Teaching History

Procopius Occidens

Procopius Occidens teaches American history in a school district where whistleblowers are treated badly.

I am a high school teacher with a National Board certificate. I have a Bachelor’s Degree in History from an Ivy League university. I have been teaching US History in the public schools for more than a decade now. I have no choice about what textbook to use, and so I am forced to teach my students to demonize white Americans.

My school district, like hundreds of others throughout the United States, uses Holt McDougal’s widely distributed textbook The Americans. As I read the book and taught my students, I got the impression that “white” was mostly used as an epithet. I decided to dig in and quantify that impression. I’ve made a database that tabulates each time the word “white” is used—to refer to people, not to paint or snow—and whether it’s used positively, neutrally, or negatively.

I counted 242 instances—133 negative, 63 neutral, and 46 positive. The ratio of negative to positive uses of the word “white” is 2.8 to 1. In The Americans, white people are synonymous with bigotry, racism, exclusion and oppression. The textbook assiduously notes that slaveholders were “white,” but not that the Republican Congress that passed the Thirteenth Amendment was composed exclusively of white men. Nor does it mention the whiteness of (for example) inventor Thomas Edison; businessman John D. Rockefeller; temperance campaigner Carrie Nation; union leader Samuel Gompers; doctor Walter Reed; education reformer Horace Mann; or artist Georgia O’Keeffe. If The Americans mentions someone is “white,” it’s usually to say he’s an oppressor. If a white American does something good, he has no color at all.

Fifty years ago Martin Luther King affirmed that “Somebody told a lie one day. They couched it in language. They made everything black ugly and evil. Look in your dictionary and see the synonyms of the word black. It’s always something degrading, low and sinister.” If black Americans had cause to complain then, then white Americans have cause to complain now. And no American of good will should be happy about racial vilification.

It isn’t just a matter of counting words—although I do wonder what results I would find if I tabulated the usages of words such as black, Christian, gay, male, nationalism, religion, Orthodox, and women. There’s a larger campaign to make everything white something degrading, low and sinister, and to forward the idea that America is a land of oppression in desperate need of state intervention to correct its flaws. In some school districts, second graders are already being indoctrinated by the pseudo-Marxist concept of “white privilege,” to assume responsibility for the purported unearned privileges passed onto whites by their long-dead ancestors. The textbooks they read give them no clue that white Americans have a better history.

As far as I can tell, the textbooks are just as bad for Advanced Placement history classes. My current AP World History textbook uses the word “patriarchy” frequently—not as a descriptive term from anthropology or political theory, but as a default polemic to describe how men oppress and degrade women. The textbook is utterly silent about the biological differences between men and women, so students aren’t even presented with the argument—much less the evidence—that these biological differences, not oppressive patriarchy, might have contributed to the almost-universal division of labor and social roles between men and women. My high school students are primed to believe radical fantasies when they go to college, because they’ve been taught no fact in high school that would tell them about the real world.

I do what I can to teach my students real history—but I’m supposed to teach my students to do well on their tests, and that means teaching them what’s in the textbooks my school district selected. Less experienced teachers in their formative years rely almost exclusively on their textbooks. The only real solution is to change the history textbooks.

America needs to diversify who writes and reviews the books. The overwhelming majority of professors and high school teachers are liberals. A recent study indicates that liberal historians outnumber conservatives in the Academy by 33 to 1. Most history textbook authors are professors or high school teachers; unsurprisingly, their political biases distort what they write.

State legislatures and school districts must insist that history textbooks be reviewed by panels of liberal and conservative academics, to make sure that our students aren’t just taught liberal propaganda as history. It’s not as if there are no conservative historians—you can still find them at colleges and universities such as Hillsdale, the Franciscan University at Steubenville, and Biola University. Include conservative professors in our textbook selection committees, and we can get balanced textbooks that teach our students to question all propaganda and to think for themselves.

But as matters stand now, the “professional” stamp of approval just means that a history textbook confirms left-wing prejudices. Buyer beware.

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