Friday, April 16, 2010

Debates over History

Woke up to an article on the history textbooks in Texas in Inside Higher Ed. Here are some excerpts from the article:

"About 800 college history professors from across the country have so far signed on to a letter circulated this week by seven academics from the University of Texas campuses in Austin and El Paso.

"The letter says that some board revisions undermine 'the study of the social sciences in our public schools by misrepresenting and even distorting the historical record and the functioning of American society.'

"The signatories mostly teach at Texas schools — including Baylor University, Texas A&M University and Abilene Christian University — but also come from out-of-state colleges such as Stanford University, Brigham Young University and the Virginia Military Institute.

"'You can quibble for and against this person or that event," said Emilio Zamora , a UT history professor. "But what is most important and glaring is that this revision does not come close to reflecting the state of historical research on the state of Texas.'"

Certainly "liberals" can be guilty of exactly the same thing. My hunch on what's happening here? Another example of American anti-intellectualism, what Mark Noll called the "scandal of the evangelical mind." It is a distrust of those most qualified to draw conclusions on a particular issue. Again, in the words of Jack Handy, "Sometimes I wonder if the experts might actually be experts."

1 comment:

Jason said...

I've had conservative friends say that this "balances things out" because "as we all know, textbooks have always had a liberal slant."
When I ask them to please show me a history textbook with a liberal slant and to demonstrate why it is liberal, they can't really come up with an answer, or maybe they mumble something about Newt Gingrich not being mentioned enough, or some such thing.
Professor James Loewen has an excellent book about this, by the way, entitled "Lies My Teacher Told Me." One example he provides is the story of Helen Keller. Everyone knows who Helen Keller is, she's the little blind, deaf girl that overcame her handicaps to become a famous writer, right? But what did she write? What was she really famous for? It's almost like after she learns to communicate, she drops right out of existence. This is all long before this infamous "Texas School Board Depository" took beady aim at so-called "liberal" history. And I doubt whoever decided to omit Keller's life's work was leftist. Because what they left out was that Helen Keller became a prominent member of the Socialist Party, fought for workers rights and labor unions, and co-founded the ACLU. Liberal slant? Uh...
The book is good, I recommend it. The conclusion is that history texts tend to glorify and deify all things America and omit things that make us look bad. That's going to continue to get worse since Texas is the second largest textbook buyer in the country. Publishers are going to have to print to their standards across the country if they don't want to lose one of their biggest markets. As goes Texas, so goes the nation.