[Vision2020] RE: our history books

John Danahy jdanahy at turbonet.com
Wed Aug 11 15:29:51 PDT 2004

    Mr. Martin’s solution for the problems presented in History can be found
in HS, even here in MSD.  Unfortunately, they are most often found in AP
classes.  These are classes designed for the student who wants to work, that
is the student knows ahead of time that real work will be required in the
class.  MHS does have one AP history course, for juniors and seniors, and
one AP English course too. 

    It is too bad the MHS, like many HS around the nation, believes in the
“athletic/industrial complex” that promotes athletics as more important than
academics.  When a school districts adopts a view that dribbling a
basketball is more valuable than writing, that playing football is more
important than mathematics, that the personal responsibility of a student
towards the coach and the team is given a higher priority than personal
responsibility to a classroom teacher, then expectations of academic rigor
will always fail.  

    The false importance that too many school teachers and administrators
give to sports contributes significantly to the lowering of self esteem and
lack of personal responsibility that has plagued our school systems for too
long.  We do not need a brand new athletics facility behind the façade of a
HS.  We do need a public school system that is willing top step up and
accept responsibility for the education of our children.




----- Original Message ----- 

From: Eric Martin <mailto:rik82 at yahoo.com>  

To: Vision 2020 <mailto:vision2020 at moscow.com>  

Sent: Tuesday, August 10, 2004 4:36 PM

Subject: Re: [Vision2020] RE: our history books


Yes, quality history books are certainly available,
even for the k-12 audience, but they are rarely
adopted by local school boards (when they have such
authority) or by state boards (such as Texas) that
provide a short list of approved text options for
local districts to select from.  (I am not sure how it
works in the Moscow Public School system, so a little
enlightenment would be helpful.)

There are several reasons for this, but I would argue
that the deciding factor is that the purpose of
history as it is taught at the k-12 level in public
schools across the U.S. has much more to do with
shaping the political/cultural identity
(indoctrination?) of our children than it does with
teaching them how to detect, document & analyze change
over time.  

Remember the charge the current second lady, Lynn
Cheney, led against the National History Standards
Project back in the 1990’s?  She had two basic
complaints about the curriculum developed by a large
group of historians who had been funded by the NEH and
the U.S. Department of Education to improve the
quality of historical knowledge among U.S. students. 

Her first problem with the curriculum was that
American students would spend too much time learning
about the rest of the world.  

Her second problem was that the curriculum did not
present a narrative that duly emphasized the themes of
American progress and American exceptionalism.  What
Lynn Cheney (and those she represented) want taught is
national mythology – but they want to call it history.

Take a look at the title of your kid’s history
textbook & then compare that to the title of one of
their science textbooks.  A science text titled “The
Rise of the Molecule” or “Our Glorious Genes” probably
would not be taken very seriously. 

K-12 (& many college survey) textbooks usually present
a sanitized version of the past that reads like an
encyclopedia.  We should not find it surprising that
many of us find history boring and a matter of
memorizing dates, battles, and names.  The current
trend towards more standardized testing is only
reinforcing these (mis)perceptions of history.

Additionally, because of their encyclopedic nature
history textbooks usually offer no argument/thesis and
no/little supporting evidence.  This becomes
problematic when students are asked to write a
research paper on a historical topic and they have
never been assigned a text that modeled the process
for them.  I have taught college level history for 7
years to mostly working class, public school educated
kids – and most of them don’t know how to critically
read a book (in addition to a near 100% geographic
illiteracy rate).

Why not provide history students with some primary
sources, a couple of differing historical
interpretations (real books, presenting historical
arguments, with evidence to evaluate) and let them
work it out in the “History Lab”?

Well one problem with that method is that it would
mean actually having teachers in the class who were
trained as historians.  The football coach teaching
history may be a stereotype, but I had several of
them, as well as the basketball coach, and the drill
team instructor. Even with the best intentions a
teacher with no historical training who is required to
teach a history course has little choice but to teach
the textbook and the text.  

Although it can be infuriating and repetitive at times
James Loewen’s “Lies My Teacher Told Me” provides a
pretty good description of the problems facing U.S.
high school history education focusing particularly on
the issue of textbooks. “History on Trial” provides an
account of the battle over the National History
Standards in the 1990’s. And “History Wars” is an
account over the exhibition of the Smithsonian’s Enola
Gay (dropped the A-Bombs on Japan) exhibit and
provides some good insight into the political
dimensions of historical education.  

Cheers to all the quality public ed. k-12 history
teachers (trained or not) out there who still manage
to spark there students intellectual curiosity about
the past and the rest of the world.  You are engaged
in a most important and mostly thankless task.


Eric Martin

--- "Art Deco aka W. Fox" <deco at moscow.com> wrote:

> Bob,
> Perhaps you can provides some specific observations
> to illustrate your thesis.
> There have been a number of books published which
> seek to demythologize American
> History as presented to el-hi schoolers.
> I for one would be interested in hearing your
> concerns.
> Wayne
> Wayne A. Fox
> waf at moscow.com
> PO Box 9421
> Moscow, ID 83843
> 208 882-7975
> ----- Original Message ----- 
> From: "Robert Probasco" <rcprobasco at fastmail.fm>
> To: "'vision2020'" <vision2020 at moscow.com>
> Sent: Tuesday, August 10, 2004 2:48 AM
> Subject: [Vision2020] RE: our history books
> | -- 
> |   Robert Probasco
> |   rcprobasco at fastmail.fm
> |
> | ----- Original message -----
> | From: "Tom Hansen" <thansen at moscow.com>
> | [snip]  ... let's study our history books ....
> [snip]
> |
> | If we study only the history books used in
> American schools, we'll
> | continue to be woefully ignorant consumers of the
> mass media.  The
> | sanitized version of history produced by American
> publishers is
> | guaranteed to generate naive questions like, "Why
> do they hate us?"
> |
> | A decade ago, I served on the Moscow public
> schools textbook selection
> | committee for Social Studies.  I was so appalled
> at the Pablum in those
> | books I recommended none be adopted.  Naturally,
> the chairwoman
> | ramrodded her choice through the committee.  Six
> months later, the
> | California school board rejected all submissions
> from social studies
> | publishers as unworthy.
> |
> | I would recommend each student acquire a World
> Almanac so they can
> | reference basic facts and dates, then creative
> assignments would enable
> | them to research and recreate historical events. 
> They would gain an
> | appreciation for the complex and contradictory
> events that led to the
> | seminal events in the historical (or is that
> hysterical?) record.
> | Bob Probasco
> |
> |
> |  List services made available by First Step
> Internet,
> |  serving the communities of the Palouse since
> 1994.
> |                http://www.fsr.net
> |           mailto:Vision2020 at moscow.com
> |
> |
> |
>  List services made available by First Step
> Internet, 
>  serving the communities of the Palouse since 1994. 
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