Behind the Texas Textbook Massacre
Editor’s Note: Right-wingers running the influential Texas board that shapes how America’s school textbooks will teach history are demanding that Ronald Reagan and other modern Republicans be elevated into the pantheon of heroes, that “free market” ideology must be stressed, and that critical information about past U.S. actions must be deleted.
The purpose is to indoctrinate American children with a “patriotic” version of history, all the better to ensure future right-wing dominance of U.S. politics. However, veteran teacher Rosemarie Jackowski notes that propaganda by American school systems already has a dark legacy:
The missing part of the news report about the Texas textbook fiasco is that this is not new news. History textbooks used in most U.S. schools have been suspect for decades.
Enlightened teachers have been quietly using alternative texts for years. Many use A People's History of the United States authored by Howard Zinn. Those enlightened teachers who sometimes put their jobs on the line are to be applauded - and protected from misinformed citizens on some School Boards.
The biased view expressed in many textbooks has been an issue as way back as the 1950s - but in the 50s too few questioned what was being taught. The United States never was the way it was portrayed in textbooks.
Standard U.S. social studies textbooks are based on mythology. Propaganda sells books.
Remember those good old days in the 50s. The school day began with the reading of the Bible, the Lord's Prayer, and the pledge to the flag. Those were the days of pretty girls in poodle skirts and cute boys with buzz cuts. The really cool ones always carried their pack of Camels rolled up in the sleeve of their sparkling white T-shirts.
Everyone was happy back then — well not exactly everyone. Lynching continued in the South but things like that were never discussed. Talk about lynching was never heard. Lynching continued through the 60s and still was not acknowledged by many.
Facts about lynching were not the only gaps in education in the old days. Most high school students were taught that the United States never did anything wrong. Meanwhile, the CIA was in Guatemala assisting wealthy landowners kill tens of thousands and conspiring elsewhere to oust popular leaders.
Many who went to school during the 1950s were so brainwashed that by the time graduation came, they were anxious to enlist in the military. Korean communists needed to be defeated in order to preserve U.S. national honor and protect the American “way of life.”
Was it really about that, however? Most people really didn’t know why we were killing Koreans. It just seemed to be the patriotic thing to do, and few American leaders dared to go against the grain for fear of being labeled communist sympathizers. Symbols of patriotism were everywhere.
Are things any better in schools now than they were then? Are students taught about covert CIA actions that toppled democratically elected governments or about the atrocities at NoGunRi, a village in central Korea where U.S. soldiers shot and killed an undetermined number of fleeing refugees?
When history textbooks are evaluated, the indexes should be checked for notorious CIA operations and massacres like NoGunRi. Usually there are no mentions of U.S. war crimes.
In the 1940s and 1950s, World War II was a big topic, with most students taught the official version of that war. They learned those lessons well, not only in the classroom. The Saturday matinee at the movie theatre was the big event of the week.
Any kid with 12 cents got in, and others usually figured out alternative methods of entry. The movies were often propagandized war films. Hollywood rallied around the flag pole.
Hating the Japanese was a patriotic duty. Facts about the hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians in Nagasaki and Hiroshima who were slaughtered by the atomic bombs were usually omitted in any classroom discussion. About the fire-bombings of Dresden in Germany and Tokyo in Japan — well that didn't matter either. After all, they were the "enemy."
Playing cowboys and Indians was a favorite pastime back then. Kids were taught to hate the Indians. No thought was ever given to the fact that Columbus could not have discovered a country that already had a native population.
Logic would indicate that maybe the native people who were here first were the real discoverers. The European explorers, who were heroes in the textbooks, had blood on their hands. Students learned little about their criminal acts.
While in the 1950s, kids grew up hating Indians, the Japanese, Germans, and black people, today, kids are taught to hate Muslims and an assortment of other groups, like “illegal aliens.”
Recently, it has been interesting watching and listening to the hate talk that has been directed toward Latinos who have fled poverty and violence in their own countries to seek work and security in the United States. If we label people "illegal", it is socially acceptable to hate them.
The term "illegal alien" is loaded with prejudice. No human being is illegal. Sometimes, it should be noted, the law itself can be wrong. Remember, slavery was legal for much of early American history and therefore escaped slaves (or “runaways”) were treated as the criminals, not their "owners."
Today, the geographic location of where a person's mother is when she gives birth either bestows special privileges or brings certain penalties. …
On one level, the solution to the Texas textbook dilemma should be easy. Just don't buy the books. This would save taxpayer money at a time when school budgets are in trouble already. But that would require courageous, well-informed school boards standing up to the pressure from those who want to drum "patriotic" propaganda into the minds of America’s children.
Another option is to press for the inclusion of historically accurate books, which should be in classrooms anyway, like Rogue State and Killing Hope, two reference books authored by William Blum, a world-renowned historian, a former member of the US State Department, and recipient of Project Censored's award for Exemplary Journalism.
Howard Zinn's A People’s History of the United States is another great book that tells uncomfortable truths. No classroom is complete without it.
Rosemarie Jackowski is a journalist living in Vermont. She has spent many years in public and private education. Her first year of teaching was in a public school in New Jersey in 1957. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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