The following letter to the editor, written by libertarian activist Elliot Fladen, an occasional blogger for The Colorado Independent, defends a Facebook posting by Pam Mazanec, a state Board of Education member. Mazanec wrote that she wanted high school students taught more about U.S. exceptionalism, including her view that the United States should be lauded for ending slavery “voluntarily.” Mazanec so far has refused to elaborate on her comment to The Independent, but has agreed to an interview Monday.
[dropcap]O[/dropcap]n Thursday, October 2, 2014, The Colorado Independent ran an article entitled “State Board of Ed member: ‘U.S. ended slavery voluntarily’.” The article focused in on the following comment made by State Board member Pam Mazanec: “[y]es, we practiced slavery. But we also ended it voluntarily, at great sacrifice.” The article painted this statement as an “outright misrepresentation of history” that was “racially ignorant at best or… racially disingenuous at worst.”
The problem with this article is simple: Mazanec’s statement, while inartfully made, was still accurate when one takes an unbiased look at what Mazanec was trying to say. The article’s framing of Mazanec as a purported ignoramus of history hinges on the fact that Mazanec stated that the United States gave up slavery “voluntarily.” However, whether that statement is inaccurate depends on what Mazanec meant by “voluntarily.” Black’s Law Dictionary defines “Voluntary” as “without compulsion.” While various states such as Georgia, South Carolina, and Alabama were “compelled” to give up Slavery, the United States as a whole most definitely was not. Neither Great Britain nor any other country “compelled” this nation to fight the Civil War and enact the Thirteenth Amendment to our Constitution. This Country chose to do so without foreign intervention and as such terming it as “voluntarily” would not be an inaccurate view.
Moreover, that Mazanec in the same quoted sentence specifically stated that the United States ended slavery “at great sacrifice” is nearly conclusive evidence that she did not forget that “[t]he United States engaged in a civil war to end slavery” as the article suggests. What would be the “great sacrifice” that the United States engaged in to end slavery if not the civil war? The only reasonable interpretation of Mazanec’s remarks is that the “great sacrifice” she discussed was the Civil War. And because Mazanec’s “great sacrifice” statement clearly refers to the Civil War, the only reasonable interpretation of her use of “voluntarily” would be that she meant it to be interpreted as “without foreign intervention”. Thus, the proper reading of Mazanec’s statement is as follows: “we also ended it voluntarily [without foreign intervention], at great sacrifice [by fighting the civil war]”.
The Colorado Independent, in its rush to paint Mazanec as incompetent, failed to even raise this patently obvious interpretation of her statement which would have shown her statement to be historically accurate. How The Colorado Independent could fail to do this basic task while going through the trouble of getting quotes from multiple individuals seeking to tear Mazanec down becomes an interesting question. A clue to the possible answer perhaps can be found in the following quote of the article: “[s]he shouldn’t be on the education board”, which is followed by this:
[Mazanec’s] criticism of the new AP U.S. history curriculum comes as the Jefferson County School Board made national and international news for proposing to review the AP instructional material and, as suggested by school board member Julie Williams, with an eye to replace it with a curriculum that avoids encouraging “civil disorder, social strife or disregard of the law,” and instead promotes positive aspects of the nation’s history. Students and teachers have walked out in protest.
Mazanec’s Facebook post admonishing the AP and college level history courses that “downplay our noble history and accentuate the negative view” suggests she’s in-line with Williams’s agenda.
In other words, The Colorado Independent’s article seems to be an attempt to create a so-called “conservative war on education” and thereby attempt to tip the 2014 Colorado elections towards Democratic victory. While politicizing statements is nothing new, one would hope that attempts by The Colorado Independent would at least be done with an honest presentation of any statement they used. Using Mazanec’s statements, in the manner this article did, was disingenuous and unfair. As such, The Colorado Independent owes Mazanec an apology.