THE AMERICAN Legislative Exchange Council recently issued its annual "Report Card on American Education." By a delicious irony, the report was sent out about the time those geniuses in Mississippi voted overwhelmingly to keep a Confederate logo on the state flag.
The council, based in Washington, is the nation's largest bipartisan, individual-membership association of state legislators, with nearly 2,400 members. Its report ranks each state by academic achievement. Anyone care to guess where, of 50 states and the District of Columbia, Mississippi ranked?
Bingo! Dead last, coming in at No. 51. Yes, even the folks in Washington, thought to have the nation's worst public schools, ranked ahead of Mississippi. Mind you, D.C. came in at No. 50, an embarrassment that doesn't stop its residents from clamoring for statehood. Half of them probably can't even spell statehood. But back to our Mississippi friends and their passion for the Confederate battle flag.
It's fitting that Mississippians chose to keep the emblem. A symbol representing a country, the Confederate States of America, that felt a certain pride in keeping its population ignorant should be on the flag of the country's most ignorant state.
In fact, it might do well to look at how the rest of the states that formed the old Confederacy did in the report. None of those 11 states finished in the top 25. The highest was Virginia, ranked No. 27. Then came Texas at 35, Florida at 38, North Carolina at 40, Arkansas at 42 and then Nos. 45 through 49 were Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina and Louisiana, respectively.
When the Confederate States of Bubbadom were formed in 1861, educating the populace was clearly not at the top of the agenda.
Apparently, not much has changed in the ensuing 140 years. When Confederate flag wavers claim they're proudly celebrating the history of their ancestors by their act, folks in places such as Iowa (No. 1), Maryland (No. 24) and New Jersey (No. 25) - where the residents aren't too bright but still smarter than residents of the Bubba states - have to ask: pride in what?
The Confederacy was one of the most backward, repressive and ignorant countries that ever existed. Its most flagrant sin was the perpetuation of chattel slavery, which latter-day Confederate flag-wavers excuse by claiming that most whites in the South didn't own slaves.
They say it with pride, but that's nothing to be proud of. Most whites in the antebellum South were poor, illiterate and uneducated, as were most of the black slaves. The disparity in wealth was so great that few could own slaves. That made the South not a democracy but an oligarchy. It wasn't a noble experiment in participatory democracy and racial brotherhood, as today's Confederate flag-wavers claim. For the slaves, it was a police state. For free blacks and poor whites, it wasn't much better.
Still, those rubes in Mississippi - and their fellow Confederate flag-lovers elsewhere - will swear that the old South was a paradise, an idyllic place of happy nigras serving kindly massas mint juleps. Or, since they persist in living in denial about the South's horrid racial history, neo-Confederates will claim that the Confederacy's war against the Union was a heroic defense of states' rights. The states' rights to do what, exactly?
To keep large numbers of its citizens in illiteracy and ignorance, to name just one of those dubious "rights." The Confederate battle flag is thus a fitting symbol for Mississippi, as well as its sister Southern states, judging by their poor-to-mediocre academic performances.
You would think that today's Mississippians, blacks and whites, would say, "To hell with the Confederate flag. Let's raise our educational level." Barring a mass migration of brainiacs to the state, that's not likely to happen in the near future.
Black and white Mississippians will continue to fight the old battles, not realizing that, if they win the old ones, they haven't won much and haven't even begun to fight the new one.
And the new one, for all Americans - black, white, Asian, Hispanic, Native American, Northerners and Southerners - is education.
Our students are woefully behind those of other industrialized nations in math and science. Visit Europe, and you'll find most students there learning at least two foreign languages. American students struggle with English. Ask the average Mississippian to describe God, and he'll paint a picture of a drawling, moonshine-swigging, good ol' boy whose native tongue is Americanese.
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and other black organizations should abandon the fight against the Confederate battle flag.
If its wavers want to live in a past marked by violence, ignorance and repression, let them. More progressive-thinking Americans have more important battles to fight.
© 2001 by The Baltimore Sun