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Old October 20th, 2015, 02:39 AM   #1

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How High School History Books are Written


As a fairly long term member of Historum I have, on occasion broken the prohibition of discussing current events. I have been admonished and at times even been suspended for short periods of time.

In my defense, I would usually reference current events in the context of historical parallels citing History's tendency to repeat itself, but with new variations each time.

I do understand the prohibition as a way to calm down disputes over current controversies and keep them from erupting into senseless and even destructive flame wars fueled by partisan ideologies.

C-span clip: "Lies My Teacher Told Me"



The clip that I have posted below is a C-span program from 1995 where James W. Loewen is interviewed about his studies and book, "Lies My Teacher Told Me" He explains how high school history books are written and chosen for public schools and their treatment of events and more importantly, their omissions.

As in Historum's own policy, the closer to the present and the more controversial, the less probing attention is paid. He cites the Vietnam war and the civil rights struggle of the 60's as primary examples of distortion and omission. This bias eventually becomes the national narrative and gets written to history text.

This clip was published in 1995 and even today, the 10 year long war in Vietnam war is glossed over in many school book histories, devoting barely a half page or a paragraph treating it as a side event in history.


Proposal:
Quote:
In conclusion I would like to advance this proposal. The prohibition of discussing current events has been set at 1990, that is now 25 years in the past, soon to be 26. Are we shooting for 30?


Perhaps Historum would consider moving this date up to 1995 so as to include the end of the USSR and the liberation of the Warsaw Pact nations and their re-integration into the EU? Theoretically this might be considered the final end of WW2.


Or should Historum be like the people who write high school book histories, being always afraid of offending someone and in the process, supporting the creation of bad history..

I hope that Historum will appreciate that I did not run a poll on this proposal. I was only hoping for some thoughtful consideration on the issue.

Last edited by larkin; October 20th, 2015 at 02:45 AM.
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Old October 20th, 2015, 02:52 AM   #2

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Historiography or journalism?


You see, there is a rational base for the rule present on Historum about not discussing recent history [by definition, also yesterday is already history].

The difference between historiography and journalism.

The journalist tells events in progress, with the professional duty to verify sources, but not to verify in deep the bases of those sources, since it's normal that observing something in progress tomorrow you can discover that what you think today is not accurate.

Mundane example:

a journalist notes that in courtyard of a school they are excavating to build something. The journalist asks to the management of the school and they tell him that they are building a tennis playground.

On the local newspaper, the following morning, the journalist signs a brief note in the local news where he announces that the High School is going to have a tennis playground.

3 Months pass and in a meeting of the management of the school they decide to modify the project, transforming the tennis playground in a basketball playground ...

The journalist will write an other note on the local newspaper.

May be he could investigate about the costs of the enlargement of the original project and how the school have found the money ... and so on.

When does the historian appears in all this? [Admitting that a local historian can be interested in telling how the High School has evolved through the years].

When the works are totally concluded and he will write "the High School in 2015 CE has built a basketball playground. The original project of a tennis playground has been modified 3 months after the works started and the management of the educational institute has had to finance it with a further sum of 100,000".

In a few words:

event in progress = journalism
event concluded = historiography

So, generalizing [tremendous thing, I know!]: is the intermediate period started after the end of the Cold War concluded? Difficult to say.

The "Arab wars" have got their roots in the 90's [remember the first attack to the Twin Towers and the hunt for Bin Laden and Co. run by Clinton administration].
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Old October 20th, 2015, 03:21 AM   #3

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Coming to High School books


I can talk about the Italian ones, of course. In public schools, history books tend to be comprehensive and to present wide scenarios until the years after the end of WW II and the process of construction of the new global equilibrium.

I would indicate the creation the Italian Republic, UN, NATO, the beginning of the Cold War, the end of colonialism and the European Community as borderline.

In Italy, recent history means Berlusconi [since 1994] and actually on our history books for High Schools the last 20 years are just represented by a quick paragraph [just because that's still journalism for us: that Italian moderate area is still in political competition with the historical left].
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Old October 20th, 2015, 03:28 AM   #4

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AlpinLuke,

Thank you for your thoughtful response. While I do not agree 100%, I do understand and agree for the most part. This issue has a lot of gray areas.

25 years ago I was in Berlin and I wrote about it and posted it on this forum. That was journalism on my part. But the event itself is now history. The wall is gone, the communist monolith is gone and Europe has moved on. Perhaps you are right, the end of this period might the re-unification of Germany in Dec of 1990 but it precludes the aftermath.

Initially I thought the prohibition a way to eliminate the stupid, ideological, American right/left squabbles that only serve to infuriate. For that reason I kept my comments non-partisan.

Here in lies the problem and I agree. This is a scenario that does not promise to end well. We can only guess and I watch in dread fascination.
Quote:
From AlpinLuke: The "Arab wars" have got their roots in the 90's [remember the first attack to the Twin Towers and the hunt for Bin Laden and Co. run by Clinton administration].
In closing, the clip I posted still has merit and it is worth watching

Last edited by larkin; October 20th, 2015 at 03:37 AM.
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Old October 20th, 2015, 03:40 AM   #5
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Your op would have been better served had you focused on an issue my son raised to me about the forced disremembering or deliberate misinterpretation of history.

He was researching the mythical Pope Joan from the middle ages that he claims the church seemed to simply wipe from historical records. Yet in the many years of research on the topic he has managed to find other historical records of her existence and along the way he discovered a book about forced disremembering or deliberate misinterpretation of history. Unfortunately I don't remember the name of the book.
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Old October 20th, 2015, 05:19 AM   #6

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Quote:
Originally Posted by PragmaticStatistic View Post
Your op would have been better served had you focused on an issue my son raised to me about the forced disremembering or deliberate misinterpretation of history.

He was researching the mythical Pope Joan from the middle ages that he claims the church seemed to simply wipe from historical records. Yet in the many years of research on the topic he has managed to find other historical records of her existence and along the way he discovered a book about forced disremembering or deliberate misinterpretation of history. Unfortunately I don't remember the name of the book.
Thank you for the comment.
I suggest that you take time to view the C-span clip because that is exactly the topic.
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Old October 20th, 2015, 07:22 AM   #7

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It is a fact that schools discuss only what could be called a "national narrative", a series of accepted truths which are apparently so true, no-one should even think about questioning them. All "national narratives", of course, omit and add to suit the political atmosphere at the time, so in my opinion, Larkin's assertion that it's hard to talk about the past without today coming into it is a valid one. For instance, the British curriculum is largely revisionist and verging on fictional. It operates censorship by omission and yet somehow manages to make the past look just like today whilst simultaneously pointing out how nasty we were to certain groups in the past (but we're not now).

Such a view of history is plainly inaccurate but very much a result of modern political expediency. Most people today, for example, believe that the Suffragettes really did win women the vote (but violent protests by Trade Unionists was WRONG, because "unruly behaviour sets such causes back". No discussion of suffragists or others or the fact that universal male suffrage only happened a decade before female. History is scoured for worthy members of our ethnic minorities who achieve near sainthood in order to be an "aspirational role model" for their modern counterparts.

In short, such history is merely modern propaganda and is a lot of things, but rarely is it a succinct, accurate truth.
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Old October 20th, 2015, 10:10 AM   #8
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There are at least three threads similar in topic running about the board at the moment. It's hard to decide which one to respond to - maybe I'll cut and paste...

Anyway, my bottom line opinion is this.

Individuals have to take responsibility for their own education and encourage it in those around them. When children, hopefully they are supported by a family structure that encourages education and the pursuit of knowledge. One of the best things we can do for our children is to give them the tools to find answers on their own. Expecting schools to accurately spoon feed children our entire history (or any other topic) will never work - the subject grows bigger every minute. Encouraging critical thinking skills and recognizing that things are not always as people say are crucial to their well being. As is encouraging them to look at things objectively and listen/read more than one source/point-of-view.

I think one reason this doesn't happen more is that it can be challenging to keep up with people using their brains. And children using their brains can sometimes come across as being disrespectful - when in fact, they're just using their brains.

The book sounds interesting, I have heard of it before.
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Old October 21st, 2015, 02:10 AM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by R5 plus View Post
There are at least three threads similar in topic running about the board at the moment. It's hard to decide which one to respond to - maybe I'll cut and paste...

Anyway, my bottom line opinion is this.

Individuals have to take responsibility for their own education and encourage it in those around them. When children, hopefully they are supported by a family structure that encourages education and the pursuit of knowledge. One of the best things we can do for our children is to give them the tools to find answers on their own. Expecting schools to accurately spoon feed children our entire history (or any other topic) will never work - the subject grows bigger every minute. Encouraging critical thinking skills and recognizing that things are not always as people say are crucial to their well being. As is encouraging them to look at things objectively and listen/read more than one source/point-of-view.

I think one reason this doesn't happen more is that it can be challenging to keep up with people using their brains. And children using their brains can sometimes come across as being disrespectful - when in fact, they're just using their brains.

The book sounds interesting, I have heard of it before.
While I agree with your position on the subject, from what I have observed the reality of what is going on in education is somewhat the opposite. Children cannot be held responsible for their own education when other influences control what they learn. Heck, as the creator of over 150 educational maps on history and science, I am a true believer in self-organized learning environments. But the reality is that without educator and parental guidance, the student may not have sufficient incentive or interest to pursue things that they cannot recognize as important to them at a young age. And this need for guidance is an opportunity for all aspects of influence on what they learn.

Consider the influence of large school boards on textbook publishers.

Consider, like one of my former employers, who had me create posters for the classroom on science issues to work in an agenda on training surgeons in a new surgery technique using dogs and pigs as good science. Discussing the pros and cons of the subject is not bad education, but working in the corporate and political propaganda involved in the classroom is.

On the other hand, historically way too many parents cannot allow their children to develop opinions of their own under the guise of a family structure that implies encouraging education. They won't allow their children to adhere to ideas that question the very beliefs and traditions of their parents, to develop critical thinking skills that run against the family values, and to develop opinions of their own. In reality we all do it to some extent and consider it properly educating our children. Heck, the educators themselves cannot agree on what should and should not be taught, and that to some extent is a reflection of the pressure they get by the community. Just look at the controversy on sex education from school district to school district. We all have our breaking point as to what is reasonable to teach our children.

For example, on one of the maps I made for classroom use on the American Revolution, an educator friend of mine recommended I remove a topic she felt too controversial even though she agreed it was a valid issue to discuss and would help develop critical thinking skills. On the other hand, she accepted several other controversial issues that were included in the map. That map went on to be a very popular map and was even used by teachers as part of class assignments and embedded on school web sites.

Last edited by PragmaticStatistic; October 21st, 2015 at 02:16 AM.
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