My blood was boiling….but Marc Bloch helped me

Post for 4/14/15

I think my blood boiled on most of these…
And it all brought back the Lynne Cheney effort to “set historical teaching right…”

For my irate tangent, see these:
Lynn Cheney’s moves toward sanitized history education and leftist brain-washing – read this by Paul Gottfried

Lynne Cheney and Gary Nash: Teaching a PC version of History

And this NY Times article, History on Trial: Culture Wars and the Teaching of the Past- by Gary B Nash, Alfred A Knopf – NY

Some quotes: “Cheney also charged that the U.S. History Standards presented a “grim and gloomy” portrayal of American history. Why so much attention, she asked, to topics such as the Ku Klux Klan and McCarthyism? “Citing other teaching examples rather than the standards themselves, Cheney found six references to Harriet Tubman, an escaped slave who used the Underground Railroad to rescue scores of other slaves. In contrast, such white males as Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee were mentioned only one and zero times, respectively. The standards give no hint, she complained, “of the spell-binding oratory of such congressional giants as Henry Clay and Daniel Webster.” And Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein, Jonas Salk, and the Wright brothers, she claimed, “make no appearance at all.”
“What went wrong?” Cheney asked. Cheney concluded her Journal attack with a call to arms. National certification of these standards, she warned, must at all cost be blocked or “much that is significant in our past will begin to disappear from our schools.” She urged that the standards be stopped in their tracks because they were the rubbish produced by an “academic establishment that revels in . . . politicized history.”

My favorite Nash quote of the article: “History does matter, and it is important for Americans at the end of the twentieth century to understand how the recent history wars have unfolded, how these struggles are connected to earlier arguments over interpreting the past, and what this tells us about the state of our society…contention over the past is as old as written history itself, that the democratizing of the history profession has led to more inclusive and balanced presentations of American and world history, and that continuously reexamining the past, rather than piously repeating traditional narratives, is the greatest service historians can render in a democracy.”

OK, sorry for the rant…now to my comments abut the readings…

• DeVega Blog: “They Have Blood on Their Hands: The Sons of Confederate Veterans”

Secession Ball- I was horrified at the invitation: “a joyous night of music, dancing, food and drink.” Public announcements can be devastatingly revealing: ignorance, or arrogance?

I identified with his thought that “History does political work. As a corollary, memory is a function of power, selective forgetting, and intentional remembering to advance certain ends in the here and now.” This gave me room to think both about politics and memory – and the power of both. Sometimes, they lead us to forget or remember erroneously.

The NY Times link with comments by Lonnie Randolph, president of the South Carolina N.A.A.C.P. addressed the more terrible thought: “I can only imagine what kind of celebration they would have if they had won,” and was dumbfounded by “all of this glamorization and sanitization of what really happened.” The terrible facts of slavery and human chattel should be indelibly seared in everyone’s history – not just a select few, and not skewed by select memories or belief systems…

• The Virginia 4th grade textbook story by Kevin Sieff in the Washington Post, Oct 2010
My question: Who is responsible for truth in history?
Misrepresenting history is even more of a danger when it is aimed at schoolchildren, with moldable minds and very often, parents or caregivers who really don’t know what is happening in the classroom or in assignments. Or conversely, what power do “concerned and actively involved parents” have to question and rectify errors in historical memory that end up in the classroom? (“The issues first came to light after College of William & Mary historian Carol Sheriff opened her daughter’s copy of “Our Virginia” and saw the reference to black Confederate soldiers.” “It’s disconcerting that the next generation is being taught history based on an unfounded claim instead of accepted scholarship,” Sheriff said. “It concerns me not just as a professional historian but as a parent.”) It seems to me that parents must educate themselves, and they must help in accountability for truth. Sadly, I fear, many do not know enough to be able to assume this role. So, then, who is? Great discussion thoughts….

• NW History “Open Letter to the Curators of the Baron Von Munchausen Historic Home” by Larry Cebula, 2010 (two reads)

I just cringed at this!!! I think this letter shows the need for honest and constant debate in the teaching of history. (Thank you, Mandy, Michelle, and Dr M-B!)

Good for Mr. Cebula calling out poor history, misinformation…but, respectfully so.
I can’t image what the reply wuld have been if he not been so kind with his words.

This discussion of “the biggest problem with the interpretation at the Baron Munchausen House was the absence of slavery,” and then the “sayings” origins that were inaccurate elicited three thoughts from me:
– The perpetuation of myths is something anyone can be guilty of. I probably have done the same thing…BUT if you are in apposition of interpreting the past for the public, and schoolchildren, you are responsible for historical accuracy. It would be fine if the myths were called out as myths, but to purposely repeat myths or distort the truth is just not acceptable in the public arena.

– The issue of docents and volunteer training is also very important. I know not every volunteer is watched carefully, but proper education and training should be required in all public forums. This won’t tackle the whole problem, but it could help tremendously, and it can put hose who tend to veer form the truth on notice that it’s unacceptable.

– The need for updating: The Wisconsin State Historical Society story about out-of-date Native American history and the Idaho Historical Society’s ancient exhibits call to mind the fact that today, public historians MUST be current, vigilant, and yes, participatory, so that at least the vocal visitors can set the record straight.

Lastly, “You as a Professor should stop bringing into the 21st century all this negativism.” I could not believe this reply that was sent to Mr. Cebula!
The “hateful subject” was cruel. It also was hateful. Perpetuating that by avoiding it, or by disguising it as a kind and benevolent action is just ludicrous.

I liked this Blog reply: I certainly look forward to teaching “World History 101 (No Negativity: only the nice bits)”

• Washington Post article – Conservative class on Founding Fathers’ answers
By Krissah Thompson, Washington Post Staff Writer , Saturday, June 5, 2010

Made my blood boil again!! The thought of people inculcating young, impressionable minds is just reprehensible. I guess that is how Hitler trained his youth, or how cults do the same with children. I don’t want to tread to much on religion, but it surely has been used for centuries to propagate hatred, fear, and misinformation.
“We’re trying to flood the nation . . . and it’s happening,” said Taylor, 63, a charter school principal….and “That led him in 1995 to create Heritage Academy, a public charter school where he teaches American history. He has a master’s degree in Christian political science from Coral Ridge Baptist University in Florida, an unaccredited school.”
Can someone tell me about the state of American charter schools, or home-schooling?

And then, politics and history again…
“Inspired by conservative commentator Glenn Beck, Republicans, home-school groups and people affiliated with militias. Here in Springfield, the day’s students sipped coffee and chewed on peppermints while seated at folding banquet-hall tables. They included a lawyer, a farmer, a local politician and a project manager for a construction company. Except for one man, all of them were white. Most were middle-aged, and there was nary a Democrat to be found.”
!!!! I was bouncing off the walls with this excerpt, and the ties between politics, militias, and the search for political purity (is that code for racist?): “Taylor spun stories of Benjamin Franklin as a praying man who wept after signing the Constitution, and Thomas Jefferson as a conflicted soul who wished to abolish slavery but because of his benevolence was reluctant to free his own slaves. “If you’ve been to Monticello and you see how Jefferson cared for them, they didn’t want to leave,” Taylor told the class. He avoided what he called “negative stuff” about the Founders’ “supposed immorality.”

• Jeff Robinson, 2012 Public History Commons

This was perceptive: Locals have no choice but to look to their history for answers, resources, and inspiration, no matter what side of the debate they’re on.

• The Civil War Isn’t Over, Atlantic Article
“150 years after Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox, Americans are still fighting over the great issues at the heart of the conflict,” by David Blight. April 8, 2015

“Over time, the Civil War became the subject of great romanticization and sentimentalism in cultural memory. No one can grow up anymore at their Civil War veteran grandfather’s knee, learning deeply mythic stories of the Blue and the Gray, or hearing of slavery times from a formerly enslaved grandparent….The Civil War epoch has always resonated as a family affair for many Americans, transmitted through the generations.” This made me reflect on the importance of oral transmission, and generational perspectives being passed along…

The “Past and present are always utterly interdependent.”
What a great application of this thought, correlated to Marc Bloch, history’s founding father: “Misunderstanding of the present,” wrote Bloch, “is the inevitable consequence of ignorance of the past. But a man may wear himself out just as fruitlessly in seeking to understand the past, if he is totally ignorant of the present.”

YES. OK, it took Marc Bloch to help me re-center.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *