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Jewish World Review April 11, 2004/ 21 Nissan, 5764

Suzanne Fields

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Textbook terror in a visual age | There's a new religion in the world, and it's growing among young, old, men, women, black, white, red, yellow and pink, and the rituals of the faith are fun, fun, fun.

America-bashing, writes John Parker in the Asia Times, "has ascended from its former status as the preoccupation of a relative handful of Jurassic Marxists, professional victims, Third World whiners, and Islamo-fascist troglodytes to the level of a major new global religion."

America-bashing is addictive, born of power envy and nurtured by power lust among the weak, the cowardly and craven. That's bad enough, but the consequences are even worse. We're raising generations of "educated" men and women who have never learned that we're envied by the weak, the cowardly and the craven simply because we're Americans.

America-bashing coincides with the proliferation of dumbed-down world history textbooks used in grades six through 12 in our public schools. The material our schoolchildren study is either diluted to emphasize trivia or edited with an eye to the politically correct, designed never to offend the lowest common sensitivity.

"In subjects from Africa to terrorism, the nation's leading world history textbooks provide unreliable, often scanty information and provide poorly constructed activities," writes Gilbert Sewall, author of a new report of the American Textbook Council, an independent national research organization which acts as a watchdog on educational issues ( These textbooks cut, shave and reduce content to pass the litmus tests of advocacy groups organized specifically to search for offenses.

In California, for example, an Islamic council has oversight to the degree that it exerts a censor-like force as editors gloss over facts crucial to understanding the Muslim culture: jihad, holy law, slavery and the abuse of women.

When discussed at all, these matters are discussed at such a distance from reality that all meaning is lost. Muslims aren't the only group demanding immunity from examination. Editors similarly pander to Indians, blacks, Hispanics, feminists, Christians, Jews and Islamists. The squawkers get attention and textbook editors cower.

The largest publishing conglomerates, which have made themselves the most susceptible to intimidation, have absorbed dozens of independent publishing houses, making it difficult for a small company with a conscience to enter the competitive fray.

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The "full service" providers offer study guides, workbooks, discounts, premiums and teacher enticements. The four biggest multinational publishing houses - Pearson, Houghton Mifflin, Harcourt and McGraw-Hill - offer ever fewer textbooks in a drive to make one size fit all, and can ignore critics and reformers.

Many publishers save money by hiring anonymous author teams instead of historians whose knowledge and established reputations make them expensive and difficult to intimidate. Texts without a single author lack the cohesion of a thoughtful narrative and events float through the pages with no attention paid to the roots of the culture or the moment. Judgment is limited to contemporary interpretation, or "presentism."

Presentism collapses time and historical differences, and judges events not in the context of their times but by the standards, often superficial and fleeting, of the present. A study of "the hero" links Ulysses with Indiana Jones. A chapter on "going shopping," which requires an appreciation for culture and economics, merely likens a medieval bazaar in Baghdad to an indoor suburban mall in Indianapolis.

Politically correct simplicity describes "Native Americans" as living in harmony with both nature and human nature, with no recognition that Indians, like the rest of us, are subject to human frailty and prejudice. Francis Parkman, the historian who describes the pleasure Iroquois took in torturing the Hurons, is anathema, and gone with the Mohicans.

The lens for understanding the unique American vision focuses on the African-American freedom struggles that "helped open the door for all minorities and women." In one text on the Enlightenment, Mary Wollstonecraft, an 18th century feminist, is featured more prominently than Voltaire, a dominating figure for the ages.

Textbook publishers plead that they are at the mercy of state and local adoption procedures, but this is a dodge. They rely on "standards committees" and focus groups to package their ideas. These groups, made up of men and women raised in an image-centered culture, dismiss "content-heavy, information-loaded, and fact-based" materials as too difficult for the kids to absorb. Instead they cater to short attention spans and purvey visuals that turn history into "edutainment."

In varying degrees, world history texts make it impossible for students to discriminate between the brutality of antidemocratic countries like China and Cuba and the democracies, or to understand the conflicts faced by nations determined to preserve freedom.

"World peace" has become a chimera and there is little recognition of the contempt in which the truly democratic nations are held by the educated elites, so called. By failing to understand what's worth defending, we can't understand the peril around us. Woe is we.

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© 2001, Suzanne Fields. TMS