Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Language Police

All the recent talk about the new rules for textbook curriculum out of Texas has me fairly steamed as folks who know me well will be unsurprised to hear. The old "it's not biased when it is our view" line seems to be rearing its head. However, I'm not so biased myself (not that I'm unbiased, mind) that I see the problem being caused only by the right. In fact, there is a larger problem of both ahole wings of the political spectrum unduly influencing the terrible, toothless way that our children learn about history. A couple of excellent books come to mind that highlight this bipartisan ineptitude:

1) "The Language Police" by Diane Ravitch is an excellent look at how these things have crippled education from the left (in California) and the right (in Texas). These two states are shown to be responsible for a large part of the material covered in the entire nation's textbook choices because these two states purchase the most number of books. Money talks--there's a history lesson for America. Ravitch is a former Assistant Secretary of Education.

2) More commonly known is "Lies My Teacher Told Me" by James Loewen. This is a more narrative book, retelling the common stories of American history in a more historically accurate way as compared to the way history textbooks cover them. Loewen argues that the toothless and boring telling of history in K12 history textbooks is a result of left- and right-wing groups taking the complexity of events out of children's hands. As a result, children are unable to develop critical thinking skills and an ability to understand current events from any kind of accurate historical context. He is sometimes kinder than Ravitch, arguing that the review boards may be "well intentioned." I would argue otherwise...on both sides. Loewen is a former history teacher.

3) "A People's History of the United States" is another classic by Howard Zinn, but this one is not as impartial. :) Zinn was a strong social critic and activist, with a heavy tilt toward the left. However this book is meticulously footnoted and strongly argued. He also has the decency not offered by many left- or right-wing authors to lay out his bias at the front. He said in the introduction that his book is no more impartial or neutral than any other textbook or history book..but it's no less so, either. All history books take a perspective, but the perspectives he writes about--of the downtrodden, the losers, the poor--are rarely truly covered in more traditional history books.

Today is Geek Pride Day. Here is a sampling of my geekhood. :)

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