Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

The Unfortunate Triumph of Ignorance and Emotionalism   Leave a comment

Above:  The Beginning of the Declaration of Independence 

Image in the Public Domain

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Or, Why We Should Not Fail to Recognize the Text of the Declaration of Independence, Especially on July 4

In 1988 National Public Radio (NPR) began its annual tradition of reading the Declaration of Independence on the air on the morning of each July 4.  For years I, as a student of American history, have anticipated the orchestra of voices, each speaker reading a segment of the complete text of that great document.  This year NPR tweeted the full text of the Declaration of Independence in 113 tweets, giving rise to an unfortunate Twitter storm.  There were bitter complaints that NPR was, among other offenses, calling for the violent overthrow of the federal government and daring to (gasp!) criticize Donald Trump, as if criticizing those in authority is unpatriotic and un-American.  (Tsk:  Dissenters founded this country.)  Many angry Twitter uses had to eat crow the following day.

 A prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

–From the Declaration of Independence

This incident leads me to some troubling thoughts.  It confirms me in my low opinion of human nature (trust in the faithfulness of God, as Martin Luther said) and illustrates the fact that one negative use of social media is to expose the degree to which one is an overly emotional and poorly informed person.  People out themselves voluntarily and unwittingly as individuals who should study more deeply, or at all.  I recall hearing that my grandfather Taylor, who died in 1976,  said that it was better to have a reputation as a fool than to open one’s mouth and remove all doubt.  If social media had existed in his time, I am certain, he would have added clauses about posting and sharing.  All of us who are or have been on social media are guilty of some unfortunate acts of posting, sharing, and/or liking, especially with regard to factually inaccurate posts.  I am.  I am also a former used of social media.  It is something best avoided, except for official purposes, at least in my case; I might permit it to take up too much of my time otherwise.

…whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.

–From the Declaration of Independence

The Declaration of Independence is a document of which many Americans have superficial knowledge at best.  Many (including some of my students) conflate it with the Constitution, which, of course, a few years younger.  So if one is already worked up emotionally and coming from a certain defensive political perspective while reading a disembodied criticism of George III (Parliament, actually, British Parliamentary supremacy dates to the Glorious Revolution of 1688), one might interpret it as a criticism of Donald Trump or a call for the overthrow of the government.  (George III, by the way, was a loving husband and a kind father-in-law.)  My knowledge of the document is greater than that of such poorly informed Twitter users, for I teach the document not quite line-by-line in U.S. History I survey courses.  The Declaration of Independence is a foundational document, one that schools should teach well and that inquisitiveness should compel one to explore on one’s own.  I do not blame schools and teachers completely though, for, although I teach the document thoroughly, some of my students still manage to confuse it for the Constitution and Thomas Jefferson for James Madison, the Father of the Constitution.  At some point students are responsible for their own ignorance.

He has refused his assent to laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

–From the Declaration of Independence

By the way, is not July 4 a wonderful day to read the full text of the Declaration of Independence?  When one thinks about how much many of the signers of the document sacrificed for idealism and country, one should stand in awe of them.

If NPR retweets the Declaration of Independence again next July 4, it will probably meet with a similar reception, unfortunately.  Ignorance and emotionalism seem never to die.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 16, 2017 COMMON ERA

Thank a Teacher   Leave a comment

Wanda Vickers was an excellent teacher at Berrien High School, Nashville, Georgia.  She was also a strict grader.  The education I received in her English class during my senior year of high school was rigorous.  During one academic year she taught me how to write a term paper properly and prepared me for a variety of other written assignments I had to complete in college.  I realized this after the fact, of course.  When I started my freshman year at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College, Tifton, Georgia, I learned how prepared I was, thanks to Mrs. Vickers, mainly.  I thanked her in person then I had the opportunity to do so.

Teachers influence their pupils positively in many ways.  Much of the time the positive effects pertain not only to the curriculum.  If you, O reader, are or have been a teacher, thank you.  If you, O reader, can think of any teachers who have influenced your life positively and can thank them, please do so.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 1, 2017 COMMON ERA

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The Plural, the Possessive, and Contractions   Leave a comment

With Ruminations About Students, Technology, and Pre-College Education

The atrocious writing of many college students alarms me.  I wonder how they got into college without knowing, for example, that “it’s” is not the same as “its.”  “Its'” is not “its” either.  I know whereof I write, after years of teaching U.S. History survey courses (mostly the first part, through 1877) at a public university in Georgia.  To be fair, many students also write beautifully and understand English usage and grammar well.  This post is not about them and their delightful essays, however.

Many students seem confused about how to make a singular word plural.  Consider, O reader, the word “colonist.”  I am tired of reading essays and quiz answers in which pupils use it as if it is plural.  As they should have learned in elementary school, “colonists” is plural and “colonist” is singular.”  The way to make many words plural is to add an “s” to the end.

Many students confuse the plural and possessive forms of words.  Some of them labor under the delusion that “colonist’s” is plural, not singular possessive.   Alas, they are not alone.  One needs to go no further than the comments sections of websites to find examples of mangling the English language.  An example off the Internet is present in every weekly sales paper for a small chain of grocery stores in an around Athens-Clarke County, Georgia, where I live.  The sales papers indicate the stores “with deli’s.”  You, O reader, can probably think of local examples easily too.

As a matter of fact, one should use an apostrophe to create the plural forms sometimes, as in letters.  For example, I might calculate the percentage of students I assigned A’s at the end of last semester.  I would have “as” without the apostrophe.   The problem regarding apostrophes is using them when one should not.

I do not know what is so confusing for so many people regarding “it’s” and “its.”  “It’s” is the contraction for “it is.”  “Its” is a singular possessive pronoun.  This is simple, is it not?  It should be.

Although I teach history, I also have to teach some English usage and grammar, unfortunately.  I make students write essays, not take tests.  Each student has about a month to write 8-10 pages on a prompt he or she selects from a list of three or four options.  I also provide the pupils with detailed instructions and writing guidelines.  When I add the book report to the list of writing assignments, I assign each student to write 28-36 pages during the course of the semester.  This is hardly draconian, except on yours truly, for I have to read all of this writing.  (Do the math.)  Yet some pupils, as they write in course evaluations, consider 28-36 pages to be “a lot of writing.”  The length of the writing assignments (28-36 pages spread across four papers in one semester) is not excessive, but the accumulation of their bad writing and their complaining is.

I refrain from criticizing teachers who have preceded me in these pupils’ lives.  Not only do I lack sufficient information to arrive at a conclusion, but I also understand that teachers have inattentive students.  Many factors can cause students not to pay attention.  Life at home might be troublesome.  A pupil might be hungry.  One might be fatigued.  A student might have an especially short attention span.  Or one might simply not care.  Regardless of the reason or set of reasons applicable in any given case, a reality teachers know well is that what they taught and what certain students learned bear little or no similarity to each other.  Communication is, by definition, an interactive process.  Whenever Person #1 sends a message to Person #2, who receives it and understands it as Person #1 intended, Person #1 has communicated with Person #2.  A number of factors might garble the message, even if Person #1 has sent it as best as possible.

I do not blame teachers overall.  Yes, some teachers are better at their jobs than others are, but teachers deserve much more credit than they receive.  We, as a society, require that they do more than they ought to have to do.  Parents and guardians, for example, have much responsibility; we should not shift any of that to teachers.  Yet we do.    Not only do I blame many parents and guardians, especially those who do not accept their share of responsibility and make like needlessly difficult for educators, but I also assign blame to inattentive and lazy students who rely too much on technology.  “Technology” is a blanket term for tools, from the wheel to smart phones.  Technology is not the problem.  It is, after all, neutral; how one uses it is good or bad.  I know from one-on-one discussions with certain students that they rely on their computers (word processing programs, to be precise) with regard to writing.  These pupils have not, therefore, internalized English usage and grammar as well as they should have.  These students’ writing would be superior without computers; they would know how to write in a literate manner without word processing programs.  The fault lies with these pupils.

The technology, in fact, can be overwhelmingly positive.  I recall the electronic typewriter I used during my undergraduate years.  I remember being grateful when the professor required end notes, not footnotes.  I also recall having to retype pages because of a few mistakes.  Word processing programs are godsends in my life.  I do not, however, mistake the spell check function for proofreading.  Many students do.

I harbor concerns for college students who write poorly, as evident in their difficulties relating to the plural, the possessive, and contractions.  Many of them will apply for employment that will require them to write in an official capacity.  For some the application and interview process will entail going to a room and writing on paper.  Or perhaps they will, as part of the process, have to write a statement on the application itself.  There is also the matter of the cover letter, assuming that the employer in question reads it.  The process will expose these applicants’ inadequate language skills, unless they improve those skills in the meantime.

I recall having excellent teachers as well as parents who valued my education.  I also remember being an attentive student.  The factors of school, home, and pupil are essential in education.  They are crucial to one knowing the difference between lessons and lesson’s.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 1, 2017 COMMON ERA

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Posted July 1, 2017 by neatnik2009 in Education, Language

Tagged with ,

The Definite Article   Leave a comment

Above:  The

Scan by Kenneth Randolph Taylor

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One should use the definite article (the) cautiously.  I argue this point, for I prefer to speak and write accurately.  I also like for others to do the same.  The misuse of “the” renders one’s argument objectively false by overstating one’s case.  Such shoddy discourse annoys me.

As I have noticed, many college students have been (and are) overly found of “the.”  During my years of teaching U.S. history survey courses in college, I have emphasized the fact that many colonists in what became the United States remained loyal to the British Empire during the American Revolutionary period.  In stating this plainly I have manifested fidelity to objective reality.  I have also instructed pupils both orally and in writing not to write of “the colonists” as if all colonists were of one political mind and warned these students.  Nevertheless, many students have not heeded my instructions to write of the past accurately in their essays.  I have graded those essays accordingly.

Another fault of misusing “the” is applying it in the spirit of invective.

The ______s insert negative stereotype here.

Infamously, for example, the Gospel of John mentions “the Jews” (in most English-language translations), although the Greek word is actually a geographical term sometimes.  Whether the term should be “the Jews” or “the Judeans” in English in any given verse, the issue of invective remains.  In the case of the Gospel of John, how can one avoid reading those passages without considering the millennia of Christian anti-Semitism inspired partially by the invective in that text?

In 2017 we continue to have problems with invective, often expressed with the misuse of the definite article.  Human nature is constant, after all.  One might engage in partisan invective, for example.  Or one might be a racist or some other variety of bigot, perhaps with regard to religion.  Or maybe one might be merely an unrepentant ethnocentrist and Nativist.  Either way, one engages in stereotyping, thereby overlooking the diversity inherent in any population.  One therefore engages in the sin of judging others.  One also makes objectively false statements.

Shall we strive to love our neighbors as ourselves and to think, speak, and write objectively correctly?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 27, 2017 COMMON ERA

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The Folly and Immorality of Campus Carry   Leave a comment

Above:  The Flag of Georgia

Image in the Public Domain

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On July 1, in the State of Georgia, the new “campus carry” law will go into effect.

As long as this law (as well as the previous, vetoed version) has been on the legislative table, it has concerned me.  I, as a classroom instructor on a university campus, have become jaded about postsecondary students overall over the years.  This fact, added to my negative view of human nature (depravity as objective reality, not an article of faith), has caused me to conclude that this law is a recipe for very bad–even lethal–results.

The version of the law that passed the General Assembly and received Governor Nathan Deal’s signature does include certain exemptions, such as residence halls, sports venues, day care centers, and offices.  But what constitutes an office?  This matter is not always clear for certain employees of the University System of Georgia.  Another exemption is any classroom in which, at the time, a dual-enrolled high school student is present.  Yet, if a high school student not dual-enrolled is present in that classroom, that space is not exempt from the “campus carry” law.  Furthermore, any common space–such as a dining hall or a lobby–is a space in which someone with a concealed gun permit may legally carry a concealed gun, even if a high school student is present.  Regarding sports venues, guns are forbidden there, but, as of today, there will no University System of Georgia policy allowing the posting of signage indicating this.  Drunken tailgaters outside the sports venues will have the right of carry guns, however.

This morning I attended a town hall meeting led by the university chief of police.  He, for professional reasons, did not express his opinion.  He read the text of the law and of the statement from the office of the Chancellor of the University System.  He also went over established questions and answers.  Many of the answers were indefinite, indicating that the University System had yet to provide guidance regarding that particular circumstance.  Then the chief answered new questions.  As I listened intently, I became more concerned.  Professors and staff members asked about their particular and practical circumstances, ranging from chemistry labs to testing centers to the blurring of the lines between common space and office space in the library.  The chief had no answer other than the University System had yet to provide guidance.  After the meeting I heard some professors indicate that they were going on the job market.

The chief will lead more campus town hall meetings–later this month and again in August, as the University System offers more guidance.

Those who voted for this law and the governor who signed it did not think through the plethora of details sufficiently.  They created a huge mess, one that is leading campus police departments to develop programs to train faculty and staff to talk down armed and emotionally disturbed students.

I am cautious by nature.  For this reason I tend not to make wild predictions or embrace conspiracy theories.  I do make two predictions, however:

  1. Lawsuits will ensue as the University System offers guidance, faculty and staff members follow it, and individuals carrying concealed guns object to the rules, claiming that these rules violate the law.  The United States does have a litigious society, after all.
  2. More than one person will die or suffer injury because of this law.

Legislators and the Governor will be morally responsible for those deaths and injuries.

The gun culture is alive and well in the State of Georgia.  For example, we have a law permitting people to carry weapons onto church property unless the church forbids it.  Fortunately, the Episcopal Dioceses of Georgia and Atlanta have such a ban.  I reject the idea that the answer to the problem of gun violence is more guns.  Adding guns to the equation makes as much sense to me as pouring gasoline on a fire and mistaking the gasoline for flame retardant.

May God deliver us from ourselves and each other.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 1, 2017 COMMON ERA

Posted June 1, 2017 by neatnik2009 in Education, Political Statements

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Course Evaluations and Classroom Technology   Leave a comment

Especially Regarding PowerPoint

Spring Semester ended recently.  Nine days ago the contents of my students’ evaluations of me and of my course became available to me.  I, as a classroom instructor, was understandably curious about their ratings and comments.  Over the years I have found them to be (A) generally quite different from the depiction of me at ratemyprofessor.com and (B) occasionally helpful, occupying the category of constructive criticism.

Usually, though, I have found these course evaluations to be mostly useless.  For example, I copied the course objectives verbatim from the university and pasted them into my syllabi, yet some students thought I had not stated the course objectives clearly in those documents.  Also, I critiqued drafts of essays whenever students asked me to do so, but one pupil criticized me for having no involvement in assignments outside of the classroom.  Furthermore, I organized the material (as many students acknowledged) yet some accused me of being disorganized in my teaching.

My interpretation of the last criticism is that those who wrote it really meant that they would have preferred for me to have used PowerPoint in the classroom.  But, as one student told me, he was grateful that I did not use that technology.  He had become accustomed to copying PowerPoint slides for other courses and had found that procedure mind-numbing.  He enjoyed my emphasis on analyzing the material, he said.

Technology is useful is my lessons.  I enjoy being able,  for example, to show my students the full text of the Stamp Act (1765) and to use a website to adjust historical dollar amounts for inflation.  However, PowerPoint is useless in my classroom.  I recall that almost every PowerPoint presentation to which someone has subjected me has entailed he or she reading the slides.  PowerPoint is a useful tool in certain settings and for some subjects, but I avoid the technology.

Besides, my teaching style is not amenable to reading from a script, notes, or PowerPoint slides.  No, my instructional style is more discussion-based.  I master the germane material, follow skeletal notes that function mostly to remind me to cover certain topics, and use my memory.  I speak authoritatively and from my knowledge.

This style, I know, is foreign to many students, spoon-fed notes (often via PowerPoint) for years. I want them to think critically, however.  I know that this exceeds the capacity of many of my pupils.  This is not entirely their fault, but I must raise the bar, I know.  I realize that I will do them no favors by not raising the bar.

I found no constructive criticism in the course evaluations this time.  I did, however, learn how oblivious some of my students were to objective reality and how dependent upon PowerPoint they were.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 24, 2017 COMMON ERA

Posted May 24, 2017 by neatnik2009 in Education

Tagged with ,

Honest to Clio? Society and the Teaching of History   Leave a comment

Artemisia Gentileschi / Артемизия Джентилески (1593-1653) - Clio, la Musa della Storia (La Fama) / Клио, муза Истории (Слава) (1632)

Above:  Clio, the Muse of History, by Artemisia Gentileschi

Image in the Public Domain

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This is an edited version of the first chapter of my Master’s degree thesis.  I have altered the chapter to remove references to Clay County, Georgia.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

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Those who would repeat the past must control the teaching of history.

–Bene Gesserit Coda, quoted in Chapterhouse:  Dune[1]

Public school textbooks have long been political, for publishers have appeased state sensibilities in seeking lucrative contracts.  The resulting volumes have often been sanitized versions of the past.  As James W. Loewen wrote in Lies My Teacher Told Me, most pre-1960s American history textbooks sided with the South during Reconstruction.  One 1959 text, America:  Land of Freedom, reflected this attitude.  The authors, Gertrude Hartman and Hugh T. Lefler, called northern plans for the South “unwise,” and said that newly freed slaves were no longer under the protection of their masters.  The violent Ku Klux Klan resisted federal corruption, embodied by “unprincipled” carpetbaggers.  Hartman, who barely mentioned the civil rights movement, wrote that efforts to grant African Americans, “an important group in our society,” equal opportunities were underway.  Elsewhere, the author wrote that integration would come slowly and require “courage, patience, tolerance, and good faith on the part of both races.”  Hartman’s background is unknown; Lefler, however, taught history at the University of North Carolina.[2]

The civil rights movement altered society beyond the frontiers of Clay County in the middle and late 1960s, for high school American history textbooks began to change.  Our American Republic (1965), written by David S. Muzzey, of Columbia University, and Arthur S. Link, a Virginia-born professor at Princeton University, sympathized with carpetbaggers during Reconstruction, for it noted that violent and reactionary whites sought to deprive freed slaves of their rights.  The book also devoted four favorable pages to the civil rights movement.  One page was a list of “Some Distinguished Negroes,” such as Phyllis Wheatley, Frederick Douglass, Booker T. Washington, Carter G. Woodson, Jackie Robinson, and George Washington Carver.  Conspicuously absent, however, were W. E. B. Du Bois, Malcolm X, Elijah Muhammad, Satchel Paige, Marcus Garvey, and Martin Luther King, Jr., who were presumably “unacceptable” because their audiences were primarily African-American.  Another textbook, the third edition of This Is America’s Story (1966) was less progressive.  Although Howard B. Wilder, Robert D. Ludlum, and Harriett McCune Brown stated that post-Civil War whites were determined to deny freed slaves their rights, they also overlooked any altruistic motives the carpetbaggers might have followed.  The textbook devoted two sympathetic pages to the civil rights movement.  Wilder was a retired teacher from Melrose, Massachusetts, Ludlum was President of Blackburn College in Carlinville, Illinois, and Brown was a junior high school teacher in Los Angeles, California.[4]

Textbooks for younger grades also exhibited various attitudes toward civil rights in the 1860s and the 1960s.  In These United States and Canada, a 1965 text for middle grades students, included prose favorable to the freed slaves after the Civil War and to the civil rights movement.  Your Country and Mine—New Edition, a 1966 text for older elementary students, assumed the opposite position.  It sympathized with the defeated South, for it depicted all carpetbaggers and their allies as corrupt.  The book made no mention of the civil rights movement.  World Background for American History: An Interdisciplinary Approach, a 1968 elementary textbook, gave positive press to the civil rights movements of the 1860s and the 1960s.  Nevertheless, it referred to the War Between the States, not the Civil War.  This book was the product of three authors.  Harold H. Eibling was Superintendent of Schools in Columbus, Ohio, Fred M. King was Director of Instruction for the Rochester, Minnesota, Public Schools, and James Harlow was a history teacher from Oakland, California.[5]

Proudly We Hail, a 1968 text for elementary students, taught race pride.  The authors, Vashti and Jack Brown, public school teachers from New York, New York, divided the book into two sections, “THE PAST,” and “THE PRESENT.”  Past African Americans profiled included Crispus Attucks, Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, and Matthew Henson.  Present African Americans profiled included Ralph Bunche, Marian Anderson, Thurgood Marshall, Sidney Poitier, Martin Luther King, Jr., Willie Mays, and General Benjamin O. Davis, Jr.[6]

A 1971 older elementary textbook, Adventures in American History, reflected the mixed racial atmosphere of the time.  Its depiction of Reconstruction and the carpetbaggers was negative, for the text portrayed slaves as pawns of corrupt carpetbaggers.  Nevertheless, the author, Jay Glanzrock, a former New York City public school teacher, devoted four pages, all of them sympathetic, to the modern civil rights movement.  He supplemented the text of these four pages with two sidebars, a five paragraph treatment of Martin Luther King, Jr., and a list of “Recent Civil Rights Laws.”  The laws were the first Brown decision, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Twenty-Fifth Amendment, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.[7]

Public school history textbooks of the late 1970s reflected both the past and present.  The fifth edition of the American Pageant: A History of the Republic (1975) was more sympathetic to the civil rights movement in the 1960s than to its predecessor in the 1860s.  Carpetbaggers were one-dimensional “damn Yankees” who participated in “unwise” Congressional plans for Reconstruction after the “War for Southern Independence.”  Martin Luther King, Jr. however, received a positive review.  Thomas A. Bailey, the author, was a professor at Stanford University.[9]  America! America!, a 1977 high school text, also straddled the fence.  It sided with the vanquished southerners, yet progressively stated that the carpetbaggers accomplished “much good.”  The authors explained that Southern whites were unsure how to treat former slaves because, “it is difficult to suddenly change (sic) the habits of a lifetime.”  The modern civil rights movement received the obligatory positive press.  All four authors worked outside of the South.  L. Joanne Buggey was an educational consultant in Stanford, California.  Gerald A. Danzer taught at the University of Illinois at Chicago Circle.  Charles L. Mitsakos was the Social Studies Coordinator/Consultant for the Chelmsford, Massachustts, public schools.  C. Frederick Risinger was the Coordinator of School Social Studies at Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana.[10]  The fourth edition of This Is America’s Story (1978) was virtually identical to the third edition.[11]  Our People, a fourth grade textbook from 1979, portrayed slaves as skilled laborers.  Its explanation of slavery concluded with the following sentences:

We must always remember that these workers had no freedom.  They had been free in Africa.  Now they were forced to be slaves.  Their children were slaves, too.[12]

A generational comparison of textbooks can demonstrate the shift of historical interpretation in secondary school classrooms.  The fifth edition of History of a Free People (1964), written by Henry W. Bragdon and Samuel P. McCutchen, became the basis for Donald A. Ritchie’s 1998 revision, History of a Free Nation.  Bragdon was a teacher at the Phillips Exeter Academy, Exeter, New Hampshire, McCutchen was a professor of education at New York University, and Ritchie was Associate Historian in the United States Senate Historical Office.  In 1964, John Brown was a “fanatic” who believed he was on a mission from God to free slaves and to punish their owners.  Thirty-four years later, Brown had become a “fiery abolitionist.”  In 1964, the conflict of 1861-1865 was the War Between the States.   A generation later, that unpleasantness was the Civil War.  In 1964, carpetbaggers were corrupt manipulators of freed slaves.  On the eve of the Twenty-First Century, most carpetbaggers were “respectable, honest, and sincerely devoted to the public interest,” although a corrupt minority created impressions that all carpetbaggers were disreputable.  Both editions gave favorable press to the civil rights movement, especially Martin Luther King, Jr., and federal legislation.[13]

Politics has long dictated what we, as a society, have told our children about the past.  Once upon a time, in a republic not so far away, people legally deprived their fellow human beings of civil rights on the basis of skin tone.  Many public school textbooks obscured and/or lied about history, for the past made many people uncomfortable.  Were all carpetbaggers corrupt, or did some actually believe in what they were doing?  Staunch segregationists preferred one answer, and integrationists taught the other.  Was John Brown a fanatic or a zealot?  The answer to that question has changed over time.  A textbook might mention Jackie Robinson as a “Distinguished Negro,” yet ignore the recently deceased W. E. B. Du Bois, a Socialist, because of Cold War tensions.  The intensely political nature of public school textbooks has long compromised their integrity, reflected societal biases, and corrupted many people’s understanding of history.

Perhaps the politics of the modern civil rights movement influenced the content of some high school history textbooks with regards to John Brown and the carpetbaggers.  Many white supremacist southerners, wary of northern civil rights workers, likened them to carpetbaggers and wished to maintain segregationist traditions without the “meddling” of outsiders.  Furthermore, John Brown must have reminded many racist whites of militant African Americans.  The legacy of John Brown, whose body, which, according to the Civil War song, lay “moldering in his grave,” continued to evoke fear in the South a century after his execution.  The textbook accounts of Brown and the carpetbaggers generally became more nuanced and favorable after the 1960s.

One should not ignore the influence of changing historical interpretations on the content of public school textbooks.  In 1907, William A. Dunning published Reconstruction:  Political and Economic, 1865-1877, which sympathized with the vanquished Southerners during Reconstruction.  The Dunning Thesis, exemplified by the Tragic Era, a 1929 book by Claude G. Bowers, influenced American thought about the 1860s and 1870s.  Gone with the Wind is a reflection of this interpretation.  Ulrich Bonnell (U. B.) Phillips, one of Dunning’s students, dominated the historiography of slavery for the first half of the Twentieth Century. Phillips, a Georgia native, believed that African Americans were inferior and that the peculiar institution was a necessary evil that maintained order, even if it retarded the antebellum southern economy.  He wrote two classic works, American Negro Slavery (1918) and Life and Labor in the Old South (1929).  Scholarship of the 1950s and 1960s overturned the Dunning and Phillips Schools.

Public school textbooks follow society.  They often represent the conservative version of political correctness.  These frequently lamentable tomes contain many crucial omissions, blatant lies, and misconceptions.  These obfuscations of past reality serve to bolster the status quo and to teach a nationalistic interpretation of our republic’s history.  Many state boards, which must approve textbooks, insist that history books teach a falsely positive view of the past.  Certain controversial issues and regrettable episodes become safe to discuss honestly only with the passage of much time.  Others, however, remain political hot potatoes, and therefore the subjects of lies.  Public school textbooks are barometers of society for these reasons.

The cult of the Lost Cause, with Robert E. Lee and Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson as its demigods and the fallen dead as its angels and patron saints, found fertile soil throughout much of the country.  Prior to the 1970s and 1980s, many old public school textbooks sided with the South during and after the Civil War.  This academic environment, typical of its time, aided and abetted the propagation of the cult of the Lost Cause.  Many pro-segregation white Southerners have long cited this version of history to defend their point of view.

[1] Frank Herbert, Chapterhouse:  Dune (New York:  Ace Books, 1985), 1.

[2] James W. Loewen, Lies My Teacher Told Me:  Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong (New York:  New Press, 1995), 149; Gertrude Hartman and Hugh T. Lefler, AmericaLand of Freedom, 2d ed. (Lexington, MA:  D.C. Heath and Company, 1959), iv, 425-427, 520, 543.

[3] Hartman and Lefler, 402.

[4] David S. Muzzey and Arthur S. Link, Our American Republic, 3d ed. (Boston:  Ginn and Company, 1965), i-ii, 332-338, 681-684; Howard B. Wilder, Robert P. Ludlum, and Harriett McCune Brown, This Is America’s Story, 3d ed. (New York:  Houghton Mifflin, 1966), iv, 412-413, 692-694.

[5] Ralph C. Preston and John Tottle, In These United States and Canada—Teacher’s Edition (Boston:  D.C. Heath and Company, 1965), 191, 242-244; Gertrude Stephens Brown, Ernest W. Tiegs, and Fay Adams, Your Country and Mine, New Edition—Teacher’s Manual (Boston:  Ginn and Company, 1966), 173; Harold H. Eibling, Fred M. King, and James Harlow, World Background for American History (Atlanta:  Laidlaw Brothers, 1968), 3, 411-413.

[6] Vashti and Jack Brown, Proudly We Hail (Atlanta:  Houghton Mifflin, 1968), iv, vi-vii.

[7] Jay Glanzrock, Adventures in American History (Atlanta:  Silver Burdett, 1971), iii, 212-215, 326-331.

[8] Ibid., 328.

[9] Thomas A. Bailey, The American Pageant:  A History of the Republic, 5h ed.  (Lexington, MA:  D.C. Heath and Company, 1975), i, 441, 487-510, 988-990, 1014-1017.

[10] L. Joanne Buggey, et al., America! America!  (Glenview, IL:  Scott, Foresman and Company, 1977), 5, 404-405, 652-661.

[11] Harold B. Wilder, Robert P. Ludlum, and Harriett McCune Brown, This Is America’s Story, 4h ed. (Boston:  Houghton Mifflin, 1978), 414-420, 699-702.

[12] Nelle Dederick, et al.  Our People (Lexington, MA:  Ginn and Company, 1979), 88-91.

[13] Henry W. Bragdon and Samuel P. McCutchen, History of a Free People, 5h ed. (New York:  Macmillan, 1964), iv, 328, 334-357, 362-363, 675-678; Henry W. Bragdon, Samuel P. McCutchen, and Robert A. Ritchie, History of a Free Nation (New York:  Glencoe, 1998), iv, 403, 410-437, 450, 905-914.

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