‘Rethinking the Fourth of July’, Bill Bigelow, Rethinking Schools curriculum editor, Zinn Education Project co-director, huff-po, July, 2014
“But the yahoo of fireworks also turns an immensely complicated time in U.S. history into a cartoon of miseducation. For example, check out Ray Raphael’s “Re-examining the Revolution“ at the Zinn Education Project, an article that every history teacher should read before wading into the events leading up to 1776. Raphael analyzed 22 elementary-school, middle-school, and high-school texts and found them filled with inaccuracies — some merely silly, but others leaving students with important misunderstandings about U.S. history and how social change does and does not happen.
Raphael offers some context for the Declaration of Independence:
‘In 1997, Pauline Maier published American Scripture, where she uncovered 90 state and local “declarations of independence” that preceded the U.S. Declaration of Independence. The consequence of this historical tidbit is profound: Jefferson was not a lonely genius conjuring his notions from the ether; he was part of a nationwide political upheaval.
Similarly, Raphael reports:
‘[I]n 1774 common farmers and artisans from throughout Massachusetts rose up by the thousands and overthrew all British authority. In the small town of Worcester (only 300 voters), 4,622 militiamen from 37 surrounding communities lined both sides of Main Street and forced British-appointed officials to walk the gauntlet, hats in hand, reciting their recantations 30 times each so everyone could hear. There were no famous “leaders” for this event. The people elected representatives who served for one day only, the ultimate in term limits. “The body of the people” made decisions and the people decided that the old regime must fall.
And there is a lot more that complicates the events surrounding the Fourth of July and the Revolutionary War. Raphael notes:
‘Not one of the elementary or middle school texts [I reviewed] even mentions the genocidal Sullivan campaign, one of the largest military offensives of the war, which burned Iroquois villages and destroyed every orchard and farm in its path to deny food to Indians.’
For use with students, see “George Washington: An American Hero?” in Rethinking Columbus, published by Rethinking Schools. In an excerpt included in Rethinking Columbus, Washington wrote to Gen. John Sullivan on May 31, 1779:
‘The Expedition you are appointed to command is to be directed against the hostile tribes of the Six Nations of Indians, with their associates and adherents. The immediate objects are the total destruction and devastation of their settlements, and the capture of as many prisoners of every age and sex as possible. It will be essential to ruin their crops now in the ground and prevent their planting more. …
[P]arties should be detached to lay waste all the settlements around, with instructions to do it in the most effectual manner, that the country may not be merely overrun, but destroyed.’
Those are the orders of a war criminal.
Nor do texts mention the indigenous resistance movements of the 1780s in response to American “settler” expansion, which Raphael calls “the largest coalitions of Native Americans in our history.”
Included at the Zinn Education Project site is a link to a video of Danny Glover performing one of history’s most passionate denunciations of U.S. racism and hypocrisy, Frederick Douglass’ “The Meaning of July 4th for the Negro,” at one of Howard Zinn’s remarkable “The People Speak“ events. Douglass delivered the speech on July 5, 1852, in Rochester, New York, at a Declaration of Independence commemoration.
(I like this one better):
“Douglass delivered his speech four years after the United finished its war against Mexico to steal land and spread slavery, five years before the vicious Supreme Court Dred Scott decision, and nine years before the country would explode into civil war. His words call out through the generations to abandon the empty “shout of liberty and equality” on July 4, and to put away the fireworks and flags.”
In the Revolutionary Spirit, let’s call for this sort of Independence Day Proclamation:
End US Imperialism! Out of (re-purposed Cold War) NATO, out of AFRICOM; disband the CIA, NSA, and other NatSec acronyms. Bring all troops home from around the world; close all 1200-1800 US bases on every continent of the planet. With that Peace Dividend: treat every GI with the mental health services they request. Treat all Veterans, as well, as the VA says about 20 of them commit suicide daily. House them, feed them, give them any free education they’d like, as well as monthly stipends until they’re ready to cope with life again.
Melt down all weapons of war in situ, and turn them into ploughshares or other useful items. Pay war reparations as needed, and create a permanent Cabinet level Department of Peace and Diplomacy to replace US gunboat diplomacy. Disarm all nuclear weapons, and build no more!
Further: socialize the Federal Reserve, and break up big banks, and turn them all into Public Banks*; socialize BigPharma, health care, and reliable public transportation.
End policing as it is now by: calling for community policing with elected boards for oversight and hiring, which might include no veterans of war hired, ending the 1033 militarization of police program, and the psychological testing and deep background checks of all applicants.
End all US sanctions abroad now, and call for a global IMF debt Jubilee. Free all political prisoners, and decriminalize all drugs. Break up all media monopolies. Outlaw all GMOs, poisonous farming and gardening products.
Consider a call for a Constitutional Convention in order that it may be truly of the people, by the people, and for the people.
(Public schooling is a much longer subject, so I’ll end with that list for now.)
*The Public Banking Institute; Banking in the Public Interest
This is the trailer for my current favorite antiwar film: ‘Thank you for your service’
(cross-posted at caucus99percent.com)