Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Could One Write a Worse Textbook?

In writing about Texas' decision to change the content of its history curriculum, Steve Sailer takes an entertaining and depressing look at a current high school history textbook, Nation of Nations.
He starts with what strikes me as an accurate description of the current world of pedagogy:
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.
I think he is right on this last point, especially noting the centrality of resentment in the mentailty of what we call The Sixties.
And on a key point, which is deep in the culture:
And yet young people do have a finer side—their hunger for heroes—that history books once tried to fulfill rather than exploit...In our Age of Oprah, rather than Heroes of Accomplishment, we are addicted to Heroes of Suffering...This Heroes of Suffering fetish is exacerbated in modern history textbooks by the “diversity” imperative.
On to the textbook:
Even with a tome this immense, diversity awareness means that there isn’t room in all 1277 pages to mention…the Wright brothers.
WTF? We find out why as we go on.
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.
I imagine Canadian textbooks might well mention the Sikhs; would they mention the Air India bombing?
After noting the desultory treatment of the Pacific War in the textbok, he notes, sensibly:
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?)
And then on to how this will help minorities out:
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?
Rhetorical question, of course.
After noting that the textbook index nowhere mentions Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, he discovers:
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?
Perhaps all these news media going hysterical over an Arizona law that simply asserts a federal law as state law has something to do with this orientation.
My favorite bit:
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.
Consider that there are almost as many people of Mexican descent in the U.S. as there are blacks. Everybody can name famous blacks. But how many famous Mexicans can you remember?
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.)
That is the quality of fact-checking I would expect from what I had read up to here.
I think I agree with this conclusion:
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.
Read the whole thing - Steve is a fine wirter.


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