The second big story over the course of the last week, at least for those of us living in Texas, was the convening of the State Board of Education to make decisions on what will and will not be included in public school textbooks. Some news reports stated that these meetings were also important for the rest of the country as the State of Texas is the largest purchaser of textbooks so textbook publishers lean toward satisfying Texas standards.
As you would imagine, the makeup of the state board is one of a conservative member majority. Despite all the hopefulness of the Democrats in Washington, D.C. that Texas is looking more purple in voting, Texas is still a very red state. And, with the rise of the Tea Party nationwide, Washington, D.C. is told that America is still a center-right country. I am heartened to read that the conservative ideas of, for instance, history textbook content won out over the slippery slope of revisionist history. My son graduated from a public high school in Houston and I was not pleased to see Howard Zinn's version of U.S. History on the required reading list. I think that revisionist history has led to the dumbing down of American students. It is a travesty.
I watched a movie this weekend that was released in 2007, Freedom Writers . It is the true story of a young woman, on her first teaching assignment in an inner city high school. She has the class that has been written off as low achievers, the students who may not graduate. She turns them around through the use of teaching them journaling and by personalizing history. The crescendo was, after realizing that these students had never heard of The Holocaust, much less studied about it, and arranging a field trip to the city's Holocaust museum. Then, the students had a dinner with concentration camp survivors. And, later, the students raised money to bring Miep Gies, the woman who protected Anne Frank's family in Amsterdam, to visit their class and talk to them about her experience. It is a moving story. Most of all, it shows that the students were hungry for a class led by a young teacher willing to do the work of making history come alive for the students. In this case, it was connecting the dots between the brutal regime of the Nazis and the gang culture these kids were living in.
The tendency now is for textbooks to sanitize history - to scrub out important events and people in the name of political correctness. Christopher Columbus? Thomas Jefferson? We are told what horrible people they were, not of their contributions. History is often the telling of brutal stories, true. It should, however, not outweigh the exceptional place our country has come to take in the world. Our short experiment in democracy, as a young nation, is truly worth knowing. We no longer honor our nation's 'father', George Washington, with his own day. Now we have President's Day that lumps his and Lincoln's days together.
Sometimes historical facts give way to dramatization, too. As in the case of Miep Gies, she corrected a scene in the prize winning drama of 1955 - The Diary of Anne Frank. In the dramatic version, the liberty was taken to include a telephone call to warn the Franks that they were about to be arrested. That call was never made or received. Was that inclusion necessary? Did it make the story better?
It is ok, even desirable, to be proud of our country. It is not productive to continue down the blame America and her leaders for all of the world's troubles path. This is educational negligence and our students suffer for it. Ignorance is not bliss. To paraphrase an old and wise saying, if we ignore history we are doomed to repeat it.
We hear Hollywood actors speak as though they are intellectual giants and not actors memorizing lines to make millions of dollars at the box office. Tom Hanks, who has done work for veterans and active military, succumbs to the dumbing down of America. In a recent interview he stated that during WWII, Americans killed Japanese because we hated them. This hatred, he said, came from them looking different from us. He made the connection from that to the current war on terrorism. In his reasoning, American soldiers kill those who wish to kill them because they look different than them. He implies it is based on racism. Why does he do that? He does that because it is a common liberal rationalism, that differing opinions from intellectual elitists comes from a root of racism. It is ridiculous and tiresome. And, it is far from intellectual in argument.