1836 Project: Patriotic education law is latest conservative tool to whitewash history
Progressives responded with disgust on June 7 after Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed a law establishing the so-called “1836 Project,” which the Republican official said “promotes patriotic education and ensures future generations understand Texas values.”
“To keep Texas the best state in the nation, we can never forget why our state is so exceptional,” Abbott tweeted. “Together, we’ll keep our rich history alive.”
As Dean Baker, co-founder of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, pointed out: “Of course, if they actually did talk about the reasons Texas declared independence from Mexico, it would be a very radical course.”
Although Mexico abolished slavery in 1829, its government continued to allow U.S. settlers to bring enslaved people into the country. As U.S. immigrants began to outnumber the non-Indigenous population of Spanish origin, the Mexican government attempted to reassert its control, including its prohibition on slavery. When Mexico’s ruler, General Antonio López de Santa Anna, sent an army to reestablish his authority in 1835, U.S. settlers revolted and by 1836 had created an independent, slaveholding republic — Texas.
Several commentators responding to Abbott on Twitter noted that the GOP-controlled Texas legislature’s “jingoistic” efforts to enforce what Abbott called “patriotic education” were consistent with the kinds of propaganda one might expect to find in a despotic regime and ill-suited for developing critical thinkers capable of participating in a democratic society.
“Such a pure expression of fascism,” one social media user said of Texas’ new law.
In a video announcing the project’s launch, Abbott said that “every newcomer to Texas who gets a driver’s license will also get a pamphlet that outlines Texas’ rich history, as well as the principles that make Texas Texas.”
“The law also establishes the gubernatorial 1836 award to recognize students’ knowledge of the founding documents about Texas history,” the right-wing governor added.
This provided critics with an opportunity to highlight the contents of Texas’ founding documents.
“Texas values in 1836, you say?” asked journalist and author Jonathan Myerson Katz.
The Constitution of the Republic of Texas — which governed the then-sovereign nation from the end of the slaveholders’ rebellion against Mexico in 1836 until U.S. annexation in 1845 — legalized slavery, outlawed emancipation, and barred free Black people from establishing permanent residency. The founding document also excluded “Africans, the descendants of Africans, and Indians” from citizenship.
Twenty-five years after declaring independence from Mexico to preserve slavery, Texas again seceded in 1861—this time from the U.S. and for the exact same reason. The “1836 Project” is not the Texas GOP’s first foray into pushing for anti-egalitarian indoctrination.
As U.S. historian Eric Foner wrote more than a decade ago when the conservative-dominated Texas Board of Education approved changes to the state’s social studies curriculum:
Judging from the updated social studies curriculum, conservatives want students to come away from a Texas education with a favorable impression of: women who adhere to traditional gender roles, the Confederacy, some parts of the Constitution, capitalism, the military, and religion. They do not think students should learn about women who demanded greater equality; other parts of the Constitution; slavery, Reconstruction and the unequal treatment of nonwhites generally; environmentalists; labor unions; federal economic regulation; or foreigners.
Foner noted that he has “lectured on a number of occasions to Texas precollege teachers and have found them as competent, dedicated, and open-minded as the best teachers anywhere.”
“But if they are required to adhere to the revised curriculum,” he added, “the students of our second most populous state will emerge ill prepared for life in Texas, America, and the world in the twenty-first century.”