Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Nature of History

So this is fairly late in terms of when the news broke and outcry erupted across the interwebs, but this is something I wrote at the time, and I want to use it as a basis for talking about something else.
You all know, I’m sure, about Texas and the textbooks. A recap: every year, the textbook curriculum standards for a different discipline are reviewed and changed. Last year, science was on the table, and that was also highly contested. This year, the stakes were generally thought to be higher because California, the largest purchaser of textbooks in the nation, put a moratorium on purchases for budgetary reasons, meaning that Texas, the second largest purchaser, has an inordinate amount of influence. Things have changed since, and there was lots of controversy and lots of things to talk about, but there’s something I think people missed.

The liberal/progressive blogosphere was freaking out about Texas and the textbooks, specifically talking about the closing of the gap between church and state. But what I'm much more worried about is the scope of minority influence on America that's being diminished. Maybe I'm just a Howard Zinn fangirl, but when you stop talking about blacks, latinos, women, nineteenth century catholics, native americans and their contributions and interactions with the mainstream American culture, you are perverting history. You are allowing history to be a one-sided account written by the winners. I know in many ways it already is, but if we know that, we can work to change it, to allow ourselves to be informed by the vast amounts of information and stories that are often ignored.

If you hope to ever be considered a well-informed intellectual, or a well-researched social scientist or a well-instructed student, you need to be very careful about allowing your view of history to be constructed solely out of mainstream history/culture. I’m not one to have a knee-jerk reaction to the ‘mainstream media’, but pretty much by definition, some stories are going to be left out. And no matter how you perceive this country, whether through the lens of American exceptionalism or as a nation of immigrants or whatever, you need to learn about Castro, not just as evil, but as having improved the literacy rates in Cuba to above ours. And not just Rosa Parks or MLK Jr, but the Black Panthers and Marcus Garvey and Mumia and blacks now, in this country now, having median earnings ten times less than those of whites and maybe never being able to achieve parity, even with an African-American president. And how immigrants to this country looking for freedom from religious persecution turned around and persecuted others and how the temperance movement was targeted against Irish, Polish and Italian Catholics and how Muslims in this country are marginalized and pushed aside and are not. all. terrorists and how violence in the middle east might be a backlash against American actions.

Political affiliation aside, if you don’t understand history as more than a series of events, as a history of people and movements and ideas that need to be studied from the point of view of both the culture in which they existed, and often were submerged in and fought against and the point of view of that movement and they way they saw themselves, you are missing something. Something big. And you may always be missing something, I suppose. What did the Jews think of the anti-war hippies, for example? But missing the massively obvious question of what at least one other side thought is a fairly egregious error, and it will send you to Social Science Hell. Willful ignorance tends to do that.

If you don't care to read the whole post, though it's one of my shorter ones, just check out this comic.

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