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Left-wing Textbooks Impart Skewed View of America to Students

Left-wing Textbooks Impart Skewed View of America to Students
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Thursday, 10 May 2018 05:06 PM Current | Bio | Archive

It's been 30 years since Chester Finn and Diane Ravitch published "What Do Our 17-Year-Olds Know?" a distressing report on the results of a national assessment of history and literature.

Since then, things in history haven't improved, with most 12-graders scoring 'Below basic' (a fail) every time the U.S. history test is administered by the National Assessment of Educational Progress. (2001 and 2006 scores are on page 10 here, and 2010 scores here.) On the last one, in 2010, when asked which country backed North Korea in the Korean War, only 22 percent of test-takers chose China over Soviet Union, Japan, and Vietnam.

You wouldn't think, then, that educators would still assign textbooks that actually discourage students from wanting to know more about their nation's past. But that's all too often the case, whether it be Howard Zinn’s "A People’s History of the United States" or the latest offering endorsed by the College Board.

It’s called "By the People: A History of the United States," by NYU professor of history and education James W. Fraser. In November 2013, College Board included it in a list of books that would be aligned with the new AP U.S. History framework, officially urging educators to accept it as part of the “transition” to the revised course. The first version of the framework, which came out in 2014, played up the usual identity politics and American imperialism themes. After an outcry that included a protest by the Republican National Committee, the College Board revised it, removing some of the aggressive anti-Exceptionalism elements and the inordinate focus on victim figures at the expense of American heroes.

But it didn’t ask the developers of textbooks that are aligned with AP U.S. History to change their approach. The first edition of "By the People" came out in 2015. The progressive slant of the volume was signaled by an opening note “To the Student,” which cast American history as “the story of those who fought back against injustice, who organized to win new rights, who found ways to build a better society.” To be clear, by “injustice,” Fraser didn’t mean inequality and misery in the countries that American immigrants fled. He meant inequality and misery here at home. It is his explicit wish that readers of the book witness these tales of those who “fought back” and think to themselves, “Why not me?” In other words, students in high school history classes are to become social justice warriors.

A new version of "By the People" is on the way, with updates on Black Lives Matter and the 2016 election that, you may imagine, echo the leftist line. If states adopt it, another conservative protest is to be expected. The problem, however, runs deeper than current events. The tendentiousness of the textbook runs throughout the story.

Here is how Fraser describes Ellis Island, the main processing center for immigrants:

“. . . the authorities were not always welcoming . . . It could be an intimidating experience as clerks asked a battery of questions, trying to be sure that no physically or mentally ill people or troublemakers were allowed into the country. They did not make life easy for anyone.” (501)

Officials often assigned them new names, Fraser notes, and medical inspections could be humiliating. Quarantines and other mistreatments were common. Only in one nondescript sentence buried in the paragraph do we get the extraordinary truth: only 2 percent of the seekers were denied entry!

Fortunately, in Fraser’s eyes, once they got in, many of those immigrants resisted assimilation and set about “creating a richly diverse nation of far more ethnic and cultural variety than had ever been seen before” (502).

As for the Cold War, Fraser introduces it not with the facts of Soviet espionage. Instead, we hear of people tarred as “internal enemies” by politicians who “sought political gain by fomenting a new Red Scare” (702). One can almost see the author grimace when he admits, “recently available documents make it clear that [Alger] Hiss had, indeed, probably been a communist in the 1930s,” and that “when Soviet archives were opened . . . it seemed clear that at least Julius [Rosenberg], if not Ethel, had been Soviet spies” (702-03). Still, he adds, “Just as Hiss suffered for his East Coast elite status . . . the Rosenbergs suffered for their Jewish background.” Whitaker Chambers, an extraordinary figure at the center of the espionage controversy, is never mentioned.

This is the version of America that left-wing textbooks impart to our rising citizens. The impact of these “injustice-oriented” frameworks on the 17-year-old mind isn’t hard to predict. Soon, these youths will be able to vote, serve in the military, and pay their own taxes. They will become adults in a country with a long history, and their impression of that history will influence what kind of citizen they want to be.

The current dogmas of academic historians tell them that they have much of which to be ashamed. The immigration story of the late-19th and early-20th centuries should be a triumphant one, the admission of waves of people with different faiths, languages, and customs, nearly all of whom were indeed proud to become Americans. And Soviet espionage during the Cold War was, in fact, a genuine threat, not a fantasy of unscrupulous politicians. Textbooks such as "By the People" teach students otherwise.

The low scores on U.S. history exams may be traced back to this revisionist approach to the American past. It is cynical and suspicious, anti-heroic and victim-focused. When adolescents read all the bad things that people in America did and suffered, they naturally see no reason to remember the facts and figures of long ago. Academic historians worry so much about mythmaking and sentimentality in the popular mind, not to mention Eurocentrism and white supremacy, that they over-emphasize racism, imperialism, and other crimes. This kind of resentment is a big turn-off for the kids. Unless they want to become social justice warriors, they aren’t inspired or intrigued. They feel no happy connection to their forebears. They’d rather forget about it than think lowly of their homeland.

Historians who insist that they’re only telling the truth about a guilty America ought to reconsider their own relation to the country — and to their discipline. In recent years, the American Historical Association has reported a steadily declining popularity of college history courses. The undergraduates are voting with their feet. They got a heavy dose of American sin in high school, and they don’t want any more of it.

Mark Bauerlein is Professor of English at Emory University and Senior Editor at First Things Magazine. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.

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MarkBauerlein
It's been 30 years since Chester Finn and Diane Ravitch published "What Do Our 17-Year-Olds Know?" a distressing report on the results of a national assessment of history and literature.
textbooks, history, students, america
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2018-06-10
Thursday, 10 May 2018 05:06 PM
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