The Texas Textbook Massacre
By Rosemarie Jackowski
The missing part of the news report about the Texas textbook fiasco is that this is not new news. History textbooks used in most US 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 US never was the way it was portrayed in textbooks. Standard US 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 US never did anything wrong. Meanwhile, the CIA was in Guatemala killing the people there. Many who went to school during the 50s were so brainwashed that by the time graduation came, they were anxious to enlist in the military. Korea needed to be defeated in order to preserve our national honor. Was it really about our national honor – most people did not know why we were killing Koreans. It just seemed to be the patriotic thing to do. Symbols of patriotism were everywhere.
Are things any better in schools now? Are students taught about covert CIA actions, about how the US got its base at Diego Garcia, about the atrocities at NoGunRi? When history textbooks are evaluated, one of the first words that should be checked in the index is NoGunRi. Usually there is no mention of that US war crime.
In the 40s and 50s WW2 was a big topic. Most students were taught the official version of that war. They learned those lessons well, not only in the classroom. The Saturday matinee was the big event of the week. Any kid with 12 cents got in. Kids without the 12 cents usually were smart enough to figure 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 needlessly slaughtered by the atomic bombs were usually omitted in any classroom discussion. About the fire bombing of Dresden — well that didn’t matter either. After all they were Germans.
Playing cowboys and Indians was a favorite pastime. Kids were taught to hate 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 never learned about their criminal acts.
In the 50s kids grew up hating Indians, the Japanese, Germans, and black people. Kids now grow up hating Muslims, and an assortment of other groups. Recently, it has been interesting watching and listening to the hate talk that has been directed toward people from other countries. 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 the law can be wrong. Remember, slavery was legal — that did not make it right. Why should the geographic location of person’s mother at the time of his birth give any special privileges or penalties?
Are all men created equal? If that is to be a cherished national value then the color of a persons skin, his religion, and the location of his mother at the time of his birth are all irrelevant. Prejudice based on geography is no more acceptable than prejudice based on race, creed, ethnicity, or economic status.
The solution to the Texas textbook dilemma is easy. Just don’t buy the books. This would save taxpayer money at a time when school budgets are in trouble.
There are plenty of historically accurate books that should be in classrooms. Rogue State and also Killing Hope are two superior reference books authored by William Blum. William Blum is 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 considered to be the gold standard of US history books. No classroom is complete without it.
ROSEMARIE JACKOWSKI firstname.lastname@example.org
Rosemarie Jackowski is an advocacy 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.