Sunday, July 29, 2007

Pick and Pan of the Week: American History

Pick of the Week

Why do high school students hate history so much? Author James Loewen argues it's because our presentation of the material is so sanitized, so heroificied (he made that word up!) that history becomes not the story of real events past, but rather an attempt to force a recitation of cherry-picked, or sometimes invented, facts. The author argues that every college professor, and several high school teacher, knows that history is about controversy, the clash of ideas, of tortuous opposing viewpoints, and yet the presentation of this information is so distorted as to make a realtor proud!

But worse, it may be racist. Loewen argues convincingly that there is an inherent tendency to ignore the contributions of non-whites and overplay those of Europeans, even in the face of tremendous historical evidence to the contrary.

As someone who loathed history in high school and now am discovering a love for it, I concur! So it does excite me to learn (not in this book) that, for example, that George Washington likely defrauded his fellow veterans of the French and Indian War to obtain their lands for dirt cheap - it doesn't diminish, in my view, his very important contributions to the America we cherish today, but does make him more human, and me more optimistic.

Pan of the Week

I have a confession to make - I did not finish watching this film. Actually I didn't even come close. Ken Burns is an acclaimed film maker, but sometimes I wonder if he had learned his trade from Communist propaganda training schools. All the criticisms from Loewen apply to this film. The last straw was when a discussion of slavery came on, and they somewhat brushed Jefferson's hypocrisy on this issue as somehow that he realized he was ahead of his times, and chose incremental change over substantial reform.

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