Friday, July 24, 2015

states' rights and textbook learning

Some friends of mine were discussing this article in the Washington Post, about Texas teaching standards for the War Between the States, and whether they should have talked more about slavery as a cause of the war, or just states' rights and sectionalism. What's amazing is that this lengthy, in-depth article makes no mention of the glaring fact about the states'-rights argument: that is, that the Southern states were very much against states' rights to, for instance, ignore the federal Fugitive Slave Act. One main reason for secession is that the Southern states were furious that the federal government didn't trample on states' 10th-amendment rights by forcing the return of escaped slaves to their owners. 

Not to mention, of course, the states' 10th-amendment rights to not recognize slavery to begin with, so that if you're vacationing in Pennsylvania and you bring your valet with you, your valet might not come *back* with you because that person is regarded as a free citizen by the state of Pennsylvania.

Needless to say, that particular states' right was hated by the Southern states, and the fact that the federal government turned a blind eye and didn't enforce it under the full faith and credit clause was another reason those states wanted to secede.

So, the states'-rights issue is a complete load of bunk: any true believer in our 10th-amendment rights would be (however dejectedly) in favor of those actions regarding the Fugitive Slave Act and the full faith and credit clause. (Just as a true believer in states' rights who hates marijuana and prostitution nonetheless affirms Colorado and Nevada, respectively, in their rights to decide for themselves.)

But of course they weren't true believers in states' rights, then or now. Not that you'd ever know that from reading a textbook.

On the other hand, demand from school the person you are today: could they produce that person? There's a reason they call graduation ceremonies "commencement" — it's when your education finally begins.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

a declaration for the ages

On other holidays, we honor our country's veterans; on other holidays, we memorialize those who have died in serving; there's also Armed Forces Day, and lesser-celebrated holidays for the various branches of the military and for various recent battles and victories.

Today, though, we honor an un-military group who did an un-military thing: they published a document, ink on paper, claiming some things to be self-evident that weren't self-evident to most of their international audience. They claimed that all are equal, and they have — by dint of their very existence, not by fiat of the state — the right to live, to be free, and to pursue happiness. Perhaps more audaciously, they claimed that governments derive their power from the consent of the governed, something they no doubt saw to be true of dictatorships as much as free lands. Every one of those assertions was controversial, and many have a hard time swallowing them even today — sometimes we ourselves have a hard time swallowing them.

But there they are, ink on paper, sent out into the world to change it. It's inarguable that they themselves saw those rights as available in their completeness only to white male landowners, but no matter: those words rang nonetheless. Over the years our republic has chipped away at the barnacled understanding of those words, the rough-hewn stone that covered the true polished shape of liberty, with much pain and with much howling. The pain continues, and the howling too, and there is still rough stone left, but our edifice is far more an edifice of freedom — of those radically-stated rights — than they ever could have imagined.

Take a moment to pray, sing, breathe gratitude for these people and their vision, and vow to continue chipping away, making those words true all over again.