Objectivity

The University’s first activity of the year is Convocation, bringing together all incoming new students to listen to a campus speaker (this year it is Dr. Allison Hepler, Historian) and discuss a common reading.  This year’s reading is Objections to Objectivity by Howard Zinn.

At one level’s Zinn’s argument in this short piece is straight forward and seems obvious: no historian is or can be purely objective.    There is so much historical evidence to choose from that any telling of any event or era will leave out a lot.   What one includes, how one sees/describes/interprets it, and what one emphasizes is always driven by bias.

Zinn’s example is the 1914 Colorado coal strike, which led to the Ludlow massacre.   It’s a dramatic and tragic story of how Rockefeller’s Standard Oil company teamed with state and national government to undermine and break a major strike against the company, killing innocent women and children.    When one reads about it, it seems obvious that all students should learn about this chapter in history, and others like it.  It warns against the danger of centralized power, and gives a story of an effort by workers to fight against injustice.  But, Zinn notes, this gets left out.   He speculates that it may be seen as “Communistic” to write about class struggle in the US; most history taught in our textbooks and schools romanticize American culture, posit US ideals as universal, and try to make it appear that our development has been peaceful and progressive.   Those bits that don’t fit the story line are left out.

Of course, Zinn recognizes that he is also biased:

“I decided early that I would be biased in the sense of holding fast to certain fundamental values — the equal right of all human beings, whatever race, nationality, sex, religion, to life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness.  The study of history was only worth devoting a life to if it aimed at those ideals.  I would always be biased (leaning toward) those ends, stubborn in holding to them.  But I would be flexible, I hoped, in arriving at the “means” to achieve those ends.  Scrupulous honesty in reporting on the past would be needed, because any decision on means had to be tentative, had to be open to change based on what one could learn from history.  The values, ends, ideals I held need not be discarded, whatever history disclosed.  So there would be no incentive to distort the past, fearing that an honest recounting would hurt the desired ends.”

Zinn, of course, is very controversial.  His willingness to tell stories about aspects of American history that show the country and how it operates in a negative light strikes some as anti-American, or radical.   One might say, “Yes, the My Lai massacre was horrible, but there is no need to tell the details, separate out heroes and villians, and teach it to young children learning about their country.   We need to help children learn about the greatness of our ideals and history.   When they are older, they can then better deal with the imperfections, and understand them in context.  Zinn confuses them and sows radical and anti-American attitudes.”

This Anti-Zinn approach has a particular bias as well.   Note both Zinn and Anti-Zinn do not necessarily dispute the historical evidence, only its emphasis and importance.   For one My Lai is symbolic of a pointless war that not only killed 50,000 plus Americans, but over a million Vietnamese, and at times turned good young American soldiers into perpetrators of atrocities.   This is something we have to look at directly and learn from.   Not to do so would be to risk another tragic error.   For the anti-Zinn, My Lai was an aberration, and Vietnam is really the story of part of a global struggle of democratic capitalism against the evil and dehumanizing force of Communism.   By elevating an aberration to seem symbolic of the war one indirectly supports greater evils: communism and anti-Americanism.

The Anti-Zinn perspective is one that puts its own various values forward.   It’s important to support America, to recognize the superiority of capitalism to socialism, and even while learning that any system with people has its flaws, ours is an incredibly humane and successful experiment, achieving levels of equality and freedom rare in human history.   The Anti-Zinn would ask Zinn what impact his style of history would have on children.  Would they learn to cherish and love their country and its freedoms, or would they risk being suckered into false utopian ideologies like socialism, with their idealism making them prone to manipulation by leaders and politicians who don’t share a desire for freedom and equality?

The Zinn response, of course, would be to argue that being honest about the negatives of history and their meaning does not mean rejecting the positive, and of course requires we also consider the negatives of other countries and the meaning there.  Talk about the 20 million Stalin killed, and the 30 million killed by famines due to one decision by Mao Zedong in China.   Note the Cambodian genocide perpetrated by a Communist dictatorship (as well as how US policy in Vietnam helped lead to it), let students see the world in its complexity and deal with reality, not a simple “we’re the best and we should indoctrinate our children into thinking that way too.”

Ironically, both Zinn and anti-Zinn may each think they are adhering to core values similar to those in the Zinn quote above.   They disagree on the social consequences of a particular view of history.   Such a dispute shows that history is inherently politicized.   No one can be neutral or objective.   Those who claim to be either are hiding their biases, or simply trying to be as objective as possible.

As a teacher, I think the best I can do is to try to show students different perspectives, and why people believe them.  Like Zinn, I’ll be open on my perspective (which is similar to his in many ways).  But ultimately education is about liberating students to think for themselves.  To replace one biased set of assumptions and interpretations with another biased set simply reproduces the same error.   That devalues academia and makes history the subject of political war.   But trying to be objective only hides the political and philosophical biases behind any historical read.  The key, it seems to me is: a) note facts that are not contested (e.g., Bach died in 1750) and then b) show the students the variety of perspectives that can exist about any issue or idea.

To simply give the sanitized view Zinn criticizes is indoctrination.   To focus only on negative interpretations and events and paint the opposite picture is also indoctrination.   To claim there can be true objectivity is dishonest.  To show a variety of perspectives and give students the tools to make their own calls is education.

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  1. #1 by classicliberal2 on September 1, 2009 - 07:22

    This is just about the most important subject that exists, one about which I could probably very shortly fill a book.

    I certainly agree there’s no “objective” way to handle history. “Objectivity,” in my view, shouldn’t even be a goal, because the best anyone could manage is to pretend to objectivity, and that, in itself, merely canonizes their own biases.

    History is, to me, a thing about which we should argue endlessly, and that, I think, should be the first lesson any student should be taught about it. The world is a complex place. Simple, pat answers are often elusive. History should be a vibrant, exciting subject. Instead, it’s generally hated by students, because it’s handled in such a bland, dull way.

    To appropriately point a finger, it’s made into such a dull subject at the insistence of the more conservative elements of U.S. society, elements who want Patriotically Correct “history” that is history in name only.

    On the subject of teaching history, I would recommend, as a good (though not, by any means, comprehensive) tract, James Loewen’s book “Lies My Teacher Told Me.” Loewen spent a lot of time on the project (his main focus, as is mine here, is K-12 history education), and he shows how the teaching of history in the U.S. isn’t just bland, simplistic, and cursory, but often actually factually inaccurate. And most of the time, the driving forces in making it this way are those conservatives, who want children indoctrinated into certain ideas and not exposed to any others. They know little of history, and want to make sure this lack of knowledge is passed along as a heritage to their offspring.

    Several years ago, an incredible furor erupted over the planned Enola Gay exhibit at the Smithsonian. Conservatives were furious that, as they saw it, the display didn’t unquestioningly enough present the use of the atomic bomb as a positive thing. As it turned out, it was a ginned-up controversy over nothing, but it did a good job of showcasing the attitude that has made such a mess of the teaching of history for so many decades. As I see it, the use of so terrible a weapon as the atomic bomb should be a subject of endless debate; there should NEVER be a time when some sort of Final Answer is decreed on the morality of it, then imposed as the “history” of the thing. As the controversy demonstrated, conservatives disagreed.

    Out of fear of offending the more conservative elements (who have controlled local school boards for as long as there have been local school boards), history is reduced to mush. The founders of the American republic, for example, are presented as marble statues to be revered, not as flesh-and-blood human beings with differing interests and points of view, who argued among themselves endlessly. They are, instead, The Founding Fathers, a lump of mush worthy of secular worship. Someone like Martin Luther King Jr. gets the same treatment–he’s worshipped as a secular saint, his politics safely removed from the equation. It’s like that with Mark Twain (a furious critic of U.S. foreign policy in his day), Abraham Lincoln (another secular saint), and just about everyone of any significance in history (Loewen goes into this in his book, as well, using Helen Keller as his example).

    Everyone learns about Patrick Henry’s “give me liberty or give me death” speech. Very stirring, very patriotic, but an event that never happened. The unorthodox religious views of all of the early presidents? It’s never mentioned. American class conflict? For most of our history, it would have gotten blacklisted forever any teacher who even suggested it existed. In high school history texts, the south’s cause in the Civil War is still noble, the carpetbaggers still vile.

    Negative elements like racism and our very violent labor history are shunted aside, as well, leaving students no idea where we came from, or how we’ve gotten to where we are. Any sense of organic social development is chucked, and history is presented as a series of problems that arose (often from practically nowhere) and were then solved.

    I have a lot more to say on this, but I’ll be a wreck tomorrow if I don’t get some sleep, so I’ll stop for the moment.

    This was a good post, Scott.

  2. #2 by Mike Lovell on September 1, 2009 - 14:36

    “To appropriately point a finger, it’s made into such a dull subject at the insistence of the more conservative elements of U.S. society, elements who want Patriotically Correct “history” that is history in name only.”

    For fear of an enlightening bout of ideas here, I’ll comment on this. It seems, to use your own words, that you have canonized your own ideas in your head, and put it into the commentary.
    If conservatives were the sole relinquishers of “patriotically correct” history being bestowed upon our children, don’t you think they might have more pronounced interjections into the Great Depression/New Deal section of U.S. History textbooks, or the fact that democrats were the state’s rights people in favor of slavery once upon a civil war?

    While I totally agree that a lot of our history textbooks are at best a glazing over of pretty basic stuff following a timeline, and fail to get much into the truth behind the headlines, I’d say that your argument for conservative control over our education is a bit overblown. I’m not going to sit here and say it is all a liberal conspiracy written by wealthy progressive elitists, because that would be positing an equally ludicrous theory.

    • #3 by John H. on September 7, 2009 - 00:55

      Mike,
      Not to beat a dead horse with the “conservative control” of education, but there is a new controversy brewing about just this subject. I remembered reading in the past something about Texas and textbooks, and here it comes again. Essentially, textbook publishers tailor their books to the standards of Texas and California because they have the largest student populations. Then those editions are farmed out to the rest of the states.
      Currently, Texas’ State Board of Education (who dictates the standards for the textbooks) is made up of 10 Repubs and 5 Dems.
      I’ll just give you the link, but essentially due to the economics of the publishing industry, Texas’s State Board of Education just has way too much say in how history is taught in our country. And there is a decided conservative tilt:
      http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/metropolitan/6581189.html
      Thanks,
      John

      • #4 by Mike Lovell on September 7, 2009 - 15:36

        John,

        Thanks for the link. Was an interesting read. I see the initial drafting has a definitive conservative tilt to it, and I think this has to do with the overwhelming effect on politics and the shaping of our culture fromt he conservative side. I do, however, prefer the balanced “whole story” approach. And I think, depsite the republican advantage of numbers here, that even some of them are decidedly wanting to have a redraft that shows the balance between both sides to reflect history a little closer to what it is/was, rather than the use of textbooks as political propoganda.

        I could be wrong. And this makeup of the Board of Education, much like local school board elections and sheriff elections, I wish they’d keep the politics and identification of party affiliation (i believed used to merely garner support amongst people who prefer party lines- again i could be wrong), out of the picture.

        Again, thanks for the link and info, supporting your point of view…although again, I’m unclear as to whether I should be mad at you for making me learn something post-schooling! LOL

      • #5 by classicliberal2 on September 7, 2009 - 21:26

        A few things worth noting about this Texas mess:

        The board is acting on the recommendations of an “expert” panel headed by right-wing historical revisionist David Barton and the Right Rev. Peter Marshall, whose fine contribution to our public discourse includes having called Hurricane Katrina divine punishment for the toleration of homosexuality. For more on Barton’s work as an “historian,” see:
        http://classicliberal.tripod.com/misc/bartonstrikes.html

        While one could get the impression from the original Chronicle article that these sorts of standards are out of the ordinary, they’re merely representative of the same dismal work we always gotten from these boards, and this pairs with the overwhelming influence they have as a consequence of being such a huge market to form one of the major reasons why our k-12 history texts are such a mess.

  3. #6 by John on September 1, 2009 - 16:15

    Mike, classicliberal’s argument maybe may be overblown, but so is your counter. For lack of a better phrase, the “patriotically correct” history that classicliberal refers to does indeed present American history as a series of problems that were overcome.
    Hence, the New Deal is the story of how our nation “overcame” the depression. So it stays. Second, to say that “democrats” were the state’s rights people in favor of slavery oversimplifies and conveniently ignores a 100 year process of change in which Republicans and Democrats gradually switched ideologies. You can’t oversimplify history – and that’s the problem with painting our history as a series of problems that were overcome.
    The argument for conservative control over textbooks is not overblown, if you step outside the narrow definition of “liberal” and “conservative” that have evolved over the last ten to twenty years (in other words, throw Olbermann and Rush out of the equation).
    Specifically, many of us recall Lynne Cheney’s time as head of the National Endowment for the Humanities, and in 1994, when Cheney called the new history standards a “dim and gloomy” monument to political correctness. Political correctness in this case being, anything that wasn’t celebratory. And it was conservatives who coined the term “revisionist history.” Hey, we’re just trying to tell more of the story.
    I can assure you, college history professors spend most of their upper level undergraduate history courses “re-teaching” history because so much of it, as you rightly point out, is glossed over.
    Even though I (and many of my colleagues) try to do as Scott suggests and offer multiple perspectives, we are STILL criticized for being anti-American. This, I suspect, is the root of classicliberal’s frustration.

  4. #7 by classicliberal2 on September 1, 2009 - 19:09

    “Second, to say that ‘democrats’ were the state’s rights people in favor of slavery oversimplifies and conveniently ignores a 100 year process of change in which Republicans and Democrats gradually switched ideologies.”

    And there’s more to it than even that. There were always competing wings within the Democratic party, including a southern (and, at times, mid-western) wing that was out-of-step with the larger party on the matter of race (even though it was frequently the difference between being casual racists and violent, ugly racists). The fight went on for years. Truman lost the “Dixiecrats” when he integrated the armed forces and began to move the party toward civil rights. They left, came back again during the Eisenhower administration, then, finally, after many years, left for good, when the Democrats adopted civil rights, and the Republicans the “Southern Strategy” aimed at luring racist whites in the south to their party. When the older “yeller dogs”–the hardcore been-a-Democrat-all-my-life people–began to drop out and die off, this delivered the South to the Republicans, where it remains to this day.

    This isn’t something that appeared then was solved–its echo is still felt today in the electoral map every two years. It was present in Tennessee in 2006, when Bob Corker, the Republican candidate for Senate, ran a vile, racist campaign against Harold Ford Jr., and won. It’s there when you see poll numbers indicating that 53% of southerners either don’t believe the brownest man ever elected president is even a U.S. citizen, or aren’t sure about it. You can’t understand how we got where we are without knowing such thing, and you can’t teach such things without bringing down the wrath of that conservative element.

    “Specifically, many of us recall Lynne Cheney’s time as head of the National Endowment for the Humanities, and in 1994, when Cheney called the new history standards a ‘dim and gloomy’ monument to political correctness. Political correctness in this case being, anything that wasn’t celebratory.”

    That was another of those incidents like the Enola Gay dust-up that really brought out the true colors of the conservatives. The proposed National History Standards in that case were intended as a guide toward teaching history as an organic process, a thing of ideas, and away from the problem-arises-problem-solved and Great Man approaches to the subject. The standards, as was clearly stated, were a curriculum guide, not a textbook; the conservatives treated them as a textbook anyway, then focused on their shortcomings as a textbook. The absolutely furious conservative backlash against the standards was based entirely on the fact that they weren’t perceived as being sufficiently Patriotically Correct. Their every complaint boiled down to that, and an effort to make history into a rich, vibrant topic to be discussed and debated (rather than just names and events to be memorized) was called into disrepute because Lynne Cheney thought they mentioned the KKK too many times, and didn’t sufficiently worship Great Men.

    “I can assure you, college history professors spend most of their upper level undergraduate history courses ‘re-teaching’ history because so much of it, as you rightly point out, is glossed over.”

    It’s glossed over, and it’s made dull as dishwater, because that glossing over leaves it a bloodless corpse of names and dates meant to indoctrinate, rather than to enlighten. This happens for a reason. The creators of k-12 curricula have to tailor their product to suit the desires of the most conservative board it may go before, because if it can’t get approved, the sale isn’t made.

    “Even though I (and many of my colleagues) try to do as Scott suggests and offer multiple perspectives, we are STILL criticized for being anti-American. This, I suspect, is the root of classicliberal’s frustration.”

    Yes.

  5. #8 by classicliberal2 on September 2, 2009 - 02:21

    The internet, which could improve the general knowledge of history, has, instead, been far more often used to spread nonsense under the guise of history (mostly by the conservatives). That business about Democrats and race about which I was writing at needless length earlier is one example. The “Nazis were liberals” nonsense is an even more prominent example. Another is “Joe McCarthy, the misunderstood hero who was right all along.” And there’s the business about Madison, Jefferson, and co. being evangelical Christians. The number of phony “Founding Father” quotations alone is staggering; they’re almost omnipresent on the internet. For nearly a decade, now, a friend and I have maintained a website about the early liberals (17th and 18th centuries), and they’re a subject about which there just seems to be no bottom to the misinformation. A few years ago, “The Pink Triangle” had internet denizens everywhere portraying the Nazis as militant homosexuals. Some time after that, David McCullough released his awful book about John Adams, and his enormous readership was taking to the internet to describe the despicable Adams as a giant of history, and to wonder aloud why he was so underappreciated.

    There seems to be no end to this sort of thing. I’ve always found it very unfortunate that one of the most potent information delivery systems ever devised is so routinely wasted in this manner. What should be a tool to educate is used to make people even less informed. When I run into some of the more persistent nonsense, I tend to strike up arguments about it, and I argue loudly and at length. I know it does some little good at times–people contact me and tell me I’ve inspired them to study further–but obviously I can’t claim to have made much of a dent in the juggernaut.

  6. #9 by renaissanceguy on September 2, 2009 - 13:06

    I have seen the issue of objectivity, or neutral point of view, cause real problems at Wikipedia. How do you give an “objective” account of the history of Israel or Tibet or Chechnya or Taiwan?

    All one can do, in the end, is present all sides that have any standing in such matters. You must tell the history of Israel from both the Israeli perspective and the Palestinian perspective, even though each side will say that one is simply “right” and the other simply “wrong.”

    —–

    Then again. . .

    I have a hard time castigating people who write positive histories of their own country or their own people group. Let the Palestinians write their history and the Israelis write theres. I expect both sides to present their side positively.

    It’s pretty easy to bash a group of people or a nation. Anyone can do that. I find it rather dull and boring, actually.

  7. #10 by Mike Lovell on September 2, 2009 - 14:54

    “Mike, classicliberal’s argument maybe may be overblown, but so is your counter. For lack of a better phrase, the “patriotically correct” history that classicliberal refers to does indeed present American history as a series of problems that were overcome.”

    This was why I wrote what I did. To further extend his point, but from the opposite side of things. I totally agree the internet is a major source of crap information, with some good information sprinkled in between, which is often harder to find. One can point fingers left and right all day long and the sources of ‘facts’ can be tallied up against each other in an inexuastible manner which noone in the world could get through over their lifetime.

    The patriotism comment (I’m also for the most part against political correctness, and tend to lean toward the use of social tact, as I perceive its necessity at times), I took issue with because broken down, patriotism is essentially nationalism, which throughout history has been expressed on all sides of the issue. As for the founding fathers, well obviously they weren’t evangelical christians, at least not as the whole lot. They had a wide range of beliefs and ideals. Even their written beliefs within the declaration of independence were somewhat skewed by their own actions within life.

    As RGuy explained, most people will pick their sides and work to extoll the positive sides of their ‘team’, and castigate the other side. Its a matter of wading through the baloney to get to the truth. And I do find it unfortunate that our kids, and this includes when I was growing up and going to school, do not get into a deeper sense of our history instead of the simple glossing over we get (I always found it odd that I learned the same 300 pages over each year and adding about 50 per year after that. by the time I graduated, we had barely made it anywhere near ‘modern’ history)

    One thing I do find rather ironic is ClassicLiberal’s name. The original classic liberal was more likely to be a libertarian in nature. Just an odd thing I noticed about the changing of language use and definition.

    • #11 by classicliberal2 on September 2, 2009 - 16:39

      “As RGuy explained, most people will pick their sides and work to extoll the positive sides of their ‘team’, and castigate the other side.”

      That’s a good thing, when dealing with history, as long as it’s the beginning of the discussion, and not reflective of the end.

      “One thing I do find rather ironic is ClassicLiberal’s name. The original classic liberal was more likely to be a libertarian in nature. Just an odd thing I noticed about the changing of language use and definition.”

      No changing of language, there. There is one in what you wrote, though. In the U.S., a subset of conservatives swiped the word “libertarian” in the 1960s and began using it to describe themselves, which is the source of the odd U.S. usage at present. For a century before that, “libertarian” was a synonym for “anarchist” (which is to say a socialist). Half a century later, it still is, in most of the world. The U.S. usage is anomalous. A classical liberal is NOT a “libertarian” by that usage. The belief that it is, though, is another of those myths of history that are very common on the internet.

      • #12 by Mike Lovell on September 2, 2009 - 16:44

        “The belief that it is, though, is another of those myths of history that are very common on the internet.”

        huh, well perfect example of our agreeable points….learn something everyday, i guess. not sure if I’m supposed to be mad at you for making me learn after graduating school!! 😛

  8. #13 by Scott Erb on September 2, 2009 - 15:18

    I think the problem with writing too positive a history of ones’ own people or country is that people don’t learn from past mistakes, and don’t believe their country capable of doing misdeeds. They tend to make excuses for their country, believing somehow it is better or superior to others.

    I’m teaching a course on Germany Between the Wars this semester, a fascinating era. It seems that the people who opposed Hitler were the ones willing to be critical of Germany and German actions in the past. Those who went along often shut their eyes to the horrors because they were patriotic, and thought their duty was to their country first, and especially during a time of war. I noted in a blog earlier (Humanizing Hitler: https://scotterb.wordpress.com/2009/07/31/humanizing-hitler/) that Traudl Junge had served as his private secretary, and said she always thought she had done no wrong. She didn’t know about the holocaust, she was serving her country in a time of war. But one day she saw the plaque to Sophie Scholl (Moral Courage: https://scotterb.wordpress.com/2009/06/06/moral-courage/) and realized that she should have known — the two were born the same year.

    Why did Sophie see clearly what Traudl did not? Sophie had politically aware/active parents who weren’t afraid to be critical of government, and who didn’t perceive things through a fog of some kind of national pride. We humans tend to believe what we want to believe. If we believe our country is superior and of the highest value, we will find ways to rationalize misdeeds done in our name (same at an individual level — all humans do that). That doesn’t mean opposing ones’ country, but recognizing that where power and governance exist, there are potentials for abuse, and we shouldn’t cover them up or explain them away.

    • #14 by classicliberal2 on September 2, 2009 - 17:15

      That “Humanizing Hitler” piece is one of the better ones here. It’s Arendt’s “banality of evil.” Groups like the ADL usually come down pretty hard on any Hitler or Nazi analogies because they see Hitler and the Nazis as an exceptional evil, one so bad that nothing could ever compare, and view comparisons as somehow lessening that evil. This is, as I see it, a very wrongheaded view, and saying so has put me into some extended internet tussles over the years.

      I’ll certainly concede that such analogies are far more often ludicrous than not, and that they’re overused to an almost insane degree. To name but one example, the right-wing protesters corporate interests send to the recent townhall meetings on health care routinely wave around pictures of Obama with that distinctive Hitler moustache, and make all manner of other Nazi comparisons. This says nothing about Obama and everything about the almost clinically cretinous imbecility of these wind-up Bubble People robots. And I can see where that sort of thing, repeated and repeated and repeated, can lessen the impact of legitimate Nazi comparisons. But I’ve always seen, as the proper answer to that sort of thing, countering it. I can see the value of something like Godwin’s Law, but I’m really not much of a fan of it.

      There are times when such analogies are appropriate, but identifying them sort of demands an understanding of history. I certainly think the Bush administration merited all sorts of fascist comparisons (the townhall robots draw very direct parallels to brownshirts, as well). I VERY rarely ever made any, though, because of the reactions such comparisons could draw. Any actual message one may have tends to get lost in the furor that erupts when any Nazi analogies appear.

      Few historical figures have ever been so reduced in the collective memory to a single sentence as George Santayana, but the sentiment of his sentence is very true, and deserves to be the legend that begins every history textbook. It’s the reason history matters.

    • #15 by John H. on September 3, 2009 - 01:07

      Scott,
      Although it’s outside my specialty, I’ve always been fascinated by Germany between the wars. Would you mind emailing me your reading list?
      Thanks,
      John

      • #16 by Scott Erb on September 3, 2009 - 13:42

        Since it’s a first year seminar we’ve got limited amounts of reading. They are reading the entire book “Before the Deluge” by Otto Friedrichs, which I’d recommend to anyone. Also, as background, parts of another book I strongly recommend, “Rites of Spring” by Modris Eckstein. Daniel Becker, a professor here (adjunct) has given me an awesome set of Weimar era readings to peruse and use in the class if I want, and I haven’t decided which of those to integrate into class yet (I’m making this class up as I go, in part!), but if I run across good ones I’ll let you know.

  9. #17 by Scott Erb on September 2, 2009 - 20:33

    I just tell students in political science classes to throw out the political jargon they use with ‘liberal, conservative, etc.’ That usage is not accurate in political philosophy, and will be confusing. I recall a German Professor, Dr. Wolfgang Wippermann, far left, who was introduced at a conference as being “very liberal.” He was insulted. To him liberal meant supportive of a free market capitalist economy, and he vigorously denied being “very liberal.”

  10. #18 by henitsirk on September 3, 2009 - 03:15

    I’m taking an undergraduate Western Civ survey class this semester. One nice thing is that the professor wants us to emphasize narrative — to try to see how cultures evolved.

    I was writing something about the plebeians in pre-republic Rome being “disenfranchised”. It struck me so funny to use such a modern term in that context. Just a little reminder that there’s no objectivity — because there’s always *someone* doing the thinking. Plus there’s always your current paradigm to consider: historical analysis via Marxism, feminism, etc.

    Now, in teaching history to children, I think there are times to be more circumspect. My daughter got a Happy Meal toy the other day (I know — crap food. It was a “special treat”!) that was a tie-in with American Girls. It was about Addy, a black slave girl in the South in the 1860s. My daughter is 5, and I thought it was not time for her to hear details about slavery, or ponder what it would be like if her father and brother were sold to someone else. I’ve mentioned the concept of slavery to her before in conversation, but I don’t want to go into details.

    I think it’s pretty funny that people in this country would demand Patriotic Correctness and glorification of past leaders, etc. Sounds like Nazi propaganda to me — weren’t they supposed to be the enemy of the Greatest Generation?

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