How Textbooks Can Teach Different Versions Of History

Jul 21, 2015

by Laura Isensee

This summer there’s been an intense debate surrounding the Confederate flag and the legacy of slavery in this country.

In Texas that debate revolves around new textbooks that 5 million students will use when the school year begins next month.

The question is, are students getting a full and accurate picture of the past?

Eleventh-grade U.S. history teacher Samantha Manchac is concerned about the new materials and is already drawing up her lesson plans for the coming year. She teaches at The High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, a public school in Houston.

The first lesson she says she’ll give her kids is how textbooks can tell different versions of history. “We are going to utilize these textbooks to some extent, but I also want you to be critical of the textbooks and not take this as the be-all and end-all of American history,” she imagines telling her new students.


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16 comments on “How Textbooks Can Teach Different Versions Of History

  • Although organized religion is beginning to die all over the world (today’s news, over 200,000 Germans have left the Catholic Church (although the Pope has got it right on climate change), it is not dying fast enough. As long as we rely on over 2000 year old books filled with silly stories of make believe, we are in deep trouble. It is ridiculous for the US and UK to allow a bunch of ignorant, backward, anti-science, fundamental southern protestant to dictate what will be taught in the public schools. The President tied to introduce climate change science into the public schools curriculum, he was defeated by the GOP, many beholding to the fossil fuel industries. Because of their ignorance, millions are going to die from the effects of climate change, the list is long: social, cultural, financial interruptions, massive loss of species (bees, bats, pollinators), sea rise, loss of large predators, melting ice in the artic and Antarctic, migration of species, including, tropical and subtropical diseases, hurricanes, tornados, drought (California), loss of coral reefs, loss of habitat, dead areas in the oceans (loss of oxygen), rissing CO2, ocean warming (more CO2), forest fires, record breaking heat (especially in India), and the list goes on and on. Because of our ignorance, denial and self-delusion (as Steven Pinker pointed out in his book, The Blank Slate), millions will die of hunger, thirst, so… WAKE UP or the human species will join the nearly 99 percent of extinct species. The Scientific American, in their lead story, did not get it right, the human species has not “conquered” nature, but is destroying much of it, and nature is fighting back. WAKE UP, time is running out.



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  • It is ridiculous for the US and UK to allow a bunch of ignorant,
    backward, anti-science, fundamental southern protestant to dictate
    what will be taught in the public schools.

    Here’s the problem (as I see it): those idiots were elected to represent the people in that area. Even the newly-appointed school board president–who thinks home schooling is better–was initially elected to the school board. At what point does one feel it is necessary to override the electorate “for their own good?”



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  • Vicki
    Jul 22, 2015 at 10:58 am

    Here’s the problem (as I see it): those idiots were elected to represent the people in that area.

    That is indeed the problem.
    In a democracy the people get the representatives the majority of voters deserve – whether they like it or not.

    First law; Elect monkeys – live in the jungle! (Apologies to wild monkey species).



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  • When I started reading the post by William, I thought it was going to be a well needed critique on the irrationalities of organized religion. As I read further I saw it was a non-objective attempt to push the government regulations and loss of freedoms associated with the climate change movement down our throats. I am a solid believer in human evolution and a universe governed by the laws of science not the will of a God or Gods. But I believe that unregulated pure Laissez faire capitalism is the only political economic system system compatible with human morality and that it is the way to deal with climate change.



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  • Robert
    Jul 22, 2015 at 1:38 pm

    I am a solid believer in human evolution and a universe governed by the laws of science not the will of a God or Gods. But I believe that unregulated pure Laissez faire capitalism is the only political economic system system compatible with human morality and that it is the way to deal with climate change.

    While capitalism can certainly provide the technologies to replace the problems of escalating temperatures caused by human CO2 emissions, unregulated Laissez faire capitalism, has a consistent record of producing a race to the bottom, in terms of standards of social, economic, political, or environmental responsibility.

    Perhaps an evidence based approach, would be better than one of ideological belief?



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  • Robert:

    But I believe that unregulated pure Laissez faire capitalism is the only political economic system system compatible with human morality and that it is the way to deal with climate change.

    Well you are a Utopian ! Where is capitalism not regulated ? Nowhere, not even in the good ole USA ! Did you know the good ole USA government nationalised the American railways in 1917, precisely to stop the various companies charging monopoly prices for transportation of essential war effort materials ? They later were sold back. Profit, profit, profit is what drives capitalism, not human need. Nor will the conflicting interests of the world’s capitalist class ever be reconciled amicably. Anyone want to build an island in the Pacific ?

    For all the regulation, heavier in some countries than others, capitalism is uncontrollable, and never solves any of the social problems it throws up in its wake such as warfare, poverty, and economic insecurity.



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  • …unregulated pure Laissez faire capitalism is the only political
    economic system system compatible with human morality and that it is
    the way to deal with climate change.

    Ahem. I would urge you to check out the current fish-feeding frenzy over land to frack. But be prepared…it is not a pretty sight.



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  • @Alan4discussion

    In a democracy the people get the representatives the majority of
    voters deserve –whether they like it or not.

    Not if the political and electoral system allows in practice no effective alternatives. Maybe you’re being a little too harsh on the voting public.



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  • Ipse Dixit
    Jul 22, 2015 at 5:58 pm

    Not if the political and electoral system allows in practice no effective alternatives.

    That is often so, because the apathetic masses make no effort to participate or change it. – They simply wait for someone else to make the effort, and then complain that it is not enough, or they don’t like it!

    Maybe you’re being a little too harsh on the voting public.

    I have often spent time trying to get significant percentages of them to look at issues and even make the effort to vote at all, let alone attend consultation meetings, listen to expert advice, or campaign for worthwhile issues.



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  • In a representative democracy the elected representatives end up representing none but themselves. Here I think applies the maxim ‘if you want something doing right, do it yourself’.



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  • Ipse Dixit
    Jul 22, 2015 at 6:28 pm

    In a representative democracy the elected representatives end up representing none but themselves.

    I think that depends on the nature of the democracy.

    In the UK candidates come up for reselection for election to their next term of office, and can be dumped by their political parties if enough members care about a poor performance.



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  • It is hard. We all want a revolution. To see our efforts effect a great change. Revolution is short term its changes never last long. Lasting change is evolutionary, pressured and slow. We must arm ourselves with fortitude, patience and with a vision looking centuries forward.



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  • Agreed, John. I see the next few generations of Texans eventually comprehending the insular education they received. This strikes me as more of a swan song of the neo-cons clutching at anything they can as they sink in the mire they’ve created.



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  • Boy, someone who believes that Laissez Faire capitalism is our way out of the planetary misery?

    Read Naomi Klein’s “This Changes Everything” if you need help understanding why extractive capitalism got us into this mess in the first place. It is going to kill us too if we don’t restructure our economic paradigm into something that is 100% sustainable.

    Thanks for the reminder that we are going to perish as a species, precisely because of people who are really trying not to understand how the planet works and who will believe in capitalism because that is what they were successfully spoon-fed.

    We have only one planet, we are rapidly polluting it and warming it up. No capitalist is going to change that. The math is simple but maybe for some still too complicated.



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  • Admitting to being a dilettante, I’ve read enough history to conclude that fair and balanced accounts of the past can be recorded on the basis of abundant accumulated evidence treated “objectively” with as little bias as possible. Distortions of history occur when events are viewed through ideological filters whether political, religious or cultural. The left as well as the right are equally susceptible. Socialists-communists as well as capitalists are equally biased by ideological blinders. We are also bombarded with the assorted absurdities of Black Studies, Women’s Studies, Chicano Studies, Native-American Studies ad nauseum. I can think of two related fallacies asserted in popular historical methodology. The first is to view history through an anachronistic ahistorical lens. Calling a white southern slaveholder in 1855 a racist in the contemporary sense and therefore a monster in an era when nearly everyone (with important exceptions) believed that blacks were morally and intellectually inferior to whites (including Abraham Lincoln) is ahistorical and anachronistic. The second fallacy is to over-moralize history. Hitler, WWII and the holocaust were as much the product of European balance-of-power politics, imperialism and anti-semitism as the pathology of one man with absolute power over a militarized nation.
    Disclaimer; I realize the imperative of holding people morally, legally responsible for their actions and condemning atrocities; but changing the future for the purpose of secular humanist progress depends more on understanding the history of cultural systemic forces in order to reform them toward encouraging conditions where human beings can thrive in an ethical environment of civil, democratic, and secular institutions.



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