Tuesday, February 22, 2005

History crossing the center line

Posted by Craig Westover | 7:49 AM |  

Mark Yost writes an excellent column in today’s Pioneer Press analyzing a 5th grade history textbook. It speaks for itself.
I can't sit in a fifth-grade class for a week (I'd never fit in the desk), but I did get the fifth-grade history textbook from Como Park Elementary School. If you wonder why people today don't understand the Second Amendment and other important elements of American history, look no further than this textbook.

Not surprisingly, it takes the predictable left lane down history's highway. For instance, the Spanish are justifiably chastised for their treatment of the Incas and Aztecs, but there's no mention of virgins being thrown into volcanoes. If this textbook were your only source, you'd think the natives lived in an utter state of equanimity before the evil Europeans arrived.

Ditto for slavery. The text makes the argument that slavery existed for eons in Africa, but it wasn't that bad.

"In some parts of Africa slaves could rise to positions of honor and trust. After a time, they could be given their freedom."
Not so for America.

"Little by little, however, life for Africans in Europe and in the Americas began to change. One of the most important reasons for this change was that there were not enough workers in the Americas."

You can just see the seeds being sown in the young minds for future lessons discrediting capitalism and the widespread benefits of the Industrial Revolution.

When it comes to the American Revolution, Thomas Paine is covered in a picture and a caption that notes he "lost his job as a tax collector after asking for a raise." One page is devoted to "American Heroes," brief paragraphs on John Paul Jones, Nathan Hale, Ethan Allen and others. In about 20 pages, we go from "Decision for Independence" to the "Treaty of Paris."

But what's really disturbing about this text is its tone. It is so dry that no kid could come away the least bit excited about American history. There's no sense that the Founders were unique; they were just a bunch of guys angry about taxes.

Is this really what our country has devolved into? Have we become so cautious about aggrandizing the Founders that Valley Forge only warrants three mentions — two of them tangential?

In his farewell address, Ronald Reagan asked: "Are we doing a good enough job teaching our children what America is and what she represents in the long history of the world?"

Reading this textbook, it's clear that the answer is a resounding "no."
For a fair and balanced version of American history, a great "antidote to this biased approach to our history" is A Patriot's History of the United States. This book doesn't gloss over America's mistakes, but it puts the back in their proper perspective. The focus of the book is on America's role as a "beacon of liberty" to the rest of the world.