Thursday, January 5, 2012

Rewriting History....Again

You know what job must be really difficult nowadays?  American History textbook writer.  I say that because states continue to add more and more "requirements" to what must pass as American History.  The latest example comes from California--where a new law went into effect this week that requires schools to teach about Gay, Lesbian, Bi-Sexual and Trans-gendered persons who "contributed to the history of the country and the state."  That is in addition to requirements that were already on the books requiring the inclusion of women, Native Americans, African-Americans, Mexican-Americans and Asian-Americans and unions.

As I read through the list, I thought about a comedy skit I saw once where a director went to his studio executives to pitch an adaptation of Shakespeare--and the producers said they would green light the project--but only if he added a nude scene, a car chase, a shootout and a bunch of explosions.  And that it starred Adam Sandler.

Does that mean that American History texts should exclude any "minority" group?  No.  Students need to know that the Womens Temperance Union was the driving force behind the ill-fated Prohibition of alcohol.  They need to discuss the differences between early African-American leaders like Nat Moore, Frederick Taylor and W.E.B. DuBois as to whether former slave owners should have assets taken away and given to former slaves--or if Blacks should work toward self-sufficiency on their own.  Texts should include Democratic President Andrew Jackson forcing the Native tribes of Florida to march the Trail of Tears to their new "home" in Oklahoma and Democratic President Franklin Roosevelt requiring the internment of Japanese-Americans in Hawaii and on the West Coast during World War II.  Even Democratic President Harry Truman threatening to draft striking coal miners in 1946 so the northern half of the US wouldn't freeze to death deserves a short section in a text.

The main problem with "re-writing" history to be more "inclusionary" of specific segments of the population is that it fails to provide the proper perspective on what is really important to know and understand.  In the promotion of gays and lesbians you are going to have to base a lot of "fact" on supposition for the first 500 years of the country--and promote very minor characters in much larger events.  Take for instance Friedrich von Steuben--the German military veteran who trained Washington's troops during the winter at Valley Forge--who was "believed to be gay"?  Does he need to be promoted to an elevated level of historical importance now?  And what difference does his sexuality make on how he trained those troops on European fighting techniques?

Abraham Lincoln was long rumored to have "lain with men" before his marriage.  Does that mean students need to debate his sexuality--instead of why he believed so strongly in fighting to preserve the Union?  Is James Buchanon to be elevated into the pantheon of Washington and Lincoln because he was the first "Gay President?"  Do his diary entries about "wooing" other men--and Democrat Andrew Jackson calling him "Miss Nancy"--deserve precious limited pages of a textbook?  Eleanor Roosevelt is believed to have been a lesbian.  How much of that needs to be covered in a class report on the Depression and the New Deal?

And don't think that these laws passed in California don't affect kids here in Wisconsin.  California and Texas are the largest textbook purchasers in the country--and publishers don't make texts specific to those states--so what is required there become "required" here.  We won't get into Texas requiring evolution be taught only as a "theory" in biology and science textbooks--that's a whole 'nother kettle of fish we don't have time to get into right now.

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