“An ignorance of history can prove fatal for any country. A narrow understanding that only reinforces biases and supports political factions is not much better. Americans need to know the entire story of who we have been — the good, the bad and the complex. That is how we perfect our union. That is how we make one nation from many.”
In the US, it’s often taught as a heroic struggle for freedom against the tyrannical British Empire, which was unfairly taxing the colonists without giving them representation in government (though in some high school classes, and certainly at the college level, it’s taught with more nuance).
But how is the American Revolution taught in the UK and in other countries around the world?
“This is how history is made — or rather, how the hue and cry of the present and near past gets lodged into the long-term cultural memory or else is allowed to quietly fade into an inaudible whisper. Public education has always been a battleground between cultural forces; one reason that Texas’ school-board members find themselves at the very center of the battlefield is, not surprisingly, money.”
“Since Egypt’s 1952 revolution, when a group of army officers overthrew the monarchy, the public education system has been an extension of the government. Textbooks and curriculums offered pro-government narratives, conveniently omitting facts or tweaking the truth. But now, the politicization in the schools has reached new heights, marked by efforts to erase or play down opponents’ contributions to history.”
“For years, fans of the Batman comics have puzzled over a mystery at the heart of the series: why doesn’t Batman just kill his arch-nemesis, the murderous Joker?”
The Ethics and Moral Dilemma of Superheroes
What makes a subject worth learning? Worth teaching? Must there be a profitable end point for those learning? Can subjects have intrinsic value? These are some of the questions surrounding issues around subjects in the Humanities (History, Social Sciences, Human Sciences, etc.).
“The liberal education which seeks to provide students with more than mere professional qualifications appears to be dying a slow and painful death, overseen by a whole cadre of what cultural anthropologist David Graeber calls “bullshit jobs”: bureaucrats hired to manage the transformation of universities from centres of learning to profit centres. As one academic put it to me: “Every dean needs his vice-dean and sub-dean and each of them needs a management team, secretaries, admin staff; all of them only there to make it harder for us to teach, to research, to carry out the most basic functions of our jobs.” The humanities, whose products are necessarily less tangible and effable than their science and engineering peers (and less readily yoked to the needs of the corporate world) have been an easy target for this sprawling new management class.”
If nothing else, the incident may serve as yet another example of why social studies—and history in particular—is such a tricky subject to teach, at least via textbooks and multiple-choice tests. Its topics are inherently subjective, impossible to distill into paragraphs jammed with facts and figures alone. As the historian and sociologist Jim Loewen recently told me, in history class students typically “have to memorize what we might call ‘twigs.’ We’re not teaching the forest—we’re not even teaching the trees,” said Loewen, best known for his 1995 book Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong. “We are teaching twig history.”