Textbooks and the Southern Tradition

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as far back as there are written records, each generation has been
trained in the wisdom of the culture. In ancient Egypt, the copybook
served as the priestly students’ summary of the tradition. Kipling’s
poem, “The
Gods of the Copybook Headings
” (1919), is an eloquent testimony
to the power of the copybook in times past, and also to the truths
that modern man has forgotten by substituting textbooks for copybooks.

The textbook is the reigning elite’s means of establishing a common
world-and-life view among the young. What the textbook contains
is not so important as what it leaves out. It leaves out evidence
of rival views. The textbook creates an illusion that there is common
agreement regarding the received tradition beyond the carefully
selected committee that screened the manuscripts. But, over time,
the textbook tradition becomes the received tradition. This is why
the Web and the home school movement today offer the first significant
challenge to the textbook tradition — a challenge based on that
most uprooting, anti-establishment free market force, price competition.

The war for the minds of the next generation has been more carefully
laid out by textbook committees than by any consortium or conspiratorial
meeting behind closed doors. The textbook committees control by


In 1883, Lester Frank Ward, the father of American central planning,
laid down the fundamental principle of the public school textbook.
In his manifesto, Dynamic
, he described what the Darwinian elite —
scientific, political educational — had to do in order to shape
the minds of future generations.

He began with a crucial admission: coercion does not work, at least
not conventional coercion. “No law, no physical coercion, from whichever
code or from whatever source, can compel the mind to discover principles
or invent machines. . . . To influence such action, other means
must be employed.” This is because men act in terms of their opinions,
“and without changing those opinions it is wholly impossible perceptibly
to change such conduct.” Here is the planners’ task: “Instill progressive
principles, no matter how, into the mind, and progressive actions
will result.” (II, p. 547).

But there are deep-seated barriers to progressive principles. “The
attempt to change opinions by direct efforts has frequently been
made. No one will now deny that coercion applied to this end has
been a signal failure.” Is there some answer to this dilemma? Can
the planner find a way to alter men’s opinions without using coercion?
Yes, he said: the planner must restrict access to competing ideas.
No one has put it more bluntly than Ward. He called his approach
the method of exclusion.

is one way, however, in which force may and does secure, not a
change of existing opinion, but the acceptance of approved beliefs;
but this, so far from weakening the position here taken, affords
a capital defense of it. The forcible suppression of the utterance
or publication in any form of unwelcome opinions is equivalent
to withholding from all undetermined minds the evidence upon which
such views rest; and, since opinions are rigidly the products
of the data previously furnished the mind, such opinions cannot
exist, because no data for them have ever been received. . . .
It is simply that true views may as easily be created by this
method of exclusion as false ones, which latter is the point of
view from which the fact is usually regarded. The more or less
arbitrary exclusion of error, i.e., of false data, is to a great
degree justifiable, especially where the true data supplied consist
of verified experiences, and all the means of re-verifying them
are left free. But the same end is practically attained by the
intentional supply, on a large scale and systematically carried
out, of true data without effort to exclude the false. This, however,
is the essence of what is here meant by education, which may be
regarded as a systematic process for the manufacture of correct
opinions. As such, it is of course highly inventive in its character,
and the same may be said of all modes of producing desired belief
by the method of exclusion (II, pp. 547-48).

The public schools guarantee that competing data are excluded. “Assume
an adequate system of education to be in force, and the question
of the quantity and quality of knowledge in society is no longer
an open one” (II, p. 549).

Ward’s plan was implemented. To say that it has been successful
is to acknowledge the obvious. This fact was brought home to me
forcefully on April 23.


April 23, I attended a funeral of a member of my local congregation.
She had been a founding member, attending a Bible study before a
pastor even showed up to start a church. Virginia Tidball was a
lifelong resident of Fayetteville, Arkansas.

She was among the very last of an old tradition: a staunch Southern
Presbyterian of the old school. By that, I mean the Old School.
That was what her wing was called. It was the Scottish Calvinist
wing of the American church. Its last institutional traces disappeared
in the 1940’s in the South. In the North, the last of the Old School
ministers had been forced out in 1936. On June 15, for the last
time, an article on the Presbyterian theological conflict appeared
on the front page of the New York Times. The headline announced:
“Barring of 3 Philadelphia Pastors Brings Walkout by Presbyterians.”
The same page announced: “G. K. Chesterton, Noted Author, Dies.”

When I say she was the last, I mean it. She was like a thread across
time to an ancient past. Her father had been a Southern Presbyterian
minister. He in turn had studied theology under Robert L. Dabney.
For most people, the name “Dabney” does not ring a bell. The textbook
writers have done their work well. Robert L. Dabney was the South’s
most respected Protestant theologian and the co-founder of the Southern
Presbyterian Church in 1861. (The founding meeting took place in
the home of Rev. Joseph Ruggles Wilson, who oversaw the Southern
Presbyterian Church, 1865-98, as Stated Clerk, and whose son Woodrow
went first into the field of higher education, then politics.) During
the war, Dabney served as both chaplain and aide de camp for Thomas
“Stonewall” Jackson. He later wrote a biography of Jackson. He was
so completely unreconstructed that in 1867, he allowed to be published
his book, written during the war, A Defence of Virginia [And
Through Her, of the South]. It included a vigorous defense of
slavery, which by 1867 was politically incorrect in the South. He
ended his career on the original faculty of the University of Texas,
teaching free market economics (still called political economy),
blind when he retired in 1894, and also teaching at a Presbyterian
seminary in Austin. He died in 1898.

Virginia Tidball was born in 1904, the same year that the last major
party candidate for President openly supported the gold standard,
the long-forgotten Alton B. Parker, whose defeat by Teddy Roosevelt
ended the Old Democracy, seemingly forever. But there were remnants,
and Virginia Tidball was one of them.

They still tell the story of the time that John Duncan, the mathematics
teacher from Scotland, ended the music portion of the worship service
by having the congregation sing “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.”
After the service, Miss Tidball told him: “I forgive you, for you
are not a native of this country.” Whether or not she was speaking
of the United States, no one had the courage to ask.

The world she left behind is a very different world from the one
she was born into. In the South, Dabney’s name is forgotten. The
textbook story of the late unpleasantness, 1861-65, is the victors’
story. The South adopted tax-funded education with a vengeance,
thereby turning the region’s children over to the New York textbook
publishers long before World War I. A New York-published and edited
U.S. history textbook provides a view of Southern history that is
as faithful to the facts as Joseph Ruggles’ son was faithful to
the Westminster Confession of Faith (1647), which he swore before
God that he believed when he became a ruling elder in the Northern
Presbyterian Church.


There are still holdouts for the state’s rights tradition of the
Old South. There always have been. But the textbooks overwhelmed
that legacy. The uniformity of education, provided first by the
textbooks, then by academic accreditation of the nation’s colleges,
has crushed regionalism. The textbook story of America leads to,
then flows from, Abraham Lincoln’s defense of the Union as a messianic

The South abandoned the state’s rights legacy when it concluded
after 1865 that the state has the right to educate children at taxpayer
expense. That surrender was vastly more significant in securing
the defeat of the Southern tradition than General Lee’s symbolic
transfer of his sword to General Grant at Appomattox Court House.
Grant allowed Lee to keep his sword. The South was not allowed to
keep its tradition.


North is the author of Mises
on Money
. To subscribe to his free
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2002 LewRockwell.com

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