While the media generally goes into hysterics every time the Texas State Board of Education meets, with commentators hurling mockery, outrage and vitriol at the board members, there is a total lack of interest when other states' boards of education meet for the same purpose. Yet Texas is not the only state that influences the content of American schooling: a few other states also determine textbook standards that end up being used in other parts of the country. California, in particular, is also an important textbook market for publishers. Yet mysteriously, one never hears of any controversy erupting when the California State Board of Education meets to decide the content of textbooks used throughout the state and in many other school districts around the country which shun the Texas-approved textbooks.
Why is that? Could it simply be that California-approved textbooks aren't as politicized as those in Texas?
Quite the contrary. If anything, the textbooks approved by the California State Board of Education are even more politicized than Texas textbooks, and more ideologically biased. So: Why does the media ignore what happens in California textbooks? Because the state's bias goes the other way. California-approved social studies textbooks are politically correct in the extreme, with multiculturalism and "social justice" as the defining characteristics. The pressure groups and board members setting policy for California's (and hence a substantial portion of America's) textbooks exceed their Texan counterparts in their extremism, but since California pushes the "correct" kind of extremism, you never hear about it.
And I'm not just talking about overt political bias, as exemplified by the previously-mentioned A People's History of the United States and countless similar study materials with a blatant left-leaning slant. I'm talking about a subtler form of indoctrination.
As pointed out in this article written by a textbook editor,
To make the list in California, books must be scrupulously stereotype free: No textbook can show African Americans playing sports, Asians using computers, or women taking care of children. Anyone who stays in textbook publishing long enough develops radar for what will and won’t get past the blanding process of both the conservative and liberal watchdogs.
More on this in a moment.
But first let's look at another example cited in this essay by The American Textbook Council, illuminating what has happened to California's (and the nation's) curriculum in recent decades. If you're young enough to have experienced this kind of schooling yourself, the example below will not be a surprise to you; but if you're over a certain age, and haven't been paying attention to changes in American education, you'll scratch your head at some of the names in this textbook's list of America's greatest heroes:
Editors [at Houghton Mifflin] were put in the hands of revisionist historians, Islamist activists, and diversity counters. ... Its eighth-grade history, Creating America, produced by Houghton Mifflin's McDougal Littell imprint, ... identifies ten representative American heroes:
Elizabeth Cady Stanton
Ida B. Wells
In fact this list is highly unrepresentative of American history. This "American history" cobbled together from "representative" national heroes conforms to multicultural ideology, but it fails. The continuing effort to make diversity along lines of gender and ethnicity into the essence of the national past comes up short and cheapens the narrative.
In this popular textbook, to counteract the unfortunately necessary inclusion of the three Dead White Male presidents on the list (Washington, Lincoln and Jackson), the publishers selected an array of second-tier historical figures whose ethnic diversity is beyond reproach -- and also ensured that the genders were represented equally as well. And while I have no problem with students learning about Queen Liluokalanai and the rest of the crew, in context, I fear that America's children are coming away with the impression that these really are the most important people in our nation's history, and not just a list assembled at random to satisfy multicultural pressure groups.
The teachers and educators seem to have forgotten that kids don't even know the basics yet, so that when you feed them an alternate set of facts which were only meant to counteract the longstanding un-PC status quo, the students in their innocence and ignorance learn only that alternate reality and never learn that status quo it was meant to neutralize.
The Travesty of Psychological Modeling
The entire drive for enforced equal ethnic and gender representation in history books is based on a false premise. Probably without even realizing it, politically motivated educators are borrowing unproven theories from psychology and applying them en masse to schoolkids. Relying on notions of "psychological modeling," the unspoken assumption behind much of modern education is that children are incapable of forging their own personalities or paths through life, but are strictly limited to imitating the role models they perceive while growing up. Thus, according to the theory, a girl who grows up in the 1950s and sees no images or discussions of female firefighters will reach adulthood convinced of the impossibility of ever becoming a firefighter; furthermore, she will never attempt to or even want to become a firefighter, thinking it beyond her reach. And so in the next generation there will be no female firefighters either, thus once again no one on whom a young potential female firefighter might model her aspirations, and the cycle will repeat forever. Similarly, the theory goes, if a child grows up in a gang-infested neighborhood, and the only adults he ever sees are gang members, then when that child grows up he will almost certainly become a gang member too, because that's all he knows: the gang members become his role models. And then he becomes the role model for the next generation. The principle extends across the social landscape: Kids who grow up being abused by their parents will themselves become abusers. Kids who grow up in a milieu filled with academics and intellectuals will themselves tend to become intellectuals too. And so on.
In an attempt to upend the status quo of this multi-tiered self-perpetuating class system, educators have sought to break the cycle of negative role modeling in minority communities by using the school system as a tool to present alternate positive role models for the children to emulate. Sounds almost reasonable on the surface. But there's a terrible, terrible price to pay for this psychological self-help gimmick: In order to create a satisfactory array of positive archetypes, educators have begun to twist historical reality to suit their requirements, and engage in egregious revisionism to artificially construct the needed pantheon of role models to match every imaginable ethnic and social sub-grouping.
It is precisely for this reason that contemporary textbooks are filled with "heroes" and purportedly pivotal historical figures who are totally unknown to anyone over, say, 40 years old. That's because if a particular field of endeavor or crucial moment in history was populated mostly by straight white males, the revisionist textbook framers seek out and focus on peripheral figures who fit the necessary ethnic profile -- inevitably (considering the limited space in the textbook and a finite amount of class time) to the exclusion of authentically more significant individuals.
|Illustration by Buzzsawmonkey|
Forging a New Reality
Let's now revisit the first example cited above, in which "No textbook can show African Americans playing sports, Asians using computers, or women taking care of children." Let's be completely frank here: Women tend to (and tend to want to) take care of children; African-Americans tend to dominate the types of professional sports popular in America (football, basketball, baseball, track-and-field, etc.) for whatever sociological or physiological reasons; and Asians often pursue academic, scientific, or business careers, which these days pretty much requires extensive computer expertise. In other words, by any measurable criteria, on average these stereotypes have a kernel of truth and are based on real-world facts: Women do tend to be the ones raising children, African-Americans do tend to participate in and excel at athletics, and some Asians do gravitate toward careers that involve the use of computers.
But if the stereotypes are at least partly true, and are not negative stereotypes, then what is the harm in having at least a few pictures in a textbook which depict reality accurately, to at least balance out all the other wishful-thinking pictures? After all, if you walk through the real American landscape, everywhere you go you'll see with your own eyes mothers taking care of children; if you turn on the TV or look at a magazine or see a billboard or actually attend a sporting event, you will see African-Americans engaging in sports; and if you go to any major university, you'll see Asians using computers. What's so taboo about these social realities that they need to be covered up or denied?
Just when we thought we had gotten to the bottom of the story, we have to get out our shovels and keep digging. Since progressive educators believe the dodgy theory that if you depict a behavior to a young person, then he or she will grow up imitating that behavior, then the reason to not include in textbooks any images of women raising children or Asians using computers is that you don't want women to raise children or Asians to use computers. The theory goes: over time, girls in the class, not perceiving any images of motherhood during their education, will upon reaching adulthood tend to reject motherhood as a life-course; and Asians, not seeing in their textbooks any role models pursuing academic careers, will grow up to seek out non-academic jobs. And so on.
But why would anyone want that? I reject that this "modeling" is even effective in the first place, but setting that issue aside for the moment: What is the motivation of the people (i.e. the progressive educational establishment) who seek to restructure through textbook manipulation the existing self-selected social landscape?
The answer is almost too obvious to grasp: They want a social revolution. Part of this drive is nihilistic: However things currently are, they want to negate these realities and tear them down, for the purported reason of "evening things out." And part of it is what might be called the desire for "class vengeance": to upend the existing social order and usher in a new one in which the roles are reversed. In the case of the California textbook authors, to create a society in which men raise children and women go off to work; in which African-Americans don't play sports, but (presumably) pursue academic careers; and in which Asians reject intellectual achievement in favor of -- well, I guess, sports.
This reversing or (in the best-case scenario) leveling out of class and socio-ethnic differences is a hallmark of Marxist theory. I'm not talking about the strict economic aspect of Marxism -- I'm speaking of social Marxism, or postmodern Marxism. The difference between 19th century classical Marxism and 21st century neo-Marixsm is a vast topic far beyond the scope of this essay, and for which there is insufficient vocabulary to discuss without endless scuffles over the very definitions of terms. I'm speaking of the modern leftist belief that it is not only possible but necessary to eradicate social and economic differences in order to achieve a completely "fair" world. There are many proposed ways to achieve this, but the most subtle involve the indoctrination of youth so that they grow up embracing the "social justice" model. Critics of this Marx-inspired drive -- myself included -- point out that in the first place it's not even truly possible to neutralize the natural stratification of society, and therefore that the process of attempting to "even things out" inevitably ends up (as it always has in the past) a bloody mess leading to a repressive result; but secondly and most importantly, even if a Marxist utopia ever was achieved, very quickly a new social stratification would emerge, and the "problem" -- if you insist on perceiving it as a problem -- of social/class differences would start all over again, leading to another bloody revolution and yet another repressive social order, ad infinitum.
One needs only to look at what happens in the aftermaths of real communist revolutions to see that class stratification resurfaces almost immediately after the Old Order is annihilated. The landlords are out, the cadres are in; aristocrats are supplanted by apparatchiks and elite party members. The privileged are demoted, but that doesn't mean that the very notion of privilege is abandoned. Hell no: all that happens is that someone else gets to become the superior. Which is entirely predictable, because the natural variation among individuals and in environments will inevitably lead to stratification, no matter how hard you try to suppress it. The perfectly egalitarian communist utopia is an unattainable pipe dream, and any attempt to bring about this impossible society will only lead to pointless misery for a majority of the population.
What Happens in California Doesn't Stay in California
Well, you may be thinking, at least Texas is immune from this craziness. Thank God for Texas!
Uh ... I hate to be the one to break it to you, but...
Even Texas is not safe from the multicultural mania. Remember that the Texas State Board of Education is not a solid conservative bloc. The board actually reflects pretty accurately the political makeup of the state's population: currently, the 15-member board is composed of 5 liberal Democrats, 7 or 8 conservative Republicans, and 2 or 3 more moderate Republicans (depending on where you draw the line between moderate and conservative). And while the board may vote along strictly partisan lines on some hot-button issues, there is also plenty of jockeying and compromise on issues that don't draw as much media attention. On occasion, the liberal members get their way, or at least influence the outcome of a particular vote toward a compromise position.
At one meeting last March, the TSBE descended into chaos and name-calling over demands by liberals on the board for greater ethnic representation (i.e. tokenism) in history textbooks. Two specific disputes cropped up in the news reports: one, the insistence by the outvoted liberal board members that students be taught the names of the eight Texans of Hispanic heritage who fought at the Alamo; and two, that ethnic minority Medal of Honor winners be highlighted as heroes. After one of the liberal members threw a tantrum and stomped out, the rest of the board apparently compromised and partly caved in to demands for more minority Medal of Honor winners. Out of curiosity, I wanted to learn exactly who made the cut and why, but after an extensive search I found only two papers in the whole country that reported the specific names which the School Board members were arguing about:
For hours, the State Board of Education's Hispanic and African American members clashed with its Anglo majority Thursday over how to present history to the state's 4.7 million public school children.
Much of the conflict centered on the racial balance of the historical figures to be included in textbooks starting in the 2011-2012 school year. Temperatures boiled when sex or religion got added to the mix.
Members grew increasingly distraught over the process as they groped toward a preliminary adoption of new socials studies curriculum standards, set for today.
And one, Mary Helen Berlanga, D-Corpus Christi, walked out shortly after 5 p.m. as the board added two more white men to a standard identifying the contributions of Texas leaders, Lawrence “Sul” Ross and John Nance Garner.
“We can just pretend that this is White America. Hispanics don't exist,” she said, as she left.
Race and discrimination provoked sharp debate. Berlanga attached copies of old signs on her desk: “This park was given for White people only. Mexicans and Negroes stay out,” read one. But she failed to get any Republican support for her amendment identifying minority Medal of Honor recipients.
Bradley said he wanted kids to learn about Medal of Honor recipients but questioned Berlanga's criteria, saying, “We are doing it by skin color, and I object to that.”
After she left, the board voted to have students to discuss Medal of Honor recipients of all races and gender, such as Vernon J. Baker, Alvin York and Roy Benavidez – respectively, an African American hero from World War II, an Anglo who fought in World War I, and a Hispanic hero from the Vietnam War.
Rick Agosto, D-San Antonio, said he felt frustrated because Hispanic children are entitled to more examples of contributions by Hispanics.
When I first scanned this passage, I mis-read it to mean that the left-leaning board members wanted inclusion of these three Medal of Honor winners, but the notion of inclusion based solely on race was rejected by the Republicans. But no -- after one of the Democrats stomped out, the board apparently compromised by approving the inclusion of three men, one each from a different race. (If that was the compromise, one can only imagine what the original demands were.) Let's pause for a moment and look at this compromise.
Obsessing Over the Minutiae and Ignoring the Big Picture
Just who was Roy Benavidez? He won the Medal of Honor for an heroic action during a May 2, 1968 battle in the Vietnam War.
Now, I'm not going to put down or criticize Benavidez; what he did (rushing to help trapped comrades under fire) was extremely brave and selfless, and I salute him for his service to the country. He certainly deserved the Medal of Honor.
But...well, let's be frank: In the grand scheme of things, the sweep of world history, just how significant was that skirmish and Benavidez's role in it? Not very. Don't forget that there were 245 other brave soldiers who also won the Medal of Honor during Vietnam -- and 3,447 other Medal of Honor winners throughout American history. If you were to read the each one of their stories, they'd be equally valorous. So: Why Benavidez? He would seem at first glance to be some random heroic veteran pulled out of a hat and held up above all others -- and not just above all other heroic veterans, but all other people in the history of the world -- for praise and study. Why? The people who voted to include him in the book told us exactly why: Because of his ethnicity. That's it.
And the same holds true for the other two nominees: Vernon J. Baker "is a United States Army Medal of Honor recipient for his actions on April 5–6, 1945 near Viareggio, Italy during World War II. Baker and his platoon killed 26 enemy soldiers and destroyed six machine gun nests, two observer posts and four dugouts." Again, very excellent. I salute Vernon Baker. But again, why him out of the literally millions of heroic soldiers who risked life and limb and mowed down the enemy in WWII and other wars? Again, he was chosen due to his ethnicity, and no other reason. The other nominee, legendary WWI hero Alvin York (subject of the Gary Cooper film Sergeant York) was probably ignored by the multiculturalists until they discovered that his ancestors had some Native American blood way back somewhere in the family tree -- thereby elevating York to the coveted minority status.
Crispus Attucks, the Original Founding Father
Another example of this trend happened in my own education -- an experience I would later learn was commonplace for other kids of the same generation. As a schoolchild growing up in an urban and very ethnically mixed school district sometime in that transitional period between 1975 and 2000, we thousands of elementary schoolkids were presented with what at the time was a novel concept -- history viewed through the lens of race. And so our brief section on the American Revolution pretty much focused entirely on Crispus Attucks, one of the five people killed at the 1770 Boston Massacre, which is generally cited as one of the sparks that eventually ignited the American War of Independence. Oh, and I left out a key detail: Attucks was partly African-American. That's why we studied him. Now, it's all well and good to learn about Crispus Attucks and the Boston Massacre, as long as it's one component in a larger megadose of information about the Revolution. But here's the crazy part of my education: We never learned the rest the story. We never were given the slightest whiff of the "standard narrative" which this counter-narrative was devised to neutralize. I never was taught thing one about George Washington or Benjamin Franklin; Thomas Jefferson was only mentioned briefly as an example of a slave-owner; I never even heard the names Alexander Hamilton or Thomas Paine or any of the innumerable other figures familiar to anyone who learned American history "in the old days."
On pages 84-90 of his book History in the Making (which traces how textbooks have changed over time), author Kyle Ward shows how the fable of Crispus Attucks has evolved and grown for centuries, and by now bears little resemblance to the original version of his participation in the Boston Massacre. Future president John Adams, at that time defending the British soldiers from a murder charge, described Attucks and his fellow rioters as "a motley rabble of saucy boys, negros and molattoes, Irish teagues and outlandish jack tarrs." Compare that to the version I was taught nearly two hundred years later, in which Attucks was the original American patriot, a noble-minded martyr who almost singlehandedly brought America to independence.
Keep in mind that my teachers, however progressive they may have been, had themselves all been educated in the distant past of the 20th century, when every schoolchild had the "normal" version of American history drilled into his or her head relentlessly. And so these teachers (and school district policy-setters, I'm sure as well) wanted to break out of that old-fashioned mold and teach something more relevant to the majority of us inner-city kids. But in the rush to correct what was perceived as a longstanding bias, the educators must have forgotten that in our little pre-teen brains was a complete absence of any knowledge of American history of any kind. So that when we were exclusively presented with what was simply meant as an antidote to the old ways, that antidote was all we ever got. Crispus Attucks was just one of innumerable semi-marginal figures elevated to central status in my early educational career. If you had asked me, when I was still young, who had founded the United States, I likely would have told you it was Crispus Attucks. And I fear that if the future kids of Texas were to be quizzed on who won the Vietnam War, they'd probably tell you it was Roy Benavidez.
Multiply this scenario a million-fold and you can begin to see the problem with the kind of ethnocentric historical re-prioritization that has become commonplace in American education. It's not that Crispus Attucks and Vernon J. Baker and Roy Benavidez were bad people, or are unworthy of praise, but rather that they are figures of at best secondary importance being given leading roles in history. It's a nonstop educational equivalent of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, Tom Stoppard's bizarre re-working of Hamlet in which bit players become the lead characters while Hamlet himself is relegated to the sidelines.
The Moral Imperative to Rewrite History
But this brings us back to the original "problem," as the progressive educators perceive it. If we hew to the Straight White Male version of history, then we still won't have any alternate role models to help minority students visualize a way out of their cultural rut. We need to misrepresent history in the past if we want to forge the possibility of a new history in the future.
To me, this is the gist of the conflict. I've striven mightily for years to fairly assess both sides of the debate, yet no matter how hard I try to be even-handed, the progressive/revisionist argument always collapses.
First of all, it is deeply insulting and condescending to presume that minority kids can only rise to the level of some precursor with a similar skin tone. This is the kind of "soft racism" of which the Left is endlessly guilty, treating minorities as if they were parrots capable only of imitative behavior.
If anything, the very existence of President Obama himself has disproven this presumption: What ethnic role models did Barack Hussein Obama have in his ascent to the presidency? None. Love him or hate him, disagree with his policies as vehemently as you wish (quite vehemently in my case), you must concede that he broke new ground; he showed that black men are capable of anything, and that they don't require ethnic role models or antecedents to take any career path, even the highest one in the land. And if that's the case, we don't need to rewrite history as part of an unnecessary and ultimately futile mass psychology experiment.
Furthermore, reality doesn't change simply because you've tricked a bunch of kids into believing a lie. Do the leftists seriously think that with sufficient brainwashing most young women will in fact permanently lose all biologically built-in mothering instincts and instead all strive to be firefighters or astronauts? That the facts of history will somehow alter to our liking if we twist them hard enough? (The answer, incredibly enough, is yes -- that's exactly what they believe.)
How much hogwash must we impose on our children before we abandon this delusional "social justice" scheme?
Part III: Indoctrination Nation