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11/06/2012

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Mat

I was discussing with my friend the travesty that is contemporary history classes. My schooling was throughout the 1990s and college in the early-to-mid 2000s, wherein I was able to experience a full range of historical teaching from the absolute abysmal to the pinnacle of a caring educator. One complaint I have about many contemporary history classes (especially US history) is that there is a stark disconnect between what happened only 20-30 years prior and what is going on at the moment.

Civil Rights, especially, are treated as some popular movement that started in the late 1950s and ended, for the most part, with some legislative victories in the 1960s and 1970s and is handled, for all intents and purposes, as mostly settled by the time we're learning the history. It seems to gloss over the fact that civil rights, freedom, etc were concepts being fought for since well before the American Civil War and said rights are still being fought over today.

For instance, Rodney King's beating and the subsequent trial happened only a few years before taking a high school history class, so it certainly wasn't particularly removed from recent history in the way that WWII felt.

The massive inequalities of black neighborhoods were subjects of numerous films (both dramatic and comedic) throughout the 1980s, 90s and beyond. Yet, the subject of civil rights is treated as "settled". Which reminds me of the way a professor in college mocked "settled law" as something that everyone accepts, until something changes it.

So, unfortunately, education starts early ingraining people with the notion that problems have come and gone. If something is still wrong, well, the problem was fixed already, so obviously the problem is on the person's end.

Reminds me of a video I saw yesterday. A woman complaining about how Obama is dishonorable, a bad American and doesn't care about the country and is dividing the country. The interviewer asks: "Do you think the reason he's having so much trouble uniting the country is because people keep calling him dishonorable, a bad American and someone who doesn't like his country".

The response: "I think so". The logic totally flying over her head.

Ultimately, a lot of people seem to have trouble viewing a larger picture and tend to be very unknowledgeable (and frequently willfully ignorant) about things outside of their immediate purview, which ultimately lead to asinine "know-it-all" platitudes about how people need to do x, y and z and everything would be solved or, ultimately, why people can't merely complain and make Voter ID laws go away.

As an aside (to this lengthy comment), I voted this morning shortly after polls opened (During my morning jog). I was asked for an ID and told the person that by law, I didn't have to show my ID at all. On first hearing this, my girlfriend insisted I was probably too harsh and acting like a jerk (especially considering the person was obviously a teenage girl). I told her very frankly: "It's better that I set her straight at 6:10am right after polls open than having her dismiss someone because they lacked an ID".

Brent

The History Channel shows history? Do they even have room for that between reality shows, and speculation about UFOs, monsters, and the apocalypse?

Mike Peterson

Dude, Roswell is history, and so is Nessie. The apocalypse isn't history yet, but it will be!

Mike Peterson

Mat, I don't follow James Loewen down the line, but "Lie My Teacher Told Me" has some solid criticism, especially his observation that we don't have textbooks called "The Triumph of Chemistry" but tend to treat history as a story with a moral.

When I did a children's biography of Nellie Bly, I found that most existing biographies ended with her triumphant return from the famous "Around the World" trip. The rest of her life was interesting but not triumphant, and so is left out of the narrative.

Loewen notes that Helen Keller is taught as the plucky deaf mute who learned to spell at the water pump -- but they ignore her long career as a Wobblie!

We choose the part that serves the triumphalist narrative, and so MLK fits nicely into that, and we teach fire hoses and Freedom Rides, but we don't teach the long stretch between Plessy v. Ferguson and those days, during which a lot was going on.

Worst part -- and this IS a lie -- is the story of the tired seamstress, in which a poor, simple seamstress named Rosa Parks decided she didn't want to sit in the back of the bus. This ignores the fact that Parks was a well-educated person who not only knew the bus driver that day but was an officer in the local NAACP and knew the group was looking for a test case.

That would be like teaching people that St. Harriet of Tubman was planning to join John Brown at Harper's Ferry but got sick. Hey, if it doesn't fit the narrative, it doesn't make the book!

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