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How Do We Teach US History: Myths or History

In Oklahoma, there’s a brouhaha over whether the AP US History exam should be banned because it’s not respectful enough of US History.

More broadly, there’s decades of battles of  how we should tell the story of US history in K12. Is it a collection of inspirational stories to make us proud?  Is it a stab at teaching the real complexity of history of our peoples so today’s students have a real inkling of how things came to be the way they are?
I’m by coincidence, reading two books that directly relate to this debate. I’ll circle back to the references at the end.

Let me start by pointing out that in Russia, the history books are written as a way to justify their current policies and politics. History is an extension of their propaganda policy which is part of the control system used to deceive, confuse, and manipulate the public.

I’m pleased to live in the USA, land of the free, home of the brave. I am proud of our history but not of all of it.

 As an American, I expect the history books to tell real history, not Russian-style propaganda myths. We are a free country with a proud but blemished history. Lets not further tarnish ourselves by not being frank about what’s happened.

The two books that I’m reading:

Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible: The Surreal Heart of the New Russia by Peter Pomerantsev.  It’s an amusing book told in the first person by a Brit who worked inside the new Russia.

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Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrongby James W. Loewen.  This is the second version of an analysis of high school American textbooks and how they tell a version of US history that has to be totally unlearned by students who study history at the college level.  He covers the changes since the first version of his book came out.

Teaching history is part of the crazy culture wars in this country.  Here’s one example from the book. Most of us were brought up on cowboy movies which tell one history of the frontier.

It doesn’t tell say that the frontier was much like the Berlin Wall, meant to keep people from escaping to the freedom of living with the Native Americans. The slaves were trying to escape to freedom. Many free blacks w

ere also trying to escape the racist European society. And, many Europeans wanted to go live with the Native Americans but according to many colonial and then state laws, it was illegal. This is an untold but real history of much of our frontier.

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Brazil is worth studying!

With all the excitement about the growth of China and the outsourcing to India, there is little US press and public attention to other areas. I’d suggest that Brazil is a country definitely worth paying attention to and studying. I clued into this through a set of programs on NPR.

Today for instance, on their travel program, they explained that Brazil is now one of the ten largest economies in the world and is growing rapidly. And with so many new natural resources (oil for instance), there’s every reason to think that it’s fastest growth is ahead of us.

The story that really caught my interest was the NPR story on how four friends in grad school tricked the entire country of Brazil into adopting a stable currency.

Here’s the background. Brazil from the 80s on has suffered from ongoing extreme inflation. Extreme inflation means 80% inflation per month. What this means is that on a daily basis, a sticker man would walk around each store repricing everything and so people tried spend their money immediately before the prices went up.

Governments would come in promising to free prices and stop printing money. But this always failed and government after government fell. Soon people became convinced that the government was helpless to stop inflation and the inflation was in place for apparently forever.

I won’t try to paraphrase the whole broadcast but I would strongly urge everyone with an interest in economics and a high school student ready to learn such things, to learn to this story.

On a related note, a family might study why such an interesting story was not covered in the mainstream US press at all. We hear a lot about natural disasters. And we hear about the Chinese economy a lot. The country seems fascinated and terrified by the idea that the Chinese economy is about to become bigger than ours. Guess what, the European Common Market is already a bigger economy than the American one and it’s made no particular difference to our way of life. When the Chinese one surpasses ours, it won’t make much difference either. But to return to the initial point, how does one, who wants to be well-informed about the world, get the news and analysis. I listen to the BBC and NPR. What do you do?

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Satire about educational reform

I found this video on Chris Lehman’s blog.  It left me in tears. Both types.  Much as I care about homeschooling, I think our future remains with the more mainstream educational systems.