Brian Franklin: Texas Republicans take aim at history this Juneteenth. It could backfire.
Brian Franklin is the Associate Director of the Center for Presidential History at Southern Methodist University. In this op-ed for NBC’s “Think” tab, Franklin zeros in on the contrast in Texas between the new federal designation of Juneteenth as a holiday, and a new Texas law forbidding the classroom examination of the history of slavery in this country.
The Republican leadership in Texas wants students to celebrate Juneteenth, and I applaud that. It is hard to believe that there is still no federal holiday to recognize, much less celebrate, the end of slavery in this nation. But what are we celebrating, practically? We’re celebrating the end of an American law. The end of an American ideal. The end of American slavery. And the problem with Texas’s HB 3979 — and every other similar law across the country — is that it wants to squelch the teaching of this truth. It wants students to taste the sweet fruit of Juneteenth without considering the rotten roots of slavery and racism.
Texas’ new law in fact has two major problems. First, and most alarmingly for educators, it bans public school teachers from requiring students to read specific educational materials or even learn about particular ideas — specifically the idea that “the advent of slavery … constituted the true founding of the United States.” The law also forbids teachers from even teaching the 1619 Project.
But there’s a second and even more fundamental problem with bills like this one: they are inherently self-contradictory. They require teachers to present specific people and ideas in American history. Then they also aim to prevent teachers from discussing anything in those stories that might hint at inherent racism or slavery. Lawmakers may wish to maintain this contradiction, but when teachers teach these stories and documents, the contradiction cannot stand.