As students go back to school around Chester County, they may be returning to classrooms where they’ll be taught myths about the US Civil War, symbols of the Confederacy, and the very reason the Southern states seceded from the Union. At least one Chester County school district is using a textbook which perpetuates distortions about the Confederacy. These myths disenfranchise African Americans, allow hate groups to cloak themselves in legitimacy, and make impressionable youth more susceptible to white supremacist propoganda.
A recent Washington Post article by James W. Loewen describes how US history has been distorted to teach that the Southern states seceded in favor of states’ rights rather than in defense of slavery and white supremacy. This myth is so pervasive, that the National Park Service website devotes a page to debunking what is also known as the “Lost Cause” myth. In fact, Northern states were exercising their states’ rights by refusing to enforce the Fugitive Slave Act which required states to return escaped slaves to their owners. In the Confederate declaration of secession, Texas makes it clear that the cause of secession was a rebellion against Northern states’ rights, defense of African American slavery, and a commitment to white supremacy,
We hold as undeniable truths that the governments of the various States, and of the confederacy itself, were established exclusively by the white race, for themselves and their posterity; that the African race had no agency in their establishment; that they were rightfully held and regarded as an inferior and dependent race, and in that condition only could their existence in this country be rendered beneficial or tolerable.
Myths about the Confederacy have been written into many middle school history textbooks. Publishers have allowed these distortions because they don’t want to lose sales in Southern school districts. Loewen specifically mentions the textbook, The American Journey (by McGraw Hill) as one of the most widely circulated textbooks perpetuating Confederate myths. Chapter 15 (Unit 6 – Civil War and Reconstruction, p. 451) states,
Southerners justified secession with the theory of states’ rights. The states, they argued, had voluntarily chosen to enter the Union. They defined the Constitution as a contract among the independent states. Now because the national government had violated that contract – by refusing to enforce the Fugitive Slave Act and by denying the Southern states equal rights in the territories – the states were justified in leaving the Union.
Textbooks like The American Journey, are not only used in the South. While not all Chester County school districts publish details about textbooks, according to the Great Valley Middle School website, Chapter 15 from The American Journey is assigned reading for its 8th grade Social Studies program. Downingtown and Unionville School Districts use alternative textbooks. Other Chester County school districts do not publish the textbooks used for 8th grade Social Studies.
If your child is entering 8th grade this fall, we encourage you to take a close look at your student’s textbook and how it portrays the causes of the US Civil War. Every parent and taxpayer has a right to know if school districts are presenting a distorted view of this important part of our country’s history.
Indivisible Chester Country will be collecting information on school textbooks and encourages constituents to contact school Administrators and School Board members for comment. If you have details about the textbooks being used in your school district, please add that information in the comments below.