Monday, December 6, 2010

Learning from Reagan

Click on this link to view my op-ed, "Our New Time for Choosing: Learning from the Speech that Made Reagan." This appeared in the Washington Times on the anniversary of "The Speech" given by Ronald Reagan on behalf of GOP presidential candidate Barry Goldwater on October 27, 1964.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Confederate History Month Is Just Plain Wrong!

Abraham Lincoln, in his second annual message to Congress, famously declared, "Fellow citizens, we cannot escape history." Apparently, Governor Bob McDonnell of Virginia did not get the message.

In a glaring example of political pandering, McDonnell issued a proclamation declaring April to be Confederate History Month. Some twenty-four hours later he sort of apologized after enduring a firestorm of criticism from civil rights activists, historians, and (perhaps most importantly) one of his most important campaign donors who happens to be an African-American and a Democrat.

What in the world was the governor thinking? Was this a political move that backfired or a carefully conceived plan to reach out his his political base of social conservatives? Either way, as Patrick Henry once said, "I smell a rat!"

Consider just a few reactions from the chorus of critics. James McPherson, the dean of Civil War historians said, The people that emphasize Confederate heritage and the legacy, and the importance of understanding Confederate history, want to deny that Confederate history was ultimately bound up with slavery. But that was the principal reason for secession — that an anti-slavery party was elected to the White House. . . . And without secession, there wouldn’t have been a war.”

Former Virginia governor L. Douglas Wilder called it “mind-boggling to say the least” that McDonnell's proclamation failed to mention slavery as the primary cause of the Civil War. “It’s one thing to sound a cause of rallying a base," Wilder said. "But it’s quite another to distort history.”

Sheila Johnson of Middleburg, the co-founder of Black Entertainment Television and an African-American Democrat who supported McDonnell's campaign pulled no punches in a statement released to the media. “I must condemn Governor McDonnell’s Proclamation honoring ‘Confederate History Month,’ and its insensitive disregard of Virginia’s complicated and painful history, the remnants of which many Virginians still wrestle with today," her statement said. “The complete omission of slavery from an official government document, which purports to be a call for Virginians to ‘understand’ and ’study’ their history, is both academically flawed and personally offensive. If Virginians are to celebrate their ’shared history,’ as this proclamation suggests, then the whole truth of this history must be recognized and not evaded.”

Ouch! Is it any wonder that the governor issued an apology and a revised proclamation the following day? The question now is, does it matter? The damage has already been done. Once the toothpaste is out of the tube, it is impossible to put it back inside. Governor McDonnell's credibility as a political moderate has been all but shattered. His conservative base may approve of his actions, but most Virginians and Americans will surely find them offensive or worse.

As a Civil War historian, I am concerned by the governor's misuse of history for apparent political gain and his apparent ignorance of the basic truths about the conflict that nearly destroyed this nation.

McDonnell's proclamation would lead one to believe that all Virginians supported secession and the Confederate cause. This was hardly the case. The Loudoun County Rangers fought as a Union regiment and served bravely throughout the war fighting against slavery and secession. I wrote an article on this aspect of Virginia's Civil War which I would invite the governor to read.

Governor McDonnell could have avoided the entire snafu by proclaiming April to be Civil War History Month instead of Confederate History Month. The fact that he chose not to says much about his politics and his misreading of the historical record.

As for me, I will not be preparing any special lesson plans in observance of Virginia's now official Confederate History Month celebration.

It is misguided and just plain wrong!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Classroom Post Featured on the Washington Post's Answer Sheet!

My previous posting on "Senioritis" was featured today on The Answer Sheet, a Washington Post  education blog written by Valerie Strauss. This is one of the premier education sites in the blogosphere, and it is a real honor to be highlighted by Strauss and the Washington Post - for the second time!

For all of you who are concerned about education - and you would not be reading this if you were not - please check out Valerie's blog. She always has provocative ideas, opinions, and features about the latest in the world of education!