Alternative Facts, Civil War Edition

Much as everyone got a great laugh, and continues to enjoy the emanations and penumbras of Kellyanne Conway’s “alternative facts” excuse to Chuck Todd, there’s still the admonition of George Santayana to deal with.

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

When it comes to America’s past, the Civil War was kind of a big deal. And the losers carried this flag into battle:

TRIGGER WARNING: If you are desperately seeking something to be outraged about, and want to pretend it causes you trauma, you’re about to see it.

No, it was not the official flag of the Confederate States of America, but it’s the flag popularly associated with the South in the War of Northern Aggression. See what I did there? And like it or not, the Civil War happened. But should it be taught? Like in, oh, history class?

Woody Hart, 70, taught history at the Sutter Middle School in Folsom, California.  In a class on the civil war, Hart displayed the Confederate flag to middle schoolers in his history class along with the union flag.  That educational display reportedly led to Hart being forced into retirement.

At the age of 70, there is a good chance that Woody Hart is out of touch with current trends, particularly the peculiar sensitivities of the socially just. Then again, he’s probably been teaching middle schoolers for a while, and might be a bit closer to them than those who protect children’s delicate sensibilities from imputed or self-diagnosed Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, which will require a lifetime of therapy, three times a week.

This wasn’t Hart’s first transgression.

The teacher, Woody Hart, told his eighth-grade class, “When you hang one black person, you have to hang them all (as) that is equality,” according to a complaint filed by the family of Tyler McIntyre, 13.

Tyrie McIntyre said the Nov. 2 episode involving his son occurred during class discussion of a test on the U.S. Constitution. During the lesson, one student asked for a definition of equality, prompting a discussion and the analogy.

Neither context nor intent mattered, as far as the parent or school principal were concerned, and so Hart was given a stern talking-to. And then he went and did it again by showing students the flag when teaching about the Civil War. What was he thinking?

We recognize that regardless of context, to many of our students, families, and staff, the Confederate flag is a racist symbol of hate. Although this matter is under investigation, it is important to reiterate: Any employee who is found to engage in behavior that creates an unsafe environment for students will face full consequences, including the possibility of initiating termination proceedings.

In this case, the flag — which was found across the room from a Civil War Union flag, potentially in preparation of a history activity — was removed from the classroom before school began today. It is our schools’ responsibility to provide a safe learning environment for all children.

As Turley notes, context does matter. Or it should, given that this was a history class and Hart was teaching historical fact.

That some argue that the flag shouldn’t bother anybody, whether emblazoned on the top of a car or on a pole in South Carolina, fails the smell test. It’s not merely a symbol of southern pride, no matter how strongly you want to believe so. It’s a symbol of slavery. It’s nothing to be proud of, and as much as it was popularly accepted by good ol’ boys, the argument that it is properly offensive shouldn’t be controversial.

This isn’t to say you don’t have free speech, and if you want to be that jerk who flies the flag on your pickup, knock yourself out. But you brand yourself by doing so.

But that doesn’t change the fact that the flag existed and was flown by confederate soldiers going into battle. Unless, of course, you favor alternative facts, where the flag ceases to be a part of historical fact.

This is the divorce of context from fact, the elevation of politically correct sensibilities over reality. And it’s a trend that has manifested in ways that not only make no sense, but are every bit as “alternative” as that hysterically ridiculous quote from Kellyanne Conway that makes progressives roll on the floor laughing their ass off.

Consider the eradication of the word “master” at Yale to refer to the person in charge of a dorm. It had nothing to do with slavery, but was derived from the Brits’ use at Oxford. But it was the same word, so it had to be eliminated because it was traumatic. No, the word wasn’t so critical to Yale (and all the other colleges that used it and have since removed it) that it was worth a huge fight, but killing words, removing them from context and ignoring their derivation to arrive at the most childish conclusion, isn’t good. Without words, without definitions, we’re deep into Orwell territory.

But Woody Hart’s job was to teach middle schoolers history. Teaching kids is a good thing, right? Especially to those of you hating on Betsy DeVos. And how is one to teach history if the use of historical fact is off limits?

So laugh about alternative facts all you want, but bear in mind that yours are no better than anyone else’s. The confederate battle flag is a fact. So too is lynching. History is replete with unpleasant facts that will suffice for those desperately seeking a reason to be outraged over their hurt feelings. Without them, history is a lie. That’s your alternative facts.

49 thoughts on “Alternative Facts, Civil War Edition

  1. RollieB

    My only quibble with this erudite piece of writing is, “At the age of 70, there is a good chance that Woody Hart is out of touch with current trends, particularly the peculiar sensitivities of the socially just.”

    What about being over 70 makes someone out of touch with current trends, especially social justice issues? You just wait, Buster, you should be so lucky!

      1. Jim Tyre

        Why did you let him steal my line?

        And I think I like self-disordered Post Traumatic Stress Disorder better than self-diagnosed.

    1. Jim

      Heresy! That crime is eligible for the death penalty.

      Once the Battle Flag of the Army of Northern Virginia was adopted by white supremacists it was all over for the Snowflake Club of America.

  2. Keith

    Has anyone complained about kids learning about “slavery” in their safe space, yet?

    Sounded pretty traumatic when they taught it to me.

  3. jim ryan

    Oh great, Godwin’s Law wasn’t enough, now we have “Greenfield’s Law”:
    Any mention of an unpleasant Historical FACT (go ahead, pick on the CAPITALIZATION) in any context whatsoever will result in the ridicule, firing, demotion, forced retirement of the mentioner no matter the context.
    (This is especially true where the Confederate Battle Flag is involved.
    And this is especially true where [FILL-IN-THE-BLANK] is involved).

  4. Brady Curry

    Q: Who was President during the Civil War?
    A: Jefferson Davis.

    It’s all about your point of view. Some folks don’t see the problem with the CSA flag while others do. I’ve never flown it myself as it makes me uncomfortable. But to not allow the proper teaching of history in the name of political correctness is a disservice to all.

  5. Paleo

    “OK, class. Today we’re going to learn about the American Civil War. Prior to 1865, there were people in an area of the United States that were doing a Bad Thing. In 1860, President Lincoln was elected, and he wanted to stop these Bad People from doing this Bad Thing. The Bad People did a second bad thing by wanting to leave and start their own country. The Civil War was fought to make the Bad People stay and stop doing both Bad Things. And that’s the American Civil War”

    “Now we’re going to learn about Reconstruction. Remember the Bad People from the Civil War?…..”

    For what it’s worth, there’s a student from the school posting in the comments section of the article putting context (yeah, I know) on the lynching quote. Apparently Woody was using that phrase to represent Southerners’ idea of equality in the 1800s. The student in the comments section thinks that the student that complained simply wasn’t paying attention in class.

    But understanding things is a lot less satisfying than sweet, sweet outrage.

    1. Neil Holmes

      If Lincoln wouldn’t have ordered to conscript a whole army too illegally occupy a sovereign state the war wouldn’t have happened and if you remember Lincoln said if he could keep the country together with abolishing slavery or he would without doing it slavery was quickly becoming obsolete and would have ended on its own without all the bloodshed, the largest majority of confederate soldiers who fought and died never had slaves and we’re fighting what they seen as northern aggression against their home states abolition was just a battle cry for the North to rally the cause because they were getting their ass kicked before shiloh

      1. SHG Post author

        Whenever someone takes a half step toward the rabbit hole, someone else will feel the uncontrollable need to take a huge leap and tell them why they’re wrong, even though it has nothing to do with the issue at hand. You’re that person.

        1. Patrick Maupin

          Whenever someone responds to a quasi-functional illiterate with a literary reference…

          Oh, fuck it.

  6. wilbur

    So if Teach had displayed the actual flag of the CSA, instead of the battle flag, would any of this have surfaced? Or is it just the Stars and Bars that’s evocative of feelz?

    Growing up in small-town Midwest decades ago, whenever I saw a Rebel flag I just assumed the message intended was “I hate n_________s”, because those displayers I knew personally held exactly that opinion, Thankfully, they were few and far between.

    Years later I’m told that it’s merely a proud expression of Southern heritage. OK, riiiiight. Whatever paints your wagon, friend. But please don’t ignore that it is hurtful – really hurtful – to the descendants of slaves.

    1. Dick Taylor

      Why is it “really hurtful” to third- and fourth-generation (in 2017) descendants of Civil War slaves? At what point is the connection tenuous enough that the hurt ceases, and is it all at once, or more of a continuous pain scale?

      Or is it more that “hurts descendants of slaves” sounds somehow noble, while “brings back bitter memories of rednecks I knew personally”, while far more accurate, seems less empowered and more petty?

      1. SHG Post author

        Or a more intermediate position, that it reminds black people that there are still white who may not (or may) be openly racists, but either don’t like them for the color of their skin or don’t care enough of them as human beings to give a damn about the implications of the flag to blacks?

        But does it really matter how we characterize it? It’s a really shitty thing to do, and knowing that, there’s no good reason to do it except to be a shitty person. Is not being shitty not a good enough reason?

        1. Dick Taylor

          Of course it’s a good enough reason. In fact, it’s a much better reason than to avoid hurting feelings of abstract “descendants of slaves”, because it’s immediate and personal, and not noble in the slightest. I’m always suspicious of noble motives involving hypothetical people. Personal character flaw, I guess.

      2. elain

        I can’t think of a more polite way to rephrase your response. I do agree with you. Respectfully I hope SHG will consider your point.

        1. SHG Post author

          I don’t disagree with DT, but don’t think it’s necessary to characterize it as a binary choice of one extreme or the other.

  7. libarbarian

    War of Northern Aggression?

    Do you mean the War of General Sherman’s Righteous Pimp-Hand With Which He Slapped the Shit Out of Degenerate Slave-holding Rats?

  8. Steve H

    Since my new latex geek suit just arrived from Amazon, I’ll take a crack at dissenting with your premise that Mr. Hart did nothing wrong.

    A middle-school classroom is not a museum, and actual artifacts of human evil that are appropriate in one don’t necessarily belong in the other.

    Had Mr. Hart confined his teaching aids to mere images of the Confederate battle flag, briefly shown and discussed in an appropriate middle-school lecture context, that would been very different than displaying the damned thing, and asking potentially vulnerable *young* children to sit in front of it.

    Argumentum ad absurdum, might Mr. Hart teach about reconstruction whilst garbed in KKK regalia? Dress kids in manacles, whips, and picking bags while teaching about slavery? Burn a cross in class? Run the swastika flag up the old maypole for WWII week?

    Images of these things are legitimate and necessary teaching aids, but the potential meaning and emotional content of their physical manifestation goes well beyond a valid, well judged teaching effort.

    Now…where did I put my new ball gag…

  9. Nyx

    ” It’s not merely a symbol of southern pride, no matter how strongly you want to believe so. It’s a symbol of slavery. ”

    To me, the Confederate flag does symbolize slavery, but that’s never going to be a compelling argument against displaying it, any more than telling people that the US flag symbolizes imperialism and racism. To the people displaying it, it doesn’t represent slavery, and your opinion on it is of no more relevance than the opinion of Iranians or Russians on the meaning of the US flag.

    1. SHG Post author

      You are absolutely right that my opinion on it means no more than anyone else’s, and people certainly have a right to express themselves by displaying it. If my reasoning for my opinion is persuasive, then it’s the reasons, not the opinion, that matters. Each of us has to reach our own conclusion.

  10. Rick

    What about the American flag? It flew over slavery for over 89 years? Let’s also not forget the 100 years of Jim Crow laws either. The Confederate Naval Battle Flag is just a footnote to that history. Every Colonial state had slaves and at one point NY state was the second largest slave state in America. Delaware didn’t pass a law against slavery until 1901!

    1. SHG Post author

      How many times must I explain how logic works. Arguing that someone else is ugly too doesn’t make you not ugly. So is it your purpose to conclusively prove you’re incapable of logical thought?

    1. SHG Post author

      That’s a kinda key point: we don’t teach slavery as a “how to” course, but so that students learn its horrors.

      1. Jeff Gamso

        Except they’re already traumatized by it. No need to teach. (And really, can you even say “slavery”?)

        The error is in continuing to think that we, as a society, want to educate kids rather than simply provide certificates declaring that they’re trained and employable. After all, education leads to thought, and thought is dangerous.

  11. B. McLeod

    Sometimes that flag just means the property owner/occupant is generally defiant of authority and/or has a still running in the shed.

    1. elain

      I believe that’s the case far more often than not, but as a white lady of the north, my point of view may come from the absurdity of anyone judging people by skin color. I can only have sympothy for their feelings, but can’t walk in their shoes.

  12. Frank Miceli

    One moment while I brace myself for your riposte. Ok–I’m ready.

    Concerning “alternative facts,” a minute of sifting through the Progressive expressions of outrage reveals quite clearly that what Conway meant by her unhappy phrase was “alternative information.” As in: you, Mr. interlocutor, are estimating crowd size on the Mall. Those are your facts. Press Secretary Spicer was estimating crowd size world-wide. Those were his facts. Hence, “alternative facts.”

    Let ‘er rip!

    1. SHG Post author

      When you start and end by being passive aggressive, it’s hard to give a shit about what’s in the middle when it sounds like its coming from a pre-emptively butthurt 12-year-old.

      That was Spicer’s post hoc rationalization, and it’s not a bad one. If that’s what Conway meant, she should have said so instead of offering no explanation and, instead, said “alternate facts,” a horrible phrase for a flack, in its place.

      1. Frank Miceli

        Passive aggressive for sure. I have to make my point by subterfuge because you make the rules and the rules are all to your advantage. My point? Among others, that despite your having a measure of intellectual firepower, the fact that your responses so often consist of blustery, vulgar name calling betrays a fundamental lack of imagination. Indulging a choleric temperament adds nothing to the quality of your arguments.

        1. SHG Post author

          No one forces you to read here or comment here. Did that not occur to you? So your attempt to rationalize your passive aggressiveness is bullshit. Either man up or don’t come here. Problem solved.

          1. Sgt. Schultz

            This is disappointing. Did he really drop it after your reply? I would have bet money that he was the sort of butthurt baby that was good for at least ten more whines. How pathetic.

            1. SHG Post author

              There was one more, but I was busy trying to keep SJ from going down and didn’t have the time or interest in playing with another narcissistic fruitcake.

  13. I.M Bitch

    There are hundreds of positions open in the Trump Administration. You are your lot are perfectly qualified if not marginally aligned with the dogma that is peddled there. When I think of bloated gas bags who think they are morally and intellectually superior you and Steve Bannon come to mind.

    Look into it.

    1. SHG Post author

      Despite your typical hiding behind a phony email and nym, I’ve decided to post your comment to make a point. Neutrality and intellectual honesty look like the enemy to the psychotic fringe, whether left or right. You prove the point. Well done.

      1. RICHARD KOPF

        SHG,

        Admit it! You made up the “I.M Bitch” comment ’cause you enjoy bitch slapping and didn’t have one handy. If on the other hand, the comment is real, we are truly fucked.

        All the best.

        RGK

  14. David Meyer-Lindenberg

    What I’d like to see, just once, is an educator claiming that *not* exposing kids to basic facts about the nation’s history creates an “unsafe environment.” As the president’s critics keep telling us, ignorance is dangerous.

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