds a plethora of requirements which directly contradict the claims of Papenfuss and Twitter Democrats. One also finds that the general spirit of the curriculum belies the common charge that Texas education law whitewashes history and deemphasizes the state’s (and America’s) sins. Consider the following selection:

  • Students begin studying the Declaration of Independence in the third grade, and lessons are built upon and reiterated every subsequent year, especially during “Freedom Week.” The TEKS specifies that “The study of the Declaration of Independence must include the study of the relationship of the ideas expressed in that document to subsequent American history, including the relationship of its ideas to the rich diversity of our people as a nation of immigrants, the American Revolution, the formulation of the U.S. Constitution, and the abolitionist movement, which led to the Emancipation Proclamation and the women's suffrage movement” (emphasis mine).

  • In fourth grade: “Students discuss how and whether the actions of U.S. citizens and the local, state, and federal governments have achieved the ideals espoused in the founding documents” (emphasis mine).

  • In fifth grade: “The student is expected to: … (D) explain the central role of the expansion of slavery in causing sectionalism, disagreement over states' rights, and the Civil War; (E) explain the effects of the Civil War, including Reconstruction and the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments to the U.S. Constitution; … (C) identify the accomplishments and contributions of individuals and groups such as Susan B. Anthony, Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, Cesar Chavez, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Ronald Reagan, the Tuskegee Airmen, and the 442nd Regimental Combat Team in the areas of civil rights, women's rights, military actions, and politics” (emphases mine).

  • For high school, building on the American history curriculum begun in eighth grade, the TEKS specifies that “The student is expected to:  (A) analyze the impact of Progressive Era reforms, including initiative, referendum, recall, and the passage of the 16th, 17th, 18th, and 19th amendments;  (B) evaluate the impact of muckrakers and reform leaders such as Upton Sinclair, Susan B. Anthony, Jane Addams, Ida B. Wells, and W. E. B. DuBois on American society;”

  • Also in high school: “The student is expected to: (A) analyze causes and effects of events and social issues such as immigration, Social Darwinism, the Scopes Trial, eugenics, race relations, nativism, the Red Scare, Prohibition, and the changing role of women” (emphasis mine).

The curriculum standards for the history of the civil rights movement are worthy of special emphasis, so I’ll quote them at length (emphases mine throughout):

The student is expected to:

(A) trace the historical development of the civil rights movement from the late 1800s through the 21st century, including the 13th, 14th, 15th, and 19th amendments;

(B) explain how Jim Crow laws and the Ku Klux Klan created obstacles to civil rights for minorities such as the suppression of voting;

(C) describe the roles of political organizations that promoted African American, Chicano, American Indian, and women's civil rights;

(D) identify the roles of significant leaders who supported various rights movements, including Martin Luther King Jr., Cesar Chavez, Dolores Huerta, Rosa Parks, and Betty Friedan;

(E) compare and contrast the approach taken by the Black Panthers with the nonviolent approach of Martin Luther King Jr.;

(F) discuss the impact of the writings of Martin Luther King Jr. such as his "I Have a Dream" speech and "Letter from Birmingham Jail" on the civil rights movement;

(G) describe presidential actions and congressional votes to address minority rights in the United States, including desegregation of the armed forces, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965;

(H) explain how George Wallace, Orval Faubus, and the Congressional bloc of southern Democrats sought to maintain the status quo;

(I) evaluate changes in the United States that have resulted from the civil rights movement, including increased participation of minorities in the political process; and

(J) describe how Sweatt v. Painter and Brown v. Board of Education played a role in protecting the rights of the minority during the civil rights movement.

This information is all easily accessible. It took me only an hour to compile these refutations of Papenfuss’s propaganda article.

Hanlon’s razor would have us “never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.” When dealing with propaganda, however, the line dividing stupidity and malice is often blurry. Stupidity breeds malice; malice breeds stupidity.

Which is more operative in the case of those lying—and those mindlessly regurgitating lies—about the effect of Senate Bill 3 and the intentions of the Republicans who passed it?

I leave it to the reader to decide.