Separation of Jefferson and History

Separation of Jefferson and History

Nation contributor Eric Foner defends history, and disagrees with the Texas Board of Education, on The Colbert Report.


The Texas Board of Education recently voted on new textbook standards-ultimately rewriting history through a conservative lens. References to Thomas Jefferson as an Enlightenment thinker will be removed and replaced lessons about with John Calvin. On McCarthyism, textbooks will be required to include that suspicions of Communist infiltration were later confirmed and, as Stephen Colbert reports, "any passage describing Joe McCarthy’s sweaty jowls be changed to glistening neck pouch."

Though the changes are only implemented in Texas, they impact the entire country because publishers cater their content to Texas standards, as the state represents one of the largest markets for textbooks. As Colbert says, "This battle is not just about Texas, it decides which historical figures all of our children will be drawing mustaches and eye patches on."

Colombia history professor and Nation editorial board member Eric Foner joins Colbert to "answer for his liberal crimes" of writing a popular textbook, without a conservative view, currently being used in Texas. (Foner’s "Twisting History in Texas" took the Texas Board of Education to task for in the pages of last week’s Nation.) Foner explains why the board’s decision is so harmful, "they eliminate people from the past who they don’t agree with…[and] the [board] is trying to eliminate any discussion of [historical] injustices which gives students a completely misleading picture of what American history has been."

Foner describes a person or a society without historical knowledge as a person without a memory. Colbert counters with the old adage, those who fail to learn history are doomed to repeat it. "But if you change what history was, doesn’t that solve that problem?" Colbert asks.

–Morgan Ashenfelter

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