Summertime and the livin’ is easy — but school lurks. Its inevitability is the uninvited guest at every summer picnic and party. School days, and dear old golden rules days, threaten, even in July.
What is that Golden Rule in education? Presumably teaching children in the manner you would want you own children taught, a manner that sticks to the facts and omits the editorializing.
Alas, there are many American history textbooks that fail to meet that standard. The question is, does anyone care?
A conservative might want American history slanted toward his political opinions of American history, even as a political liberal-progressive, might want it slanted toward hers. But a classroom is likely to have both kinds of students in it, and so wise parents will want their children to learn true American history. Any bias, er, emphasis, can be added later under parental guidance.
If the reader doubts there is bias in American history textbooks, he is urged to read one. But here, for parents and others to ponder, is an example of bias in one of the most widely used American history textbook. The actual bias in the textbook in question is either conservative or liberal, but below are two versions of an offending paragraph: one of the versions is quoted from the textbook; the other is a construct, paralleling the real version, which presents the opposite point of view. The reader is asked whether he objects to one, both, or neither of the presentations.
Version A: The chapter begins with a quote from Henry Adams:
“Grant … had no right to exist. He should have been extinct for ages. … That, two thousand years after Alexander the Great and Julius Cæsar, a man like Grant should be called—and should actually and truly be—the highest product of the most advanced evolution, made evolution ludicrous. The progress of evolution from President Washington to President Grant, was alone evidence enough to upset Darwin. … Grant … should have lived in a cave and worn skins.”
There is no mention in the textbook that Henry Adams’ brother, Charles Francis Adams, had a different point of view.
Version B: The chapter begins with a quote from Charles Francis Adams:
“I do not think that any intelligent person could watch [Grant], even from such a distance as mine, without concluding that he is a remarkable man. He handles those around him so quietly and well, he so evidently has the faculty of disposing of work and managing men, he is cool and quiet, almost stolid. He is a man of the most exquisite judgment and tact.”
There is no mention in the textbook that Charles Francis Adams’ brother, Henry Adams, had a different point of view.
Which version is preferable?
The answer, of course, is neither. If one Adams is to be quoted by the textbook authors, the other Adams, who had the opposite opinion, should be quoted also. Clearly, the authors of the textbook were stealing a base when they omitted the quote from the other Adams brother. Unfortunately, probably most American history textbooks are as biased as the one from which the quote above (whichever is the real one) was taken. What to do?
What The Education and Research Institute (ERI) of Washington, D.C., is doing (of which I am the chairman) is putting a critique of one such biased textbook online at TrueAmericanHistory.US. We contend that the twelfth edition of The American Pageant by David M. Kennedy, Lizabeth Cohen and Thomas A. Bailey is riddled with biased statements which are meant to indoctrinate students into the authors’ point of view.
Maybe Grant was a terrible president. Or maybe he was a terrific president. Or perhaps he did some good things and some bad things. What Grant did is history. Whether it was good or bad is interpretation. In this #MeToo era, textbook writers, like movie moguls and others, should keep their hands, and their biases, off the students.
Summertime, and the livin’ may be easy, but writing an unbiased textbook on American history is hard, and takes both skill and humility — the humility to remember that there might, just possibly, be more than one point of view, and that the author’s biases shouldn’t be passed on to the nation’s school children.
Daniel Oliver is chairman of the Board of The Education and Research Institute in Washington, D.C. Email Daniel Oliver at Daniel.Oliver@TheCandidAmerican.com.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.