Who#8217;s really sanitizing#8217; our history? Staff 08/03/2006 I#8217;ve been reading a lot of email and talking to a good many people about the Confederate History Month proclamation, or rather, la

Published 12:00 am Thursday, August 3, 2006

I’ve been reading a lot of email and talking to a good many people about the Confederate History Month proclamation, or rather, lack thereof.

It seems the overriding theme of those critical of Mayor Bobby Ralph’s decision not to issue the proclamation, is the alleged effort to “sanitize” our history. They seem to think it’s some kind of liberal, politically correct conspiracy to deny them their right to celebrate their heritage.

As a bit of a history buff, I have to agree in part with the assessment. There is definitely a conspiracy afoot to cleanse our history books of any mention of anything that any group could remotely perceive as offensive. Further, it’s not new. It’s been going on for decades, long before the modern era of “political correctness.”


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But this “pastocide,” for lack of a better word, has nothing to do with liberal elites, academics, blacks, Latinos, homosexuals, the ACLU, PETA or any of the other usual suspects. In fact, I’d argue it’s the result of nationalism and profit, two things normally associated with the other end of the political spectrum.

If you have a high school student in your home, pull out their history text book and take a look at it. Almost without fail, they are characterized by “blind optimism, bland nationalism and plain misinformation,” as author James Loewen points out.

Loewen is the author of the 1996 book, “Lies My Teacher Told Me,” which is a critique of the state of history instruction in the United States.

Just look at the titles of the most widely-used History texts, Loewen writes: “The Great Republic, The American Way, Land of Promise, Rise of the American Nation. Such titles differ from all other textbooks students read in high school or college. Chemistry books are called Chemistry or Principles of Chemistry, not Rise of the Molecule. Even literature collections are likely to be titled Readings in American Literature. Not most history books. And you can tell these books from their covers, graced with American flags, eagles, and the Statue of Liberty.”

And don’t forget, the goal of every history textbook is not to teach history, it’s to get adopted by school boards, too often populated by narrow-minded troglodytes. These are the same folks who ban books from libraries and have brought us intelligent design as science. Getting adopted is the only way to make any money and you get adopted by cow-towing to often ignorant school boards.

As a result, texts are cleansed of anything remotely interesting such as conflict or anything that might reflect badly upon the national character — in other words, the things that make our glorious history interesting and might compel kids to want to learn about it.

Loewen’s book has several examples of things we weren’t told in school.

Take Woodrow Wilson, for instance. We learned in high school about him leading us in World War I to make the world “Safe for Democracy,” and how he tried to start the League of Nations. What they didn’t tell us was that he was probably the biggest racist ever to occupy the White House and oversaw the complete resegregation of the federal government.

Another example was Helen Keller. Remember her? Little blind, deaf, mute girl who miraculously learned to read Braille. What an inspiring tale! However, her story didn’t stop there as history texts would have you believe. When little Helen grew up, she became a rabid socialist, if not a downright communist, fighting for worker rights, denouncing the United States government and traveling extensively in the Soviet Union where she was hailed as hero.

I’m not saying that what Wilson or Keller did was right or should be admired, it’s just the truth, and it’s interesting. That’s Loewen’s point. Kids don’t learn history because it’s so boring. If we told the real story, kids might take an interest and we’d likely be raising a better generation of citizens than we are.

So the feelings of those who are upset about the perceived abandonment of their Confederate heritage are not unjustified, nor are they alone. But the problem is not one of political correctness, it’s because textbook publishers have decided that that heritage hints at conflict and does not make us feel all warm and fuzzy about being Americans.

Prutsok is publisher of the News-Herald. He can be reached at 934-9611 or at andy.prutsok@suffolknewsherald.com.