Colbert Report Satirizes Texas History Textbooks

It was only a matter of time, what with the onslaught of national coverage and dueling editorials in The New York Times and on Fox News, before The Colbert Report would jump into the fray with its own satirical take on the Texas history textbook situation (transcript below; full video below.). And one wonders, with the ongoing merging of news and entertainment, if more readers outside Texas might well get their Texas “news” from Colbert than even the aforementioned national news juggernauts. 

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Of course, those who ridicule the conservatives' rewriting of history in meetings over the last year — never so on display as in the State Board of Education meeting last week — hardly needed Colbert to cue up the laughter in Wednesday's show. As former Texas Lt. Gov. Bill Hobby wrote in a comment on one of our SBOE blog posts last week, “Texas — From Lone Star State to Laughing Stock State.”

One wonders, too, if the board’s social conservatives aren’t laughing right along with the barrage of negative national attention. The conspiracy of the liberal media now so pervades the hard-right strategy that getting beat up by allegedly liberal media types might only fuel the love for them among their core constituency. The webpage of outgoing SBOE member Cynthia Dunbar, advertising her book, "One Nation Under God," offers a case-in-point, offering to teach conservatives how to identify liberal “propaganda,” such as the widely accepted, even revered, notion of church-state separation.

I know this: Board of Education conservatives relished the attention from Fox News — even after Fox ran an interview with Jonathan Saenz, of the Austin-based Free Market Foundation, who spewed so many unchallenged fabrications that the Texas Education Agency was motivated to issue a six-point news release calling out each error. Texas Monthly’s Eileen “In the Pink” Smith posted an uproariously funny take, asking about Saenz, “Who is this guy?” (And how did Fox come to anoint him as an expert?) Fox’s Steve Doocy later fumbled out a response that didn’t address any of the TEA’s points directly, didn’t apologize or correct, and generally sounded like gibberish.

Yet, at the board meeting, socially conservative member Terri Leo cooed, “I want my Fox News moment,” at the Fox crew covering the board meeting, begging to get on camera just moments after giving a Fox reporter a piece of her mind over the errors in the debacle of an interview with Saenz.

And now comes Colbert into the fray, helping America laugh at Texas. Texans will wonder whether they should laugh or cry, but here’s the transcript anyway:

"Hey fellas, it’s March, and that means it’s time for the year’s most exciting television event — the Texas school board hearings — say it with me … And, nation, this year, the stakes could not be higher. (Fox News clip) You see Texas school board decisions affect school boards across the country, which is why most sex-ed books have chapters on the reproductive system, abstinence and how to castrate a steer. So, this battle is not just about Texas, it decides which historical figures all of our children will be drawing mustaches and eye-patches on. (Graphic shows a picture of a book with graffiti reading, “Benjamin Wankin’”).

Now, the Texas school board isn’t afraid to take controversial stances. Last year, they passed an amendment that forced the science teachers to cover those parts of the fossil records that don’t fit neatly with evolution, like the recently discovered evidence of a woolly mammoth vacuum cleaner (Graphic: Flinstones vacuum.) Now, this session, the board was set to break even education ground, including mandating students learn about the “unintended consequences of LBJ’s Great Society Program” and requiring the history of McCarthyism include “how the later release of the Venona papers confirmed suspicions of communist infiltration in the U.S. Government.” It also requires that any passage mentioning Joe McCarthy’s sweaty jowls be changed to “glistening neck pouch.” Well, folks, last Friday, the conservatives won, and I’ll let board member Ken Mercer tell you what that means.

(Mercer clip) "American Exceptionalism is back."  

Yes! American Exceptionalism is back! Which I think means that American students will be taught everything except what this guy takes exception to. But the biggest victory of all, folks, was that in the curriculum, on great revolutionary thinkers, board members removed any reference of Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Indepedence. You see, Jefferson coined the term “separation of church and state.” So Texas has coined the term, “separation of Jefferson and history.” Folks, an important battle has been won, but plenty of liberal textbooks are still out there. Give me Liberty!, by Eric Foner, is one of the most popular textbooks in the nation. I would love to see this guy answer for his liberal crimes.”

Colbert goes on to interview Foner, a Columbia University professor, who tells him, in part:

“The problem is they (the Texas SBOE) think that America began perfect and has been getting better ever since.

Colbert: Oh yeah, what’s your view of America, comrade?

Foner: My view is that we have struggled over time to try to make this a better country and we should celebrate in the past the people who worked hard to overcome the injustices in our past. But the Texas school board wants to eliminate any discussion of some of these injustices, which gives students a completely misleading picture of what America has been …

Colbert: If we fail to study some parts of history, what’s the worst that can happen?

Foner: We would be ignorant. A society that doesn’t know history is like a person without a memory.”

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