Texas and TEKS: Remember the Alamo! How about Civil Rights?

June 13, 2010

“… ex-hippie parents had better accept that their children look like becoming yuppies. And then Republicans…” Christopher Ricks  Dylan’s Visions of Sin. 2003

It’s not taxes in Texas that’s the hot issue; it’s the future of History. Conservatives want to revise the Texas History curriculum in order to “amend” teaching about slavery, the civil rights movement and America’s relationship with the United Nations.

The State Board of Education has legislative authority to adopt the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) for each subject of the required curriculum. SBOE members nominated educators, parents, business and industry representatives, and employers to serve on the review committees. That’s where the fun started earlier this year.

In regards to the American Civil Rights Movement the student is currently expected to, among other things, “identify significant leaders of the civil rights movement, including Martin Luther King, Jr.; and identify changes in the United States that have resulted from the civil rights movement such as increased participation of minorities in the political process…”

This latter trend culminated in the election of the present White House incumbent and was all too much for some conservatives who, in their curriculum submissions,  insisted on using the President’s full name Barack Hussein Obama because of its negative connotations. Using the middle name is not the usual style when referring to presidents. George Bush Jr only got a ‘W’, though unkind commentators maintain this was his History grade.

Educators argued that some of the proposed TEKS History amendments would politicise education. Conservatives no doubt argued that they were merely rebalancing what was for them an overly liberal retrospective world view.

 History was refracted through a different lens earlier this year when Bob Dylan performed his classic song “The Times they are a Changin’” at the White House Celebration of Music from the Civil Rights Movement*.

You can’t imagine George Bush Sr or Jr hosting such a gathering. Right wing Republicans have a long history of demonising folk singers like Pete Seeger as reds who were not only under the bed but jumping up and down on the mattress in an unseemly and public way. Members of The Weavers, Seeger’s group, were redlisted during the McCarthy Era in the 50s.

In the 60s, Seeger re-surfaced in public scene as a prominent singer of protest music in support of international disarmament, civil rights and environmental causes. He was most responsible for popularizing the spiritual “We Shall Overcome” which became the emblematic anthem of the 1960s American Civil Rights Movement.

It was also recorded by Joan Baez and many other singer-activists. Baez was literally instrumental in helping to bring this song of Seeger’s (and other countercultural 60s songs by Dylan, her sometime boyfriend), to the attention of the nation and the world, though in retrospect he is a reluctant figurehead of the social and political unrest he chronicled.

As a song writer, Seeger is perhaps best known as the co-author of the poignant “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?”  Interviewed on his 90th birthday*, soon after performing at Obama’s Inauguration Jan 2009,* Seeger said that he was a fan of small things and small people.  He could have added- and of demonstrating how non-politicians can have an effect by demonstrating.

Bob Dylan didn’t get on the presidential stage at the inauguration but he had the opportunity to reprise one of his most most famous songs at President Obama’s 2010  White House function. He first recorded The Times they are a-Changin’ a month before John Kennedy’s assassination in 1963. This was in his eclectic  pre-electric  folk stage. It’s hard to find an early version by Dylan of The Times on YouTube (but easy to find scores of covers, both amateur and professional). Dylan is diligent in controlling his own recordings, but the White House gig made it to YT.*

The rendition is rather strange at both the start and the finish: before he gets into his musical stride Dylan takes his hand off the neck of the guitar several times and reaches behind him- to what? Adjust his guitar strap? His coat?  A hidden amplifier switch?  At the end there is an awkward half minute after the initial applause. Is Dylan waiting for an encore, a message from the President or someone to relieve him of his guitar? Mercifully, eventually a stagehand eventually does.

It’s still well worth viewing and reviewing. In the words of literary critic Christopher Ricks: “Once upon a time it may have been a matter of urging square people to accept the fact that their children were, you know, hippies. But the capacious urging could then come to mean that ex-hippie parents had better accept that their children look like becoming yuppies. And then Republicans…”

And helping to rewrite the Texas History curriculum?

In the spirit of revisionism I suggest some updated song titles for the Presidential 2011 hootenanny state function: A Hard Oil’s A-Gonna Spill, If I had a Jack Hammer, Slow Train Wreck Coming, The New York Times they are a-Changin’, Rupert the Hardnosed Remainder, Bowling in the Wind, Bye Bye American Piety, Where Have All the Powers Gone? and  Return, Return, Return?

 #Lyall Lukey 13 June 2010 

http://www.lukey.co.nz/  http://www.smartnet.co.nz

*BLINKS Pr-print    Vid-Video   So-Sound   Mm-multimedia

http://www.discovertexasonline.com/  Pr
Kindergarten – Grade 5   The amended draft Pr
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VGPBLkZggXI  Remember the Alamo   Kingston Trio Vid  
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XevzVyjCtEc    A 2008 cover by Tony DeSare, with photos, of Bob Dylan’s  1963 song The Times they are a –Changin Mm
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zr8PZ3ajEWo Bob Dylan reprises The Times… at President Obama’s  White House function  February 12, 2010 Vid  
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZfXSlmWI_7c  Peter Seeger at 90-still singing his great songs. Vid
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g5KnYADCSms&NR=1  Pete Seeger & Bruce Springsteen  “This Land is Your Land”  Obama Inaugural  19 Jan 2009. Vid
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ovuP3vJO8lI&feature=related Seeger leads the crowd in “Amazing Grace” at his 90th Birthday concert, May 3, 2009 at Maddison Square Garden.Vid
Buy, Buy American Pie   Satirical update of an oldie but goodie-with a reference to Fonterra’s dodgy Chinese milk partner. Vid