“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.” (DeVega). The truth in this statement is astounding. This piece and the two Washington Post pieces reflect the issues that arise when political issues infiltrate history, and history education in particular. By turning the Civil War into a struggle over states’ rights, the narrative of the history is flattened and the people involved are forgotten. The denial of slavery as a major issue devalues the entire history of the Civil War. It becomes a half-story. I’m with DeVega: “I do not know if the Sons of Confederate Veterans and their related ilk are good people or bad. In fact, I could care less. All I want is a little honesty in how American history is taught and remembered.” Masoff and her ilk are bad people. They aren’t evil. But anyone who writes a textbook for children by using three unverified internet sources and can still sleep at night is not a good person. Also, how is this a defense: “As controversial as it is, I stand by what I write,” she said. “I am a fairly respected writer”? You may be a fairly respected writer of romance novellas, but that does not make your poorly researched history book anything other than fairly full of inaccuracies. So maybe that is a little harsh and it isn’t entirely Masoff who is to blame. The fact that a panel of educators read this book and thought “Hey, that all sounds pretty good” is extremely infuriating. “The book also survived the Education Department’s vetting and was ruled “accurate and unbiased” by a committee of content specialists and teachers.” What?! The other Washington Post article might make me despair even more than the state of Virginia’s idiotic panel of content specialists and teachers. Earl Taylor may actually be evil. “That led him in 1995 to create Heritage Academy, a public charter school where he teaches American history.” This is the type of charter school that leads to bad press about all charter schools. I read about this school last summer. The Skousen books, The 5,000 Year Leap and The Making of America both have heavy religious tones and teach what most people would consider a biased, racist, sexist, and anti-Semitic history of the United States. See either this Salon article or this Huffpost article for more information.
The interaction between Cebula and the manager of the Baron Von Munchausen historic home is a great example of one professional attempting to help another who is incapable of responding professionally. Having worked in a small historic house as a volunteer guide, I understand the stories that get passed from one generation of volunteers to the next. I feel this is usually harmless as they are normally anecdotal stories about past family members, not blanket statements about life during an entire historic period. Cebula addresses the issue we discussed a while back about the “servants” who kept the house running. In reading the manager’s response, it seems clear she missed or misunderstood most of his points. And then she blames the schools: “You have to understand the younger visitors know very little about the Revolutionary War period, due to the fact that the schools have gone downhill and do not give this generation a good education ..The younger students can barely start a sentence without the word “like, like” and continue to ramble with the worst English imaginable.” While her defense for not discussing slavery is because it is too hateful of a subject and that children would treat black children as slaves. How were you teaching about slavery?! It seems her institution isn’t much better than the schools she blames if she decides it would be better to sugar-coat history. The best part is that fact that the “Mission Statement” for her historic house is to both preserve history and educational projects. “It was very disturbing to us that these children would feel less of a person if we continued to banter about slavery….our “Mission Statement” for this house is to preserve our history, patriotic service and educational projects…Not to bring into the mix about a most heinous practice that existed over two centuries ago…I feel that bringing up a hateful subject would be cruel to the student, who would start hating the messenger ..details of cruelty is a subject most people with sensitivity do not want to hear about….So there you have it.” Yes, so there you have it…a terrible way to educate visitors and an excellent way to not preserve the past.
Now I will step down off my high horse on a soapbox. (Sorry).