Archive for August, 2017

Don’t Know Much About History? Blame the Textbooks…

August 29, 2017 Comments off

Atlantic writer Matt Ford’s  What Trump’s Generation Learned About the Civil War, an article in yesterday’s yesterday on-line edition effectively laid the blame for our President’s ignorance about the Civil War on the textbooks used in classrooms while he was in school. As a contemporary of the President, I think that the way history was taught during that era was the problem far more than the content…. and the methods used in that era persist in far too many classrooms today.

The history courses— or “social studies” courses— I took in the late 1950s and early 1960s all used thick textbooks that were stuffed with facts, textbooks that were impossible to “cover” in one year and “front loaded” so that the explorers and Founding Fathers were covered in depth. In my experience, the Civil War was taught as a stand-alone event. Contrary to the premise of Mr. Ford, I recall the context for the war was limited to the premise that the South wanted to keep slavery and the North wanted to abolish it. There were facts we needed to memorize about the Civil War, but the facts were not put into a context… a method that was typical of the way all conflicts were presented. As a result, I learned a lot about the time period between 1763 and the election of George Washington, a lot about 1861-1865, and a lot about 1914-1917. Being raised in a Republican bastion, we also learned that FDR’s programs did nothing to left the country out of the Depression. Instead it was our entry into World War II that got our economy back on track.

Throughout junior and senior high school our history teachers relied heavily on AV to deliver many of the facts we needed to recall for the tests… and one teacher in particular showed film-after-film of the battles in World War II, a favorite era for him. Because he emphasized that particular time span in that fashion, we learned even less about the economic factors that led to World War II and hardly anything about our country’s isolationist perspective prior to the war. We all learned that history was about memorizing indisputable facts and timelines.

The result of this approach to presenting material was to conflate the accumulation of facts with “history”, which deadened the subject and, in all probability, led many in my generation to be incurious about the causes and effects of the events we had to commit to memory. Clearly both recent GOP Presidents lack the curiosity needed to delve deeply into causes and effects of events that faced them. The anti-intellectualism of the GOP that has come into full bloom under President Trump dates back to the antipathy the party generated in opposition to Adlai Stevenson, the anti-Communist attacks of Joe McCarthy, and Spiro Agnew’s railing against the “pointy-headed” liberals.

Mr. Ford is right in his criticism of the material in the textbooks of the 1950s and 1960s. It was too often sanitized in order to be marketable in all parts of the country and, consequently, omitted contentious issues like slavery and racism that supported slavery. But he misses the key point that the way we were tested on those facts led us to accept them as indisputable and etched in stone. Worse, it led too many of us to stop looking deeply into the causes and effects of events and to diminish those who bothered to do so.



A “Crazed Lefty” is Bewildered by Logic of Conservative Columnist

August 28, 2017 Comments off

As noted in earlier posts on this blog, I greatly appreciate the way “Google Alert – Public Schools” provides me with articles that I would never have access to without their daily feed. Today’s article by Carole Hornsby Haynes, Ph.D, titled “Blame Public Schools for those Crazed Lefties” is a case in point. Using the removal of statues of Confederate generals as a springboard, Dr. Haynes excoriates the Democratic Party (aka “the Crazed Lefties”) for its unwillingness to acknowledge that their party was pro-slavery back in the day when the Republicans were on the side of abolition and that some members of their party, most notably Senator Robert Byrd, were KKK members.

Dr. Haynes’ column recounts all of the weak willed University Presidents, mayors, and school boards who have caved to the “leftists and socialists” in taking down the statues of Confederate Generals and at the same time manages to discredit a long list of communist/socialist/progressive/leftists like Maya Angelou, John Dewey, the Carnegie Foundation, and (gasp) Sotheby Real Estate!

Ii appears that Dr. Haynes, who is’s reporter on education policy issues is unaware that the Democratic party is controlled by neoliberals who favor school choice, privatization, and the use of standardized achievement test results to sort and select schools and students. She overlooks the fact that the only difference between Arne Duncan and Betsy DeVos is that Ms. DeVos is willing to provide funds for private parochial schools. As for John Dewey, he would not be welcome at their convention… and the policies of the true populist progressives— Bernie Sanders and the members of the progressive caucus, are ignored by the neoliberals.

The ultimate irony, though is the fact that Dr. Haynes frames her column using this quote:

“Every record has been destroyed or falsified, every book rewritten, every picture has been repainted, every statue and street building has been renamed, every date has been altered. And the process is continuing day by day and minute by minute. History has stopped. Nothing exists except an endless present in which the Party is always right.”

And who wrote that quote? Why that would be socialist George Orwell in his book “1984″.

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What if More Education ISN’T the Answer?

August 28, 2017 Comments off

In the early 1960s, Abraham Maslow coned the aphorism “if the only tool you have is a hammer, you treat everything as if it were a nail.” As a blogger who writes about education policy and one who worked in public schools for nearly four decades, I’ve long believed that the answer to social mobility is better schools. But of late, I’m beginning to question that proposition and started thinking about a different paradigm, one that begins with the premise that more education might not be the answer…. especially more formal education.

Two books, one fiction and one non-fiction, have caused this shift in thinking. The fiction book is John Grisham’s Gray’s Mountain, which I am halfway through. The non-fiction book is J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy, which I just finished last week. Both books deal with what I call “the Appalachian conundrum”, which, I believe, is applicable to all rural areas. It’s this: people tend to settle into a place and stay there… and people who live in rural areas are not willing to trade “country comforts” for the hectic urban and suburban lifestyle beloved of those like me who grew up in a household that relocated regularly.

This conclusion is supported by article in magazines and  newspapers, and the US Census, which showed that 59% of Americans live in the State they were born in. But many college educated individuals move away from their home states and many individuals who do move away from their home towns do so to seek higher paying jobs, jobs that invariably require more education. And many rural communities bemoan the fact that their best and brightest are “forced to leave” because there is “no work in town anymore” because the factory closed, or the mines no longer have any value, or mechanization has eliminated the need for employees.

The solution offered by both political parties is the same: more people should get more education and leave towns that are decimated by the flight of employers. But, as Gray’s Mountain and Hillbilly Elegy explain in different ways, the life in the country has a pull on the people who live there that is far stronger than the pull to go elsewhere and due to family dysfunction and a failed economic system there is nothing productive for them to do in their hometowns. So the fictional and real characters in those two books escape into drugs, religious fundamentalism, and, for a fortunate few, employment in highly mechanized and environmentally destructive jobs. The result is a vicious circle that clutches them tightly, a circle that mobile, well educated, and well intentioned “liberal elites” view as easy to escape through more education combined with bootstrap tenacity and grit.

I do not believe that the empty storefronts in rural and the poor urban neighborhoods in urban America cannot be filled with small businesses operated by people with more education. They are the product of an economy based on the premise that efficiency and the low prices that result from it are more valuable than the well-being of the citizens who buy the goods for low prices. When we premise our economy and our political priorities on the notion that bigger is better, we should expect our small rural towns to be hollowed out and the populous in those towns to escape into drugs and religious fundamentalism to find peace of some kind in their lives…. and we should also expect those living in the small rural towns without economic opportunity to be resentful of anyone who suggests that they need to get more education and move away from their roots in order to share in the benefits of our “new economy”.

And this is leading me to be less certain that more education is the answer… We might need a different tool than “more education” of we hope to achieve a different outcome in the future.