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That Texas Schoolbook Massacre: Have Critics Actually Looked At Current High School History Texts?
The Texas Board of Education has voted to include in state's history textbooks facts more favorable to conservatives. Needless to say, this has provoked condemnations from the national Main Stream Media. That's because any challenge to the Left's post-1960s dominion over the past is going to arouse real passion.
OK, I know it's not clear how many students actually read their history textbooks. But the Texans are showing more enterprise than is common among conservatives, or Americans generally. These have fecklessly permitted their ideological enemies to define what gets called history.
Theoretically, history is about learning how the world works and not repeating old mistakes. What most people want to know, however: who does society approve? Who is respectable and who is not? Who are the good guys and who are the bad guys?
History is commonly said to be written by victors. But there is surprisingly little evidence for that in America over the last 150 years. In that period, American history has tended to be controlled by those who care the most about controlling history.
For example, the North won the Civil War, but subsequent generations of Southerners invested more in historians. Hence, the South's view of the Civil War and Reconstruction tended to be intellectually dominant up until the 1960s.
For more than forty years, the teaching business has been completely dominated by the prejudices of the Sixties People, whose Gramscian "long march through the institutions" has left them in control of the schools.
What is striking to somebody like me, who grew up during the 1960s and 1970s, is the subsequent lack of generational rebellion. Kids these days tend toward intellectual conformism. They trust anyone over 30 who tells them what everybody else is telling them.
Why have the Sixties People proven so enduring in molding young people's minds? My theory: The Sixties mindset—aggrieved, resentful, and unrealistic—is perfectly attuned to appeal permanently to the worst instincts of adolescents.
And yet young people do have a finer side—their hunger for heroes—that history books once tried to fulfill rather than exploit. For example, I was galvanized in 1975 when I read Admiral Samuel Eliot Morison's tribute in his Oxford History of the American People to Orville and Wilbur Wright:
"Few things in our history are more admirable than the skill, the pluck, the quiet self-confidence, the alertness to reject fixed ideas and to work out new ones, and the absence of pose and publicity, with which these Wright brothers made the dream of ages—man's conquest of the air—come true."
This tendency reverberates far beyond textbooks today. Compare the very different war heroes nominated by the GOP in 1952 and 2008. Dwight Eisenhower had distinguished himself by organizing D-Day. In contrast, John McCain was celebrated for being tortured by the North Vietnamese.
This Heroes of Suffering fetish is exacerbated in modern history textbooks by the "diversity" imperative.
Take, for example, one US history textbook widely used in high school Advanced Placement courses and in college courses: Nation of Nations: A Narrative History of the American Republic (McGraw-Hill, Fourth Edition).
It's in many ways an impressive book. The amount of labor that went into it is enormous. And, as you notice the political mandates under which the five historian co-authors labored, you begin to feel sorry for them.
You feel even sorrier for the students, however. The need to include a huge amount of material celebrating each politically organized diversity group has bloated the textbook to 1277 oversized pages. It costs $108.78 on Amazon, and weighs in at a vertebrae-compressing 5.4 pounds.
That's child abuse! If a kid is assigned five textbooks this massive, that's a backpack that weighs 27 pounds.
No wonder high school students seldom ride bicycles to school anymore. They're so top-heavy they'd topple over.
Nor is there room for the following architects of the 21st Century: the inventors of the transistor (John Bardeen, the only two-time winner of the Physics Nobel Prize, Walter Brattain, and William Shockley); the inventors of the semiconductor chip (Robert Noyce and Jack Kilby); the inventor of information theory (Claude Shannon); or the discoverers of the structure of DNA (James Watson and Francis Crick).
Nation of Nations resembles an unfunny parody of Dave Barry's 1997 parody of history textbooks, Dave Barry Slept Here:
"Educational Advisory Alert: A review committee consisting of education professionals with doctorate degrees and initials after their names has determined that, so far, this history book is not making enough of an effort to include the contributions of women and minority groups. "
Thereafter, Barry interjects every 10 or 15 pages: "Also around this time women and minority groups were making contributions."
Unlike Barry's book, McGraw-Hill's textbook checks off all the identity politics boxes so assiduously that after awhile you start to wonder who are the poor losers who didn't make the cut, like … well, there must be somebody who doesn't swing enough weight … uh … the Sikhs! Yeah, why does Nation of Nations discriminate against the crucial contributions of Sikh-Americans?
And, in fact, Sikh activists, such as Prof. Onkar S. Bindra, are indeed sore about the lack of Sikh Awareness in textbooks:
"California Sikhs have been unhappy over the fact that the K-8 textbooks for History-Social Science in current use have nothing about Sikh identity, culture, or history of their immigration. They consider this to be the leading reason for ignorance of the masses about the Sikhs."
You can't make this stuff up.
Multiculturalism furnishes enjoyable sinecures for educationalists. But I can't imagine very many students read much of Nation of Nations. This kind of feminized, multiculturalized social history is boring to young people—especially to boys.
There is no historical subject more gripping to teenage boys than battle. Military historian John Keegan notes in The Face of Battle that when the central question "What is it like to be in a battle?" is "raised in a roomful of cadets—and probably at any gathering of young men anywhere— … there is a marked rise in the emotional temperature, in the pitch of voices…"
But war heroes are, of course, in short supply in this textbook. American history's greatest fighting admiral, Raymond Spruance, victor at the tremendously dramatic 1942 Battle of Midway, goes unmentioned. Nor do we hear about Clarence Wade McClusky and Max Leslie, the dive bomber commanders who decided not to turn back from their search for the Japanese fleet despite being so low on fuel that half their planes would have to ditch in the Pacific. By pressing onward, they suddenly were rewarded with the most glittering panorama any American warriors have beheld: the heart of the Japanese navy three miles below them.
As Admiral Morison wrote of the Japanese fleet on the morning of June 4, 1942 after the heroic but fruitless sorties by the slow, low-flying American torpedo bombers had been shot to pieces by the Japanese fighters:
"The third torpedo attack was over by 1024, and for about one hundred seconds the Japanese were certain they had won the Battle of Midway, and the war. This was their high tide of victory. Then, a few seconds before 1026, with dramatic suddenness, there came a complete reversal of fortune… At 14,000 feet the American dive-bombers tipped over and swooped screaming down for the kill."
Five minutes later, three Japanese aircraft carriers were sinking. The ultimate defeat of Japan was now inevitable.
How hard did the textbook authors have to work to make Midway dull?
Answer: Nation of Nations' section entitled "The Naval War in the Pacific," which covers the turning point years of 1942 and 1943, gets all of two pro forma paragraphs.
Hilariously, the naval war gets the same amount of text as the 1943 Zoot Suit riot in East LA!
Another example: October 1944's Battle of Leyte Gulf, perhaps the largest naval encounter of all time? The complicated Japanese battle plan succeeded in luring Admiral Bull Halsey out of position, opening the door for a Japanese task force centered around the Yamato, the largest battleship in history, to blast Gen. Douglas MacArthur's landing force off the Philippine beach to which he had famously returned five days before.
Yet, the Japanese leviathans were driven off by the furious attack of Clifton Sprague's small American ships in what Admiral Morison calls "the most gallant naval action in our history, and the most bloody."
Leyte Gulf gets one (drama-free) sentence.
When I was growing up in Los Angeles, where so many veterans of the Pacific settled, the struggle with Japan loomed as a national epic. Since then, it's largely disappeared from consciousness—especially compared to the war with the Nazis, which presents the more comfortable scenario of white Americans defeating white Europeans.
Poor Tom Hanks has been reduced to promoting his current HBO miniseries The Pacific, successor to his 2001 European theatre of operations miniseries Band of Brothers, as being about "a war of racism." (I seem to recall it had something to do with Pearl Harbor, but what do I know?)
Of course, leaving out so many annoying white male Heroes of Accomplishment from the textbook doesn't mean that the historians have managed to dig up comparable diverse Heroes of Accomplishment.
Instead, the space mostly gets filled with Heroes of Suffering.
And who made them suffer?
You get one guess.
At one point, I went looking in this textbook's index for the Civil War hero, Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, colonel of the XXth Maine Volunteers. By repelling repeated assaults on crucial Little Round Top hill on the second day of the Battle of Gettysburg, Chamberlain more or less saved the Union. (He's played by Jeff Daniels in Ron Maxwell's movies Gettysburg and Gods and Generals.)
I suspect teenage boys might find him, you know, interesting. Maybe?
Well, needless to say, Joshua Chamberlain isn't in the Nation of Nations' index. I did find, however:
Chanax, Juan, 1096—1098, 1103, 1124, 1125
Who, exactly, is Chanax and why does he appear on six pages when Chamberlain can't be squeezed in anywhere?
It turns out Chanax is an illegal immigrant from Guatemala who works in a supermarket in Houston. This hero's accomplishment is that he brought in 1,000 other illegal aliens from his home village.
The thinking, apparently: featuring an illegal alien so disproportionately will boost the self-esteem of the illegal alien students reading the book—which will then raise their test scores!
But how many are going to read all the way to p. 1096? And how many won't find it patronizing and depressing that the biggest hero these industrious historians could dig up for their edification and emulation was Chanax?
But the truth is that the Left pays no real attention to illegal immigrants. Their value is primarily in their colossal numbers—e.g., the 1000 neighbors recruited by Chanax—making them the notional Reserve Army of the Left, justifying whatever changes in America life more elite members of the Left want.
Want an easy sinecure as a diversity consultant for a textbook company? Nominate yourself as the ethnic representative of Juan Chanax and friends.
They won't notice.
Maybe you just don't much like American history: all those Wrights and Chamberlains accomplishing great things get on your nerves. Then rewrite it, in the name of Juan Chanax and company!
It's not like Juan and his pals down at the supermarket are paying close attention or have a strong, informed opinion on what should go into American history textbooks. You can get away with anything by claiming to be on their side, the side of goodness and the future—the winning side.
Today's history textbook writers do have a problem: politically favored groups' general lack of accomplishment. For instance, Nation of Nations gives much room to Mexican-Americans down through the ages, in accordance with their vast current numbers. But the authors struggle to make them seem all that interesting or important.
Let's see how many I can now recall after reading the book. There's Cesar Chavez, and then there's Sammy Sosa, who is cited on p. 1123 (interestingly enough, that is the same page on which Lawrence Auster appears as a bogeyman for writing The Path to National Suicide). But, he's not Mexican, he's Dominican. (Sammy, I mean, not Larry.)
Since nobody is allowed to even consider the basic cause for the pervasive lack of high accomplishment by Mexican-Americans—the listlessness of Mexican culture—then, logically, only one reason is possible: white racism!
(Nation of Nations does make a few allusions to the impact of mass illegal immigration on the black working class, such as black janitors in Los Angeles losing their $12 per hour jobs to $5 per hour illegal aliens. But, it makes clear, anybody who speaks up for restricting immigration is one of the Bad Guys. They're on the side of the past, which in a contemporary American history book is the Wrong Side.)
I can't really see how this kind of taxpayer-supported textbook is making my life better, or America's. Can you?
The Texas School Board's conservatives can't do any worse.
[Steve Sailer (email him) is movie critic for The American Conservative. His website www.iSteve.blogspot.com features his daily blog. His new book, AMERICA'S HALF-BLOOD PRINCE: BARACK OBAMA'S "STORY OF RACE AND INHERITANCE", is available here.]