Texas Reader - Curious Drams of Texas History and Culture

Update on the DIVERSE Alamo Defenders September 16 2018

Posted at 20:13 • 16 Sept • Michelle M. Haas

A Dumb Solution to a Dumber Problem

I wrote last week about the proposed efforts to remove the word "heroic" from Texas history curriculum to describe the Alamo defenders. Many of you reached out to Board of Education reps and some to the Work Group members who suggested the changes in the first place. You shared your letters with me and reading them was a profound experience. Texans from all regions, ages and walks of life - from DRT members to newly adopted Texans - homemakers, physicians, Texas history teachers - all treated the Alamo defenders as family and spoke up. Some of those letters moved me to tears. I'm grateful to all of you for your heart and your concern.

So what's the verdict?

We were heard and we did good! The Board chair had to put her email on an auto-responder because of the flood of emails.

The good news: After the public hearing on September 11, the Board held a PRELIMINARY vote and voted unanimously to keep the Travis letter and the word "heroic." Newspaper and online media headlines declared that "heroic" will stay. Even Senator Cruz and Gov. Abbott applauded the final decision. But it isn't the final decision. The final vote is not until November, and we need to remain vigilant about this until the final vote takes place. It ain't over til it's over.

The bad news: In order to cram some political correctness in, any which way, it was suggested that the Alamo defenders be described thusly: "...the heroism of the diverse defenders who gave their lives there." This entire streamlining process was about removing extraneous junk from the curriculum, so much so that Travis' letter was almost lost. But now we can teach Alamo heroism, as long as it's diverse.

Why? Because it's 2018. God forbid we not check the white privilege of men who died 182 years ago in a garrison where Anglos outnumbered Tejanos 17 to 1. The defenders don't become magically more diverse if we add the pet word of postmodernists to the curriculum. We can't go back in time and morph David Crockett into Dave Cortez. It is what it is, and it wasn't particularly diverse.

Here's an interesting exercise. Let's take a look at what diversity looks like to Work Group E - the group who made the recommendations to remove Travis' letter, and to those who offered advice to them. They reviewed the seventh grade curriculum and struck through "heroic" as a value-charged word, yet when they reviewed the eighth grade curriculum....

If you've never heard of William Carney or Philip Bazaar, don't worry, you're not dumb. Of the 1,500 Congressional Medals of Honor given out for service in the Civil War, these two heroes were chosen for our curriculum some time ago. By the Board's standards, it's okay to call them heroes because they were "diversity hires," so to speak. Sgt. Carney was the first black man to receive the Medal. Bazaar was a Chilean immigrant who received the award for valor as a Union seaman.

The Alamo defenders were, essentially, too white to be heroic. I know, I know...this is not a popular sentiment to express publicly. Living in a time where everything is about race is exhausting. I didn't want this to be about race, but the evidence has stacked itself that way. In the coming days and weeks, I will tell you about what esteemed professors in Aggieland and at UT have to say about this.

In the meantime, please remember that this thing isn't over until November. A lot can change between now and then.

In Defense of Alamo Heroism September 10 2018

In Defense of Alamo Heroism

Posted at 4:38 • 10 Sept • Michelle M. Haas

Given the chance, would you have defended the Alamo?

Hemmed in within its decrepit walls for two weeks, with the enemy flying a flag of no-quarter. Knowing that you were outnumbered 10 to 1, out-gunned, under-supplied, famished and exhausted, would you?

Knowing that reinforcements, if they came, wouldn’t level the playing field at all, would you?

Knowing that the enemy was led there by a capricious dictator who showed up personally to teach your crew a lesson...would you have stood on those walls and delivered?

History-changing valorous opportunities don’t present themselves to the average civilian much these days. So I guess I’ll never know. Maybe my knees would have buckled. Maybe yours would have, too. I have a question...were the men at the Alamo heroes? Did they do anything heroic?

These are no longer rhetorical questions.

Before I go whole hog on this and make you as irate as I am, let’s take a quick look at the applicable definition of “hero,” per Merriam-Webster, for clarity’s sake. “One who shows great courage.” Got it. Now let’s compare that definition to the words of William Barret Travis, who, according to both Texian & Mexican accounts, did precisely what he said he was going to do in his famous "Victory or Death" letter:

The enemy has demanded a surrender at discretion, otherwise, the garrison are to be put to the sword, if the fort is taken—I have answered the demand with a cannon shot, & our flag still waves proudly from the walls—I shall never surrender or retreat.…I am determined to sustain myself as long as possible & die like a soldier who never forgets what is due to his own honor & that of his country—Victory or Death.

Today it is our duty to fight for the Alamo defenders. Today we have the honor to stand for what’s right. The desperate vultures of political correctness have descended upon the men of the Alamo, and now threaten to take away the best word that we learn from the story of the Shrine of Texas Liberty: “heroic.”

Kids need heroes. Boys especially. Always. This is never negotiable. In a society where fathers are increasingly absent, our boys turn to peers, musicians, actors, athletes, even failed NFL quarterbacks who feign moral outrage for money. We have Nike in our faces, telling our kids that this loser is a hero. Seems counterintuitive to remove actual heroes from the classrooms, then, right?

In Texas, our kids are required to take Texas History in the 7th grade. Why? Because we want our kids to grow up to be Texans! That means different things to different people, but at the heart of it lies a strong sense of place, an independent spirit, and the desire to stand for what’s right. It means we all learn to stand on that wall and deliver, in one way or another, regardless of our path in life. We learn that when we learn about the Alamo.

Texas history is full of larger-than-life heroes, twisted villains, and Average Joes. And the Alamo was full of heroic men.

There is presently a push to strip them of that well-earned descriptor. In an effort to streamline the curriculum—devote more time to other standardized test topics—an advisory panel has suggested the State Board of Education remove “heroic” as a way to describe the Alamo defenders to students. The rationale was that it is a “value charged word.”

They also wanted to remove Travis’ letter as required learning. To devote those 90 minutes to something else, they propose ditching the document and stripping the heroism from 187 men who fought to the death in defense of the Alamo.

(After word got out about the possible changes, the Travis letter was reinstated because the public objected to such a stupid move. “Informal public feedback” was how they officially worded it.)

The panel who made the suggestions is comprised of 8 Texas social studies teachers, “coordinators,” and “specialists” selected by the Board of Education. Per the streamlining guidelines, posted on the Texas Education Agency’s website, “Feedback will be accepted in response to work group drafts throughout the streamlining process.”

So, while this anti-heroism travesty may not have originated with the 8 members of Work Group E, they chose to allow it in their recommendations and have opted to keep it there. If you’d like their names and home districts, I’d be happy to provide them. Just let me know.

The same panel of eight also reviewed the 8th grade social studies curriculum. There, they found to two gentlemen from the Civil War era -- William Carney, a black Union sergeant; and Philip Bazaar, a Chilean-born Union seaman. Work Group E considered removing these two little-known men, but decided there was "strong rationale" for keeping them in as required learning. Only one problem: Carney and Bazaar are described as "heroes" in the curriculum. The Work Group apparently doesn't think that word is value-charged when it comes to obscure historical figures, so long as they satisfy certain intersectional requirements. Our kids deserve better than politically correct double standards such as these.

The Board of Education will vote on whether or not to accept the Work Group’s recommendations in November. Between now and then, we need to raise our voices and let the Board know that we LIKE that “heroic” is a value-charged word because we LIKE values. Let them know the definition of a hero and that the men of the Alamo embody that definition. And lastly, remind them that they are elected.

The State Board of Education has a public hearing on the changes scheduled for Tuesday, September 11. This hearing will ironically be held at the Capitol’s William B. Travis Building, Room 1-104 around 9 a.m. Each member of the public gets 2 minutes to speak. If you can’t make it to Austin on Tuesday, you can contact the Board of Education member that represents your area. Member emails and phone numbers can be found HERE.

Come and Take It September 10 2018

You've probably heard the story of the Gonzales cannon and the Come and Take It flag, but many versions are second or third-hand and have been mythologized to some extent.

But Noah Smithwick, blacksmith, Indian trader, Texas Ranger, was actually on the scene and has left us a report:

"...we laid off our packs and hurried on to Gonzales, the initial point of attack, to help repel the Mexicans, whose only ostensible purpose proved to be the recovery of an old cannon which the citizens had borrowed from the garrison at San Antonio some time before to defend the place against Indians, and which was practically useless, having been spiked and the spike driven out, leaving a touch-hole the size of a man's thumb.

Its principal merit as a weapon of defense, therefore, lay in its presence and the noise it could make, the Indians being very much afraid of cannon. But it was the match that fired the mine, already primed and loaded.

Before we reached Gonzales the Mexican soldiers arrived on the opposite side of the river, which they did not attempt to cross, and made a formal demand for the cannon.

Useless as it was, the Texans not only refused to surrender it, but crossed over and put the Mexicans to flight.

It was our Lexington, though a bloodless one, save that a member of the "awkward squad" took a header from his horse, thereby bringing his nasal appendage into such intimate association with Mother Earth as to draw forth a copious stream of the sanguinary fluid.

I can not remember that there was any distinct understanding as to the position we were to assume toward Mexico. Some were for independence; some for the constitution of 1824; and some for anything, just so it was a row. But we were all ready to fight.

Our plan was to rush on to San Antonio, capture the garrison before it could get reinforcements, and then - on to Mexico and dictate terms of peace in the capital of the Montezumas.

The Sowells had a blacksmith shop at Gonzales, and, being a gunsmith, I set to work to help put the arms in order. There was no coal, so some of the boys were set to burning charcoal.

We brushed the old cannon (an iron six-pounder), scoured it out, and mounted it on old wooden trucks - transverse sections of trees with holes in the centers, into which were inserted wooden axles - and christened it "the flying artillery," making merry over it as if it were some holiday sport we were planning for.

We had no ammunition for our "artillery," so we cut slugs of bar iron and hammered them into balls; ugly looking missiles they were I assure you, but destined to "innocuous desuetude," as I shall relate in due course.

We were going to do things in style, so we formed a company of lancers and converted all the old files about the place into lances, which we mounted on poles cut in the river bottom.

While some were busy with the arms and ammunition, others were devising a flag. I cannot say who designed it nor who executed the design, as that was not in my department, and history is silent on the subject.

Hubert Bancroft devotes some space to the origin of the Lone Star flag. Had he consulted me, I could have given him a pointer, for to my certain knowledge the first Lone Star flag used in the revolution was gotten up at Gonzales for Austin's army and consisted of a breadth of white cotton cloth about six feet long, in the center of which was painted in black a picture of the old cannon, above it a lone star and beneath it the words, "Come and take it," a challenge which was lost on the Mexicans.

It was not called the Lone Star, however, but the Old Cannon flag."