The latest in a never ending series of discussions about the nature of history textbooks and the politics that play into what students learn about. This article does a good job surveying differences more than making larger points about the nature of history but still worthwhile. Here are more links to more articles about controversies over history textbooks.
“At the end of the day, it’s a political process,” said Jesús F. de la Teja, an emeritus professor of history at Texas State University who has worked for the state of Texas and for publishers in reviewing standards and textbooks.
The differences between state editions can be traced back to several sources: state social studies standards; state laws; and feedback from panels of appointees that huddle, in Sacramento and Austin hotel conference rooms, to review drafts.
“A lot of common terms may seem ‘neutral’ but reinforce racism. A teacher’s textbook case.”
Wilderness? Permanent? More loaded terms
“Wilderness” is another problematic term. It implies a place that humans neither modify nor call home. So when we attempt to convey respect for Indigenous knowledge with sentences like “Indigenous people were highly skilled at navigating and surviving in the “wilderness,” we present an oxymoron. Were Indigenous peoples other than human? If it is wilderness, how can people inhabit it? Allowing this paradox to stand sustains questions that should long ago have been taken off life support, but that retain vibrancy in powerful arenas, not the least of which include our courts: Were these “organized societies” living in the wilderness? Did these people have “exclusive use and occupation” of the wilderness? The absurdity of these questions comes clear when we jettison “wilderness” for more appropriate language, something like “homeland” or better yet, the people’s own term, the hahuułni of the Nuu-chah-nulth, Haa Aani among the Tlingit, or Anishinaabe akiiing. Kimmerer tells us, “When we call a place by its name it is transformed from wilderness to homeland.”
“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.”
“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.”
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.”
“Opposition politicians and some students have already been protesting against the move, accusing the government of ‘distorting history'”
“I think also the UK have a very interesting approach. We tend to avoid controversial history in our curriculum, we’re very keen on looking at more distant history and somehow, for some reason the less controversial it becomes.”