History has always been among my favorite subjects. The stories are fascinating. The good, the bad, the complexity, and the simplicity of human nature are all on display. This has come at a cost of some cherished narratives, I suppose. Turns out Americans aren’t always the good guys, and like as not, we’re not exceptional.
For a guy like me, one book more isn’t going to make much difference. Another book will be yet another voice in the cacophony. But, when we are talking about the educational system, it’s a different story. A lot of the people consuming these texts are going to get maybe one or two passes at most periods in history. The narratives in those texts are going to be locked in. That’s why you have such political concern over history texts. Tom LoBianco has another installment in Gov. Daniels’ dabbling with the history curriculum. We know that he vehemently disapproved of Howard Zinn’s take on history. Now we learn that he was embracing the history stylings of Bill Bennett.
Emails obtained by The Associated Press through a public records request show Bill Bennett had much more favor among Daniels and his advisers. In January 2010, when Daniels discovered the board of education had changed the state’s textbook rules to allow Bennett’s book, he quickly asked how soon his advisers could get copies of “The Last Best Hope” in classrooms.
“This is excellent to hear … now someone make my day and tell me that his book is becoming the textbook of choice in our state and I’ll buy beers for everyone,” he wrote in a Jan. 27, 2010, email to then-schools chief Tony Bennett, Bennett’s former chief of staff, Todd Huston, and David Shane, a longtime Daniels colleague, Republican donor and school board member.
I suppose, in addition to ideology, there is also more than a small element of directing public funds to favored recipients; but, in the case of history, the cherished narratives are more interesting to me. I sympathize with the desire to teach our kids a cartoon version of history where we are always the good guys and the good guys always win. But that potentially leads to some harsh disillusionment later. And for those who aren’t white guys, I imagine there is some confusion about the scope of “we.”
Somewhat related to this discussion, Dan Carlin’s most recent podcast, entitled The American Peril, looks at the late 19th / early 20th century as a way of examining a dichotomy in the American psyche. On one hand, you have the usual sort of venal impulse toward material goods and power; on the other hand, you have the impulse to honor the mythology surrounding the country’s Founding. This has created problems on a number of occasions; one of which was our experience in the Phillipines.
I don’t know about you, but my history classes mostly skipped directly over America’s involvement in the Philipines. I had never heard use of the term “Philippine-American War.” There was a passing reference to the U.S. destroying the Spanish presence there in conjunction with our invasion of Cuba following the explosion of the Maine. But, then, very little. Turns out, we had to use some very brutal tactics in service of the side of the American psyche that craved material goods and imperialism; tactics that did not comport well with our national mythology at all.
I don’t know, but I suspect that Zinn’s writings have a good bit more on this subject than do Bennett’s. And I further suspect that a kid with knowledge of this stuff who grows up to be an adult is less likely to want to engage in military adventures like the one in Iraq than a kid who only knows about the splendid little war in Cuba and Teddy Roosevelt’s charge up San Juan Hill.