June 18, 2011

Blaming "politically correct" textbooks for the widespread ignorance about history.

It's David McCullough (the very popular writer of historical biographies):
"History is often taught in categories—women's history, African American history, environmental history—so that many of the students have no sense of chronology. They have no idea what followed what."

What's more, many textbooks have become "so politically correct as to be comic. Very minor characters that are currently fashionable are given considerable space, whereas people of major consequence farther back"—such as, say, Thomas Edison—"are given very little space or none at all."

Mr. McCullough's eyebrows leap at his final point: "And they're so badly written. They're boring! Historians are never required to write for people other than historians."
McCullough sounds a bit self-promoting or self-defensive there. He knows he writes well. He's popular. And other historians disrespect that, perversely. But keep to the point. Who writes textbooks for schoolkids? Not the lofty scholars McCullough has a gripe about. There should be an immense amount of care taken with respect to school textbooks. Why wouldn't those things be written especially well? The whole point is to digest material and present it for the consumption of children.

Also, it seems to me that McCullough himself gives "considerable space" to  "minor characters" to satisfy the "fashionable" interest in women's history. I read his tome about Truman, and there was an insane amount of material about Bess Truman. I mean, there's no historical significance at all to Bess Truman as far as I can remember. It just doesn't matter. It was pablum for female readers. And then he did it again with his book about John Adams. Abigail Adams is more important than Bess Truman, but nevertheless, why are we reading a thousand-page book about a reasonably nice marriage? Clearly, McCullough isn't following some rule about giving characters attention in proportion to their historical significance.

111 comments:

Fred4Pres said...

It may be a cliche, but I suspect we would not be reading anything about John Adams if it were not for Abigail Adams.

That is obviously not true for all men--but it was for John Adams.

Fred4Pres said...

History needs to be dynamically taught so it becomes about finding relevance and meaning now. We learn from the past to understand who we are and where we are going.

EDH said...

You can argue a wife is not a "minor character" in the "historical biography" of her husband, yet still assert she is a "minor character" in a "textbook" about her husband's influence on an historical period.

Chase said...

Abigail Adams is more important than Bess Truman, but nevertheless, why are we reading a thousand-page book about a reasonably nice marriage?

The difference here Professor - and you know it full well - is the difference between a required textbook and a book you may freely choose or not choose to read.

Are you saying that the standard for how history should be taught in schools is not important? Do you believe that whatever interest group is the loudest should have their choices of what should be included and what should be ignored should win the day?

To you, is there not even a basic set of historical happenings and facts that should be taught in America's (miserably failing) Public Schools?

Big Mike said...

I can't follow the link.

I've read McCullough's book about Adams cover to cover a couple times, and IMAO Abigail is given about the right amount of space. It was clear to me that they had a marriage that was also a partnership, and there certainly had to be an effect on Adams' career.

MarkG said...

He's not being hypocritical. There's a significant difference between a textbook meant to teach an overview of history to children, and a commercial historical tome for adults.

Additionally, McCollough probably doesn't leave out important details about the man by adding more details about the wife. The book just gets longer.

bagoh20 said...

Although the temptation is to teach it by category, I think history could be taught mostly by time line. That's how it happens to the living. All categories happening simultaneously. Some short tangents can be taken to follow the narratives, but bring in the other stuff happening at the same time, even if unrelated. I wonder if that has ever been tried.

windbag said...

McCullough wasn't writing textbooks when he wrote those biographies. Was it pablum or did he deem Abigail and Bess to be influential enough in Adams' and Truman's lives that he should devote some ink to their memory?

When I taught at a private school, our board decided to upgrade to new history texts. Without consulting any faculty, they made their purchase, then presented them for approval. They were wretched and I told the board my opinion of them. They were shiny and new and had some really cool pictures and taught nothing.

History is more than filling your head with trivia so you can look impressive while watching Jeopardy. My middle and high school history teachers were awful. None inspired me to pursue a degree in history. They made history boring and burdensome.

Teaching history requires that you have a philosophy of history. Something drives human events. The study of civilizations requires a framework with which to examine them. Economics, religion, education, arts, sciences, and government are fairly broad and inclusive elements of society that can be explored to understand a specific culture.

McCullough is spot on with his criticism of modern textbooks. Quibbling with his biographies to refute what he said about textbooks is like criticizing how my lawn looks to refute my cooking skills.

Thalia Libra said...

We started homeschooling because of work related relocation, but I've found the homeschooling textbooks (across all subjects) to be far more engaging and interesting than the public school books.

The curriculum we use usually starts with a brief fictional story about a child during the time period, then moves into how important figures shaped the history.

Minor characters of interest are highlighted, but for the most part, the books tell history as a story and compares and contrasts it to today. Fantastic, engaging, and highly recommended.

My children have learned more about history in two months of homeschooling than they have in three years of public school.

bagoh20 said...

My wife has been an incredible influence in my life, even though I never met her.

Chase said...

. . . . . and what windbag said

Lyle said...

His books aren't primary education textbooks though.

However, in schools it's not just books though. When I was in junior high in Texas black history month was used to promote the black Egyptian meme. Posters were hung up all over the school proclaiming Egyptians to have been black and that these black Egyptians built the pyramids.

Nothing was mentioned about the short lived Nubian dynasty that came relatively late in Ancient Egyptian history, but just that Egyptians were black.

Insane.

The black Confederate meme pushed by some people is wrong too. That's an example of political correctness erring towards the right.

Grames said...

I judge that Althouse deliberately indulges in foolishness just for the sake of make a faux-interesting blog post. Biographies are not textbooks, and wives are not minor characters in biographies. She damn well knows that.

Bah.

HDHouse said...

Well when Ms. Bachman - now the darling of the right wing talks about Lex and Concord and New Hampshire history ----- I suspect there may be another source for this ignorance - and there is always Faux Noise....

just passing though and saw yet another althouse mediocre red meat post....

Rialby said...

Good god, HD. Don't you have some tony Hamptons picnic to crash? Go the fuck away.

Charlie said...

@Thalia Libra: With a few rare exceptions, I disliked and avoided history through my formal education. Reading Michael Shaara's "Killer Angels" turned me around completely.

wv: waffulpi. Can't I just eat my wafful, and if you don't mind, a piece of pi for afters?

Anne said...

One of our many concerns when we decided to homeschool was the approach most schools take to history. History is presented in chunks and entirely out of context most of the time. As homeschoolers, we are following a chronological approach and it's much more comprehensive. I'm learning a lot ... and I'm the teacher!

Trooper York said...

I totally disagree that Bess Truman was an unimportant part of her husband’s life. She was his rock and stood by him as he failed again and again. At the haberdashery, while he was a functionary of the Prendergast machine as a Judge, while a back bencher and when he was plucked by FDR to be VP. He failed up and she propped him up with her advice and her love.

Harry Truman once said that the buck didn't really stop at his desk. He would back it up in his briefcase and bring it home to discuss with his wife. She was his sounding board and his most important advisor.

Of course she was the model of the modest, unassuming stay at home wife and mother. Anathema to screechy self-important pretentious feminist’s who think a woman is not important unless she is an adjunct professor of Women’s studies at Wearelesbian University.

Any man who has a wife who is his true partner in life will recognize just how important Bess Truman really was in the historical scheme of things.

Fred4Pres said...

My kids love Liberty Kids. That is on Netflix too. The animation is not great and the stories a bit clunky, but I like that they base each episode on an actual event in the Revolutionary War.

Hagar said...

Tichard Feynmann in"Surely you are joking Mr. Feynmann!" has a couple of chapters on his experiences as a member of the State of California textbook selection committee that is quite enlightening as to how public school textbooks are chosen.

Chase said...

Actually, Welcome Back HD.

And we are in agreement that this post is inane in substance. But it is a good jumping off point about the idiotic politically correct - from all sides - choices that govern the teaching of the most vital subject after Math and reading that should be taught in America's (Miserably Failing™) Public Schools.

Fred4Pres said...

While I would not focus on Bess Truman's role in a school history book, she definitely is a critical component of any biography of Harry Truman. How can she not be?

Hagar said...

BTW,

McCullough's early books, "The Path Between the Seas," "The Great Bridge," etc., are excellent,and very good reads, though they also only tell part of the story.

edutcher said...

Some of it may come down to the fact that people know when they're being lied to; the same reason more and more people get their news off the Internet.

In the old days, history was names, dates, places, with the overlying text that this was a great country. People knew about Paul Revere and Appomattox and San Juan Hill.

Now they know not even that, so something else is going on. 80 years ago or so, not that big a slice of the public read Marquis James or Bernard deVoto.

PS HD calls Dubya incoherent and the defines the word in his last comment.

Patrick said...

The history of romantic lazy dreamers. Sleep late, watch the sunset at night, next day hike further west.

Trooper York said...

I do have to say that I enjoyed Professor McCullough’s biography of Dolly Madison who was our most promiscuous first Lady; “The Path Between Her Tighes.”

Trooper York said...

I would like to her what hd has to say about Bess Truman. I think he dated her in middle school. Just sayn'

Patrick said...

History is a specialized knowledge set. Some people will only retain the main concepts as everyday wisdom. More than that and it is not functional in their life.

Fred4Pres said...

Off Topic, but clearly Boehner did not get the message about the historical rejection of shorts for adult males.

We warned you no shorts!

m stone said...

Some of the narrative histories (not fictionalized) like Manchester's The Glory and the Dream of a couple of decades ago are both historically instructive and fascinating.

History is capturing the panorama, not the focus on one person.

edutcher said...

Fred4Pres said...

Off Topic, but clearly Boehner did not get the message about the historical rejection of shorts for adult males.

We warned you no shorts!


Yeah, but Zero still looks like a dork.

History needs to be dynamically taught so it becomes about finding relevance and meaning now. We learn from the past to understand who we are and where we are going.

The idea that you can see a) how we got in this mess and b) it's happened before, may be why some people don't want people to know their history.

It makes them easier to fool with a new Messiah.

Christy said...

McCullough - the man who made me hate John Adams.

I was idly leafing through a nice big scheduling notebook the Middle School had handed out to every student the first of the year. The cover was a colorful medley of important historical figures. Not a single founding father to be seen, but oddly Christopher Columbus was present. I counted maybe 5 women, of which I recognized only two - guessing one was Tubman. Alas, my schooling was too long ago to know the current important women of history. Einstein was there, Lincoln, and some dead classical Greek (Socrates? Aristotle? Pythagoras?)

Hagar said...

Public school textbooks are produced by a special branch of the publishing industry, and they are written and illustrated to appeal to those who pick the books to buy for their school systems - usually "Blue Ribbon" committees of members who have no idea of the subject matter, and in any case are too busy to actually read the books, they rely on their staffs for that - and the result is textbooks that are written by by people who know how to write textbooks - never mind the subject matter.

Watch "How Things are Made" on the Hist or Sci channels, and you get the idea. Twinkies or textbooks, it is all the same.

Hagar said...

And McCullough is a Democrat and did not like John Adams very much. The impression I had of that book was that he would much rather have been writing about Thomas Jefferson.

rhhardin said...

The company library declined to purchase a copy of "Our Black Foremothers" that I suggested back when consciousness raising was in.

Jeff with one 'f' said...

I spent the better part of the last decade in the textbook industry. The experience confirmed for me the feeling that any children I have will be home-schooled, at least in part.

Not that the editors and writers don't have the best of intentions. They have a sense of mission and are terribly earnest about what they are doing, as was I. Part of the problem is that they themselves are the, I dunno, 3rd or 4th generation into the disaster of progressive education "reforms". Their own teachers were probably not that well-versed in history, and so on further back.

G Joubert said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Carol_Herman said...

Books have authors.

Back in the 1960's, universities threw out the Latin requirement. And, the CLASSICS! Substituted the "hi drug note" of late. And, the books deteriorated. Because the credentials to write books became SILLY.

Silly putty. You had to be "original" to get a Ph.D. (A system akin to slavery. And, one where you had to master an arcane dialect on language. Stopped sounding like English. Did read like it, either. So students were told it's "deconstruct."

Yeah. Deconstruct the Roach Motel.

But the drugs were good. The colleges and universities lame about what you drank, or consumed. And, rooming became co-ed. Even the bathrooms became co-ed.

Kids at home who grew up in their own rooms at home. Shrugged off the "camp" atmosphere of college.

Or as Andrew Breitbart, Peter Robinson, and Ann Coulter say ... they spent 4 years partying. And, smashed to the guilders.

Doesn't matter. All 3 write wonderful books. Only proving that the mess happened among the "professionals."

And, now? The chickens have come home to roost.

I read McCullough. I buy his books from Amazon. Nobody stops you from reading what you like!

And, that's how you acquire a real education. Picking and choosing books of value. Not jargon. Not crap. Where university professors used to force their classes to use textbooks (that were just crap). Because it was written by a friend. And, these courtesies were returned. No value. Expensive to buy. Very little given back when you returned them for "used" circulation at the bookstore. While the professor moved onto some other piece of garbage next year.

Standards? They are still the same! Mark Twain never goes out of style. His stuff is not only in print. But on Audio. Easy to access.

You need to take a test after listening to Mark Twain? (And, that's just one example.)

G Joubert said...

Well when Ms. Bachman - now the darling of the right wing talks about Lex and Concord and New Hampshire history ----- I suspect there may be another source for this ignorance

Hey, we don't even need to go to Bachmann. Obama ("been to 57 states with 3 more to go") and Joe Biden (“When the stock market crashed, Franklin D. Roosevelt got on the television and didn’t just talk about the, you know, the princes of greed. He said, ‘Look, here’s what happened.’”)

Obama has a built-in excuse: he didn't go to grammar school in the US, but instead to a madrassa or whatever in Indonesia, where the almost certainly didn't learn US history or geography. I don't know what Biden's excuse might be, other than what you imply for Rep Bachmann.

HDHouse said...

thanks Chase but i'm not back... i just follow this blog as headlines...besides I love to kick Railby in the nuts from time to time....I mean, anyone who is so chickeshit to call names and not leave a viewable profile is ... well....ready for prime time Faux Noise.

Cedarford said...

Althouse - "(on giving overattention to minor female characters in his own books) Clearly, McCullough isn't following some rule about giving characters attention in proportion to their historical significance."

Althouse neglects to differentiate between the school text market and the mass book sales market. The former, should be for a factual education in significant events and characters involved in past history. The latter is for making product the majority of book buyers - women, the Oprah Club, etc. will buy. Since men buy less books in favor of gaming and sports - editors for 25 years have pushed "more words and lines the women buyers want!".

His criticisms of school texts are spot on. PC in the extreme, give way too much attention to minor characters making a negligable if any contribution to history, and badly written.

rhhardin said...

I liked Will Cuppy's Decline and Fall of Practically Everybody in high school, and so did my history teacher.

It seems a little flat to me today, but kids might like it.

Though other kids at the time didn't seem to get the point.

Cedarford said...

Rialby said...
"Good god, HD. Don't you have some tony Hamptons picnic to crash? Go the fuck away."

Now be nice to Henhouse. With any luck he will bump into Anthony and Huma - who are off "enjoying the Hamptons" as well, with their usual patrons and connected NYC media people.

He might have some stories to tell!

Henry said...

This article by Richard Feynman is pertinent -- even though it was written in 1964. Feynman's essay is on Math textbooks, but his criticisms seem to apply in general:

...the books were so lousy. They were false. They were hurried. They would try to be rigorous, but they would use examples (like automobiles in the street for "sets") which were almost OK, but in which there were always some subtleties. The definitions weren't accurate. Everything was a little bit ambiguous -- they weren't smart enough to understand what was meant by "rigor." They were faking it. They were teaching something they didn't understand, and which was, in fact, useless, at that time, for the child.

I really didn't learn history until I started reading history (though BYU's required civics class circa 1984 was truly exceptional).

I fully expect my kids to have lousy textbooks and I will give them real histories to read and then they will learn about history and about fraud at the same time.

Henry said...

Correction: Not "written" in 1964, but concerning events in 1964.

Irene said...

Why is McCullough bringing this up now? The PC-History Textbook was already a problem in the late 1980s.

Henry said...

@Hagar -- Backtracking I see you mentioned Feynman as well. It's an entertaining read.

cathy said...

They write them to meet all these different learning styles. So there are pictures for visual learners, charts for chart people, short bios in sidebars, and then a narrative that is written by committee, so there is not one voice. You can't follow them at all.

ElcubanitoKC said...

Irene, perhaps because of this

Professor, your link is still broken.

wv: ditivers

realwest said...

Professor Althouse - you said "Who writes textbooks for school kids? Not the lofty scholars McCullough has a gripe about. There should be an immense amount of care taken with respect to school textbooks. Why wouldn't those things be written especially well?"
And, indeed you are correct. But local (and not infrequently State) school boards decide what is included and what is EXCLUDED in textbooks and curriculum. Why down here in North Carolina, American History is taught, STARTING with the Ante-Bellum period.
It is difficult, if not impossible, to teach history without some sort of both chronological and significance of substance to that chronology. What "matters" to some doesn't seem to be even a blip on other's radar screens.
Take, for example, the History Channel's "America, the story of Us" - I watched the opening two hours and discovered that a) the Declaration of Independence, nor its author Thomas Jefferson, nor his editor, Ben Franklin, were worth mentioning and b) the entire Revolutionary war was fought in New England and New York. How it was that Cornwallis surrendered to Washington in VIRGINA wasn't explained At All.
Thus, I suggest that Davide McCullough has a real point here: we don't teach "history" so much as what is politically correct history.

Cedarford said...

I'd add one more matter. The US public education system leaves the proles astonishingly ignorant to world history even more than US history. What world history they get is mired in Single Great Mover of all events bunk.

Latin American History example: -

1. The Precolumbian Indians lived in peaceful harmony with nature and had high technology. (Cue the Mayan calender side page)

2. Then one man, Cortez, wiped out the noble Aztecs by himself for gold.
Followed by one man, Pizarro, that wiped out the noble Incas by himself for gold and silver. BUt gave us the potato.

3. For almost 300 years after that, nothing happened in Latin America but mining and conversions to Christianity to help oppress the noble brownskins.

4. Then a single man named Bolivar liberated everyone, with noble brown skins cheering.

5. Another 100 years passed - America stole a Canal from noble Panamanians. Then there was the historically significant bandit Panch Villa and trouble in Mexico between 2 men - Juarez and Diaz.

6. Intermittant banana companies, US imperialism driven revolutions, then Evita!! Then Castro and Che! together captivated US media, academia as rock stars of progressive change.

7. A lot of Mexicans, no single Great Man behind it all as of yet identified, then went to the US to do jobs Americans didn't want to do, giving us the blessings of diversity.

Thats the school book text of 600 years of Latin American history.

And students that can't find Peru on a map but know the state each pro football team plays in - are just more fruits of the horn of cornocopia blessings gifted us, of diversity.

Rialby said...

Yeah, like I'm going to give out any information about myself. In this day and age, when every Leftist in America is just itching for a reason to boycott your place of business because you didn't tithe enough to the church of progressivism, you can be sure I'll keep my true identity secret.

Rialby said...

Also, it's not my fault that you've provided enough clues about yourself that it makes it a 7 1/2 minute job for a third-rate Sherlock Holmes like myself to figure out that you're a wealthy Hamptonite.

jimbino said...

It's important to remember that the principal purpose of public schools is to serve the teachers. Next come the parents, then the school children. Last come the taxpayers, who support this nonsense.

Wouldn't it be nice if we could just test all those public school teachers in history and fire the ones who don't measure up?

Hagar said...

@cathy, i.e. "You don't have to know what you are writing about; you only have to know how to write!"

My kids math textbooks were also way too long, besides having glossy pictures and pie charts, etc., for students who can't read.

My boys asked me for help a few times, but gave that up. Some problems were so simple I could see the answer without working them out, but the boys said I was doing it all wrong and not following proper procedure. What they were being taught was all elaborate gimmickry and needlessly complicated, rather than to understand the problem and setting up the simplest form of solving it.

Naomi said...

Lack of both US and world history/geography is one of the major reasons my kids begin homeschooling this year.

Hagar said...

Jimbino,

You are totally wrong. Whatever the teachers think they are, they actually are only EM cadre in the system and have little or nothing to say about how it's being run or why.

windbag said...

Homeschooling begins when you bring them home from the hospital. You don't wait for the magical age of five, then their education begins. Those who think it does, and don't bother to teach their kids anything are contributing the most ignorant and ill-behaved kids to the public education system. Engaged parents, whether they homeschool, public school, or private school their kids, are a major component of an educated child.

I don't recommend homeschooling to anyone; it's a difficult task. And I commend anyone who attempts it. A friend cautioned me, when we began, that it took about three years to find your stride. He was right. It was scary most of the way, but well worth it in the end.

"Education is not filling a bucket, but lighting a fire." William Butler Yeats. Many homeschoolers have heard or recited this quote. Most live it.

Carol_Herman said...

I blame the changes on the tax law!

Back in the 1970's book publishers were able to deduct their INVENTORIES. Which they retained. From their profits. So there were always available back issues. (Also back issues of magazines.)

It's a good thing we went into the digital age. (As there is now a receptacle for "old" back issues of anything written. Even our comments.)

Anyway, once publishers lost their deductions for keeping inventory; all inventory went out the window.

As to "books" ... they're written by "important Ph.D's." Who can demand stupid language. Because, otherwise you can't be published. In a world landscape set by "publish or perish."

Now, for a personal anectode. My son was at Mudd. And, there was one textbook (about indians). That was encased in a plastic baggie. That was sealed. He never opened it. Yet he got a grade for the course! (In a section called "The Humanities.)

My son decided, since he had to meet a certain number of "Humanities" credits ... that he would go to a different school on campus ... and take Chinese. Which he never spoke. And, where all the students in the Chinese class were Chinese.) HE LOVED IT! He likes languages.

But I'll never forget that piece of expensive rubbish that never even had to come out of its plastic wrapper!

And, Mudd's a good school.

Can you imagine what courses are like at the crap houses? If it wasn't for beer and sex, our colleges and universities wouldn't even attract students!

One thing that never changes, though: TESTOSTERONE RULES.

Oh, Henry! Wonderful of you to include the Feynman link. (The Morris family are locals.)

traditionalguy said...

Reality always beats fiction, like a fine Brandy beats a warm wine cooler. If the schools would hit the wars, the inventions and the economic changes they cause in a chronological order, then young folks could hear about what happened, and then they might become curious enough to read books that tell an in depth narration. It is unlearning the propaganda and replacing it with a true history of what happened that makes reading history books fun.

Hagar said...

Nobody is specifically in charge.
It's like highway construction.
You go to the principal, and she says she can't help it, the school board requires it. You go to the school board, and they tell you it can't be helped, it is a State requirement. You go to the State Dept. of Education, and they tell you it can't be helped, it is a Federal requirement. You go to the U.S. Dept. of Education, and they tell you you are in the wriong place, all decisions are made at the local level, and you need to go talk to the principal or your local school board.

SunnyJ said...

I'm disappointed in what appears to be AA's very shallow reading and comprehension of the wives, Abigail and Bess, and their roles in either autobiaographies or text books. Ann, today's womens movement would have you believe that before them all women, but a very few, were chattel. That has never been the case. It does not fit the narrative to know that there were strong and independent women that chose to be partners and thrived within that framework. It's why Sarah Palin is a target. Reread some Camile Paglia, read the diaries of the women settling the west, know about the great partnerships that have and still do run Wisconsin's farms. My Grandma had her turkey's and the "Rebecca's" came and helped prepare them for sale. She loaded them up on the train and took them to Chicago, sold them to Marshall Fields and used that money for anything her heart desired, because my Grandpa was a miserly crank...that we all loved. This was early 1930-65. My aunt had 6 kids and a dishwasher in the 50-60's because it was equipment necessary to do the work on the farm. It just doesn't fit the victims identity of the PC historians to realize there were always libertarian men and women behind this country's history.

Milwaukee said...

I thought history education in this country was deplorable because of the preponderance of high school coaches in the social studies teaching ranks. Of course history needs to be taught with a time-line in mind. To start with a time-line, and then go back and revisit that time-line considering special interest groups is one approach. Not a particularly good approach from time management concerns. Does having a Black History Month allow us to ignore Black History the rest of the time? I hope not. But that doesn't need to be the focus of history.

Biographies are vitally important. We all need to be encouraged by those who have gone before and struggled, and over come their failures to achieve success. Which is why I voted for Lincoln, he knew what it meant to deal with failure. Which is why I didn't vote for the One: when has he ever recovered from a failure? NEVER. McCain knows what failure is. Obama, he doesn't know how fail and then get on with life. This reminds me of the 1988 World Series, which the Dodgers won in five games over the Athletics. The Dodgers had the worse batting average for a starting line up in World Series history, but they knew how to win. The Athletics had an incredible record for winning if they had a lead after 7 innings. Trouble was the Athletics didn't know how to come from behind to win games in the late innings. That was first World Series where a batter, Kirk Gibson, hit a pinch-hit home run to win a game. With a man on base and two out, had he struck out the Dodgers would have lost. Getting a hit wasn't a possibility because of the condition of his legs. On at least one at bat, he swung so hard he fell down. That was one of the greatest homeruns in all of the Dodger's fabled history.

Milwaukee said...

That was on a full count, with numerous foul balls. Gibson had to really work the count to get that home run. He was barely able to round the bases.

ajcjw said...

There may be no "perfect" way to write history textbooks, but it's obvious from the results we see now that the current methods used by public schools are a failure. Inserting political correctness and agenda politics into history textbooks is a recipe for ignorance. But maybe that's intentional; a populace oblivious to its history is a populace that's easily swayed.

Hagar said...

And if you are from New Mexico, the U.S. Dept. of Education will just inform you that they are not permitted to deal directly with foreign nationals, but if you will have your embassy forward your request through the State Dept., they will be happy to consider your request in due course.

traditionalguy said...

I wonder what historians will have to say about Todd, the spouse of President Palin. Will his importance be in hiring an eskimo astrologer like Nancy Reagan did? Will he pick the new head of the Bureau of Fisheries? Or will he just keep the President satisfied?

Seeing Red said...

Who writes textbooks for schoolkids?


Obama's favorite terrorist Bill Ayers.

Revenant said...

His Truman and Adams books were biographies. A man's wife is not a minor character in the story of his life.

Sloanasaurus said...

Althouse;s criticism here is offbase. The Trumans and Adams books were meant to be detailed accounts about Truman and Adams, they are not meant to be historical surveys for students to read about important events.

History is important because the human condition psyche never changes. Thus, how the Romans responded to a set of facts in their interaction with each other can be used to predict how humans may respond today. The cliche that history repeats itself is true, because humans themselves don't change and will respond in the same way if the facts present themselves with enough correlation.

Alex said...

Ok, so can we agree there is REAL history and then the PC/entertainment versions for the masses?

Alex said...

He who controls the history, controls the present, controls the people.

J said...

John Adams--the first WASP honky-in-chief. Adams was an uptight Tory wannabe (ie Federalist being like the early form of the McCarthyite snitch) who nearly ruined the American Revolution. He makes like a Ben Franklin seem like Jack Kerouac or somethin'.

As with his voiceover in Seabiscuit McCullough does tend to be sentimental but that's part of the historical windbag's trade

Now that section where Abigail parties with Voltaire and some of his...putains with some hashish, and champagne was alright.

Carol_Herman said...

The role of teachers in our society has changed.

Kids don't have jobs they need to do after school!

And, parents, who both work, want schools to provide DAY CARE.

Schools open at 7AM ... so that kids can be dropped off by parents who must then head to work.

The only things schools must teach are abilities to comprehend reading. And, basic math skills. The two areas we know see where so many kids falter.

Gosh, I remember when Sesame Street was riviting! And, they also had cassette tapes ... of singing characters ... So we could play these tapes in the car, while my kid was a passenger. (I controlled what got played.)

Montesoori is a great beginning, too, for kids. Because it emphasizes social skills. Plus, kids can be in rooms together, but they can "learn" at their own pace. As long as what they're doing fits on a small rug. And, they put everything away before they reach for some new "stuff."

Teachers are in the background at Montesorri. (And, Montessorri was an Italian physician, back in 1905. Who was handed the "prize" of caring for idiots. When her students went to take the national exam ... and no one could find her "idiots" on the bottom.)

Some of the oldest forms of education are still some of the best ones.

And, if you want to teach girls to read, have them do needlepoint, where they reproduce the alphabet. Or a little prayer.)

What needs to be tossed from "EduKa-shun" are all the Ph.D's. Which may begin when the credentialed crowd can't earn a living. We're not there, yet.

Carol_Herman said...

Abigail Adams true importance, is that she was able to run the farm, while her husband spent time in France.

Among her decisions was to have her children vaccinated for small pox. Which at the time had a 10% fatality rate.

John Adams was lucky because he had a wife who was very strong, in her own right. Sure, her suggestion to her husband to let women into politics, and to vote, was ignored.

Some stuff that gets ignored in its own time, becomes a very timely thing to do later on. Even if this is by generations.

J said...

Many Americans are not aware of Abigail's sexual escapades in Paris while visiting with JA and other yanks. She often snuck away from the gents, and visited boudoirs and brothels, once meeting the Marquis De Arouet (not to be confused with his distant cousin, the sinister DeSade), who invited her to a ....ahem...soiree at the Baron D'Holbach's chateau, where, wearing a mask and...not much else, she quietly complied with any and all orders from the French aristos--and a few wicked gallic lesbians-- in attendance, as the men discussed the new mechanical philosophy. After a few days of debauchery she returned to the Americans, and afterwards was known to the jacobins as the Maitresse Cul Chaud......allegedly! :]

Beldar said...

Prof. A, I respectfully disagree with you about McCullough's book on Adams.

That book had a particular premise: That John and Abigail had a striking partnership of intellectual equals, which, in turn, profoundly affected John's life outside their marriage and family. To support that premise, it was essential to focus on her as well as on him. I think McCullough did a fine job of supporting his premise, and I don't second-guess McCullough's choices in the process.

Michael K said...

I began my interest in history when I found my cousin's World History 1938 high school textbook. I was about 13. It began with the Doric invasion and the Punic Wars. It ended with World War I. It read like a novel. The only illustrations were maps. I wish I still had it. I read it twice.

My ex-wife was a big advocate of public schools, having been a teacher. When we divorced, I started sending the kids to private school and none of them ever went back to public school (except UCLA). About 15 years ago, she got laid off from her bank job and taught for about 6 months until she got another bank job. It had been 30 years since she last taught. She was appalled and told me that she would home school the kids now.

The PhD thing about history texts is amusing. I have a history of medicine that I published in 2004. I finally had to self publish because the fact that I did not have a PhD in history caused it to be blocked by the university presses. One executive (Of U Penn Press) told me that the press boards are dominated by Humanities Profs.

Anyway, it is still selling about 50 copies a month at Amazon and was adopted as a textbook by one of the universities whose press turned it down.

My daughter was being taught things that were not true in her US History course at U of Arizona. One example; she was taught that the Silent Majority of the 1960s was made up of white people who opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Even Wikipedia knows better than than. There are a number of other examples.

Seven Machos said...

There should be no textbooks. They are not necessary. Teachers should have an outline and kids should read related books. Nonfiction.

Paula said...

All I know is this. My fourth grade history textbook remains one of my favorite books of all time. It was so interesting to me, a small town girl, and opened up a much wider view of my state and my country. The characters were vividly described and their actions were dramatic and important. I can say, without a doubt, if it had not been for that wonderful book, I would not be the history lover I am today.
Flash forward to many years later when I taught history to middle school students. The books were insipid little bites of information, loaded down with passive descriptions of 2 dimensional characters. There was no life, no fire, and no interest. I had to abandon the text at times to bring in my own material and hopefully try to instill a love or at least a liking of history. Hopefully I succeeded.

Kudos to Mr. McCullough for his work. I think all students should have to read John Adams, especially because of the portrayal of the partnership that existed between he and Abigail. Without her, Adams wouldn't have been the man he was.

J said...

Uh oh Nachos with some cutting- edge pedagogy. No texts?? What about that Ford Chilton's manual you done memorized,trash? Or...Ayn Rand, Mein Kampf, the Good Boo, Meth cookin' for Dummies, etc?? All sorts of books that tea-tards will be a needin', Nachos.

...Look he's winding up the watch of his wit. By and by it will strike.

Milwaukee said...

Steve Machos: Good idea about the textbook. Almost all of what students need through the first two years of college is online, or available in a variety of books, not necessarily written as "textbooks".

As for the "nonfiction", I humbly disagree. We live lives in stories: go to the doctor or the auto mechanic, you need to tell a story about what is wrong, and when. They need to listen and interpret your story to devise a plan of action. Good story tellers will get better help, and be better listeners.

Synova said...

"Clearly, McCullough isn't following some rule about giving characters attention in proportion to their historical significance."

I think that historical significance isn't always as important as focusing on people, often ordinary people, within their context.

Complaining about "categories" is complaining about removing the context of the whole. We do not have separate Histories!

Chronologies matter, but I would think that... let's say "webs" matter more. Forcing events into a linear aspect isolates just as much as categories do. I recall learning about the French-Indian war and then the American Revolution without any clue whatsoever that England, France, and Spain had what we might call "issues" that were relevant. They weren't part of the larger picture, they were the larger picture. But we learned American chronologies.

Which might be appropriate for children.

I'm not as worried about teaching children incomplete versions of facts as I used to be. If we refuse to simplify things, we may as well not bother to teach History at all.

Simplified versions of the Tea Party that don't mention the complexities of trade and culture and simplified or even entirely wrong versions of Paul Revere or Washington crossing the Delaware or Pocahontas or Lincoln and his Cherry Tree are appropriate. And the errors of fact in them are not going to cripple a person's understanding once they are exposed to the complexities.

I think it's like karate, a bit. When I took martial arts I started out worried about learning something wrong and having to unlearn it again, and that was true up to a point. And then that point was reached and I found out that unlearning wasn't a problem at all. It was merely a case of minor variations and I'd learned enough about my own physical self to employ those. Now what if I'd learned nothing from the start that I couldn't learn correctly? I'd have learned nothing.

I think we worry far too much about learning correctly instead of worrying about learning and trusting the "correctly" to come after the foundations have been laid.

Perhaps it's even an artifact of our language, that we use the term "foundation."

Milwaukee said...

There may be no "perfect" way to write history textbooks, but it's obvious from the results we see now that the current methods used by public schools are a failure. Inserting political correctness and agenda politics into history textbooks is a recipe for ignorance. But maybe that's intentional; a populace oblivious to its history is a populace that's easily swayed.

Spot on. Our schools are the most socialist thing going, and with the unions operating, they have dumbed down our population. The standardized testing is just making test writers wealthy. We need to radically change our educational system.

Milwaukee said...

In a good marriage the spouses are partners and friends. Each, male and female, brings different perspectives, which enriches the other. I haven't read the book, but if she was an important person in his life, if she had an influence, then she deserves the ink she gets.

Who doubts that Hilary is and was very important to Bill? Had she not been married to him she would have rated a Cabinet post on her own right. Elizabeth is said to have been as ambitious for political success as John. John McCain has publicly stated his regret at his behavior which led to his first divorce. I'm sure his wife has helped shaped his views on things. That's ok. That's what good marriages are for. You know, the whole "You make me complete" shit.

Hagar said...

Synova,

The best one I have seen in this line is Time-Life Books' volume on the War of 1812, where they proudly bragged about the young nation with half a dozen frigates holding off the British Navy with 540 ships, completely ignoring that the Brits had a few other things on their plate at the time.

Robin said...

School textbooks are written for the textbook selection committees of the various state and local education systems. These committees are dominated by out-of-touch academics who do not have to use the textbooks, do not care whether or not the textbooks inform or bore the students, and who are invested in the ludicrous PC culture of academia.

I even had to put up with this nonsense when tryin to get a decent business law textbook selected at the community college I teach at.

Quaestor said...

Ann,

If David McCullough is guilty of the sin of political correctness (and if anything is a sin this is one) its not an argument against his thesis. You ought to know that, being university professor.

wv: thsmink - the mink nearer in time or space than thtmink.

Quaestor said...

HDHouse wrote:
just passing though and saw yet another althouse mediocre red meat post....

By "passing through" he means rolling through in his motorized wheelchair, purchased at taxpayer expense.

RichardS said...

Major historians do write textbooks, at least college ones. Not sure about high school textbooks, however. On the other hand, AP US courses often use college textbooks.

Ann Althouse said...

"Why is McCullough bringing this up now? The PC-History Textbook was already a problem in the late 1980s."

He's bringing it up because he's pushing a new book of his and there's a recent story in the news about how ignorant about history these young people today are.

As for those of you who say I've mixed up 2 topics, I'm commenting on the mush McCullough made. He talks about how history scholars are bad writers, but that's not directly related to the writing in textbooks. And his popular books are somewhere in between serious scholarship and digests prepared for children to use in schools. My main point here is McCullough's self-promotion.

HDHouse said...

Rialby said...
Yeah, like I'm going to give out any information about myself. In this day and age, when every Leftist in America is just itching for a reason to boycott your place of business .....

like anyone is interested in the price of worms....

Trooper York said...

From 1860 to 1864 Harriet Tubman helped 36 slaves escape from the deep South during the Civil war. She was part of the Underground railway that helped slaves escape from their masters and find freedom in Canada which was a much more enlightened country than the United States as it remains to this very day. She was the person mainly responsible for the end of slavery and the collapse of the Confederacy.

There was a tall skinny fellow with a beard who had something to do with it too but that isn’t really all that important in the whole scheme of things.
(The Politically Correct History of the United States, Doris Kearns Goodwin, HD Random House, 2011)

Rialby said...

Oh snap. You got me. I'm nothing more than a common worm monger. You spit on those people as you drive east to summer don't you?

Trooper York said...

During the Second World War, Eleanor Roosevelt worked tirelessly to protect the rights of the poor, minorities, women and the members of organized labor. She spent her time leading the fight to sell war bonds to finance the war and getting woman and minorities into the workforce as they took their rightful place on fully unionized assembly lines. She was primarily responsible for the victory of Allied forces as they defeated the forces of Nazism with the help of our Soviet comrades.

A rich old white man in a wheelchair had something to do with it too but that isn’t really all that important in the whole scheme of things.
(The Politically Correct History of the United States, Doris Kearns Goodwin, HD Random House, 2011)

Skookum John said...

"Who doubts that Hilary is and was very important to Bill? Had she not been married to him she would have rated a Cabinet post on her own right."

Really? What makes you think so? She was an ambulance chaser in Little Rock. She'd never have been able to carpetbag her way into a Senate seat without him leading the way and stirring up the female sympathy vote, and it's not like her Senate career was particularly distinguished either.

Ralph L said...

Paula said...
snip...when I taught history to middle school students. snip... that existed between he and Abigail.
Good thing you wasn't a English teacher.

dave in boca said...

I agree with Fred4Pres that Abigail might have kept Adams from terminal foolhardiness and saved his political career. I also agree that Bess Truman [an unreconstructed lover of the Confederacy, or perhaps her mother was] served Harry roughly in the same capacity as Mary Todd Lincoln did Lincoln, as a constant pain in the backside.

David McCullough writes so well and gets into the nooks and crannies of what formed the character of his historical subjects, however, that I forgive him a multitude of self-promoting peccadillos.

And when he said to Charlie Rose, while I was sitting with my newly-graduated 21-year old daughter, that his family was the single most important thing in his life, and that he was very proud that his son is a highschool history teacher, my daughter was so impressed that when I gave her the six or seven McCullough books in my giant collection of books. she actually promised to read them....!

Yes, i know she was trying to make her daddy feel good, but once she starts reading amd asking questions, maybe she won't want to go to law school as much [she gets her LSAT scores on 6/20, which is Monday after Fathers' Day].

dave in boca said...

I agree with Fred4Pres that Abigail might have kept Adams from terminal foolhardiness and saved his political career. I also agree that Bess Truman [an unreconstructed lover of the Confederacy, or perhaps her mother was] served Harry roughly in the same capacity as Mary Todd Lincoln did Lincoln, as a constant pain in the backside.

David McCullough writes so well and gets into the nooks and crannies of what formed the character of his historical subjects, however, that I forgive him a multitude of self-promoting peccadillos.

And when he said to Charlie Rose, while I was sitting with my newly-graduated 21-year old daughter, that his family was the single most important thing in his life, and that he was very proud that his son is a highschool history teacher, my daughter was so impressed that when I gave her the six or seven McCullough books in my giant collection of books. she actually promised to read them....!

Yes, i know she was trying to make her daddy feel good, but once she starts reading amd asking questions, maybe she won't want to go to law school as much [she gets her LSAT scores on 6/20, which is Monday after Fathers' Day].

P.S., Ann. She worked as an intern for Sen. Kohl in DC this Xmas vacation and they told her to come back this fall, even if he is a lame duck.

Penny said...

Frankly, I'd be rather pleased if 80% of our students could read and comprehend even one section of ANY book that was handed out in school.

Might be nice if they could do a little math, also. Something like...

This book has 210 pages. If one of your classmates read half of it, how many pages did they read?

Course I wouldn't do this as a multiple choice question. The odds might skew reality.

Jane said...

History just needs to be drilled orally in elementary school. Our brains are an organ that needs to be exercised - kids are amazing at memorization. (My daughter just memorized "The Walrus and the Carpenter" in one day, for fun.) They hate textbooks, and they are NOT ready for tons of interpretation.

Throw away the textbook entirely, at least until the 7th grade.

We use the one-room schoolhouse model at Classical Conversations, which is growing by thousands each year.

My kids know all the U.S. Presidents in order, a long U.S. timeline, the Bill of Rights, and key facts about American history. We read the rest of our history in the form of stories, and through visits to whatever historical sites we can find.

Grammar school is for drilling grammar. It's all in Dorothy Sayers.

Jane said...

I forgot to add, by the end of the year, thousands of elementary students in Classical Conversations will also have mastered the 50 states and capitals, and the trails, canals, lakes, mountains, and rivers of our country. They'll also know a 180-piece timeline by heart, science and English grammar facts, John 1:1-9 in Latin with the English translation for all the words, and their multiplication facts up to x15.

They do it because they want to -- they get a trophy, a t-shirt, and $50 at the end of the year. It's something they *can* do, since it involves their brains which are already good at memorizing, so they do it. It takes just a few minutes a day, if that.

Seven Machos said...

Hey, look, it's my new favorite anti-Semite, J. What is John Edwards's position on textbooks as they relate to eliminating poor people?

Don't Tread 2012 said...

"Blaming "politically correct" textbooks for the widespread ignorance about history."

Well, this is how our national 'amnesia' is spread by people, both well-intentioned and not...

Certainly, individual agendas bleed into such writing, so I don't think it all that far-fetched to believe.

Remember, black history, white history, jewish history, IS American history...

From Inwood said...

Good grief, I find myself agreeing with C4!

Prof A: of course McC was pumping his book & is in his writings much given to the interesting story, but his textbook criticism here is dead on.

My wife was a freelance textbook editor 'til she retired, but she was told that she had to get wymyn & minorities in every situation.

Thus, when preparing the teacher test questions section of the textbook (the teachers thought too stoopid & uninformed to make up such questions), my wife had to bring in the fact (assuming that it is a fact) that 27 Filipinos fought with Gen Jackson in the Battle of New Orleans & use Carrie Chapman Chatt as one of the column A 10 folks in the WW I Chapter (The match in Column B was "Founded League of Woman Voters")

Trooper Y: your witty parodies are great because they, alas, are really close to the truth of the History popularizers.

Today's textbooks are like "Where's Waldo" or the Little League coach trying to pretend the poor schlub (hey, C4 can I use that word?) kid, who can't run, catch or throw, brings some intangibles to the team & helps it win.

Milwaukee said...

An African-American co-worker of mine helped "edit" a math textbook. I asked him why this page had a picture of Asians in uniform. He didn't know. We guessed it was to get the minority picture count up. Oh, look at our multi-cultural text book.

No Name said...

A great cloud of gas and dust condensed to form the solar system. There were dinosaurs, then the motorcycle was invented.

Done.

jimspice said...

So the consensus here is that teaching real historical events that may not be monumental in impact, but which attempt to engage students is wrong. Is this this consistent with what I am assuming is also the consensus in favor of teaching intelligent design in science classes?

Scott M said...

Is this this consistent with what I am assuming is also the consensus in favor of teaching intelligent design in science classes?

Is it absolutely necessary to even touch on intelligent design to point out all the problems with evolution theory?

Further, is it absolutely necessary to invoke divinity when discussion intelligent design? Is it more important to force feed facts down the throats of science students, or is it more valuable to teach them to think and ask questions? Isn't "Why?" the most important question a scientist can ask?

Milwaukee said...

There is a problem with the Theory of Evolution. While it can explain micro-evolution, it doesn't explain macro-evolution. Pigeons may grow longer wings, and have their coloring change, but they don't become falcons.

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