In the early Sixties, South Carolina state law mandated that children in both the third and eighth grades receive instruction in the state’s history. As randomness would have it, my first tour of the annals of the Palmetto State coincided with the centennial celebration of “The War Between the States.” Lessons about “Caw-Caw the Indian boy” competed with classroom drills in which we swiftly assumed fetal positions beneath our tiny desks. (Charleston with its Polaris submarine base offered an inviting target for those Cuban Missiles). Also, on the domestic side, in the background, we could detect a soft growl of discontent rising in the throats of what my family politely called colored people, who, as the ad populum argument went, were being stirred up by “outside agitators.”
Times, you might say, were a-changing.
Not in the teaching of South Carolina history. Preserved in our textbook, time-honored “statements of fact” explained that the vast majority of slaves were well-treated, that unfair tariffs had sparked the Civil War, that the Ku Klux Klan had provided a public service during the dark days of Reconstruction, that Pitchfork Ben Tillman was a man of courage, that the textile industry promised a potential economic stimulus that might propel the state back into its former glorious position as the cultural vanguard of the nation . . .
When I first started teaching high school in the Mid-Eighties, I still encountered traces of these old arguments, particularly concerning the paternalism of slavery and the predominance of tariffs as the cause of the War. To counter the latter argument, I found copies of Declarations of Causes of Seceding States and highlighted in blue all of the sentences that referred to slavery. Believe me, the unhighlighted patches were about as prevalent as peanuts in Hershey bars. However, back in the day, I, too, believed what I had read. As an eight-year-old, I applauded the Klan of yore, those white-clad knights who had cleansed my native state of nefarious scalawags, carpetbaggers, and, yes, Negroes.
Flashforward a half century. The descendants of Pitchfork Ben have again taken to the streets eager to “retake their country” from Woke radical Democrat communist fascists.
Screeching in ALLCAPS, Trump, as he likes to refer to himself, predicts that he will be arrested this week:
“THE FAR & AWAY LEADING REPUBLICAN CANDIDATE & FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, WILL BE ARRESTED ON TUESDAY OF NEXT WEEK. PROTEST, TAKE OUR NATION BACK!
WE JUST CAN’T ALLOW THIS ANYMORE,” he wrote. “THEY’RE KILLING OUR NATION AS WE SIT BACK & WATCH. WE MUST SAVE AMERICA! PROTEST, PROTEST, PROTEST!!!”
Well, he’s certainly riled up this “patriot.”
Meanwhile, the right wingers who run state schoolboards are co-opting Joseph Stalin’s tactics by rewriting US textbooks and removing books from the library. From The New Yorker.
In late January, at Greenland Pines Elementary, kids attended a party for an annual event called Celebrate Literacy Week, Florida! There was an escape room and food trucks. Brian Covey, an entrepreneur in his late thirties, came to pick up his daughter, who’s in second grade, and his son, who’s in fifth. His kids looked confused. “Did you hear what happened at school today?” his daughter asked. “They took all the books out of the classrooms.” Covey asked which books. “All the books,” she said. Covey’s son had been reading “Measuring Up,” a coming-of-age story about an immigrant to the United States from Taiwan. Students who read from a list of pre-selected books, including this one, were rewarded with an ice-cream party. “They even took that book,” Covey said.
In Manatee County a group that calls itself Community Patriots Manatee is reaching out to “WOKE BUSTERS” calling out to “Warriors” that it needs “Digital, Investigative, and Boots on the Ground.”
What do these disaffected MAGA screechers and rightwing school boards have in common besides a contempt of the Other? They’re reactionaries, of course. They seek the status quo ante of the past, the good old days when the government stayed out of their lives (those glorious days before Interstate highways and VA hospitals).
Of course, the irony of their Orwellian neo-newspeak is lost on them. “Patriots”= those who tried to violently disrupt the legitimate election of the President of the United States. MAGA “Christians” call for violence to eradicate their enemies.
Chance are that their children – and the children of Woke Floridians for that matter – won’t be able to check 1984 out of their school libraries.
And as far as teaching history goes, schools may very well revert to the indoctrination I suffered when I studied South Carolina history way back then. It’s just a different type of indoctrination than the Anti-Woke indoctrination they so fear.
Anyway, I think I’ll forgo my V-8 this morning and have a bloody mary instead.
*1] I don’t know if it’s by design or ignorance, but they have adopted Trump’s penchant for randomly capitalizing common nouns.
 BTW, in my last two years of teaching, I taught 1984 to 9th graders. Here’s a link to a teaching guide I created for teachers tackling the novel.