The third installment in our series, A World Awash in Bullshit.
It seems like only a few years ago when many conservatives objected to what they called “revisionist history”. This was the practice by some scholars to portray historical figures and events “warts and all”. Many objected to a depiction of the founding fathers as anything less than god-like figures soaring above the fruited plain on the backs of giant bald eagles, or relations with indigenous people as anything other than mutually beneficial free trade and congenial Thanksgiving dinners.
My how times have changed. On Tuesday, the San Francisco Board of Education voted to paint down a mural series of George Washington painted in 1936 by Victor Arnautoff, a Russian-American artist. Commissioned by Roosevelt’s WPA, the mural depicted Washington as a slave owner and architect of military campaigns against the indigenous people of America. In other words, it told the uncomfortable truth at a time when most depictions of the father of our country exhibited a towering, heroic figure nobly crossing the Delaware. Unfortunately, this progressive minded group of San Francisco educators and artists find history too offensive to the delicate sensibilities of today’s students and members of the community, and want to see it erased all together.
Strange because the history of destroying art for ideological purposes is not pretty. The groups and movements that go around erasing history and culture they find offensive are not ones with which rational individuals would want to associate themselves. In the last century, the Russian Revolution, the Chinese Cultural Revolution and German National Socialists all engaged in widespread art destruction for ideological reasons. In more recent years, the Taliban and ISIS have destroyed countless religious and cultural artifacts. I guess you can’t argue that there isn’t plenty of historical precedent behind the actions of the SF BOE.
Supporters of the plan argue that the mural “traumatizes students” because it “glorifies slavery, genocide, colonization, manifest destiny, white supremacy, oppression.” That it “glorifies” none of these but instead draws attention to the ugly history of America’s founding has been well established by the artist, critics and historians. That the school board would level such a dishonest interpretation at the work to justify destroying it says that some public educators in our country exist in a state of willful self-delusion. How can we expect our children to learn the skills of critical thinking when they’re being instructed by educators for which political ideology is primary and rationality and reason must bow to it? Of course, maybe that’s the idea – critical thinking, independent reasoning, and skepticism aren’t valued by some educators.
SF school board members had the opportunity to preserve the work and simply cover it with a curtain, but instead chose to destroy it, citing their actions as “reparations”. As recently as 2010, the then principal of the school expressed pride in the murals and happiness at they’re being preserved. Apparently we’ve come a long way since the bad old days of 2010. Moral sensitivities have evolved exponentially and the pure of heart are now deciding that not only must we shield the timid souls of today from “dangerous” art, but future generations must also not be allowed to make up their own minds or formulate their own ideas about America’s problematic past.