For this reason, I would suggest a renewed focus on MESH education, which stands for Media Literacy, Ethics, Sociology, and History. Because if these are not given equal attention, we could end up with incredibly bright and technically proficient people who lack all capacity for democratic citizenship.
The future of the nation and the world depends on an engaged, informed, and critically-thinking population. That means we need more than just STEM, more than technological advances, and more than high standardized test scores. We need MESH and civic competence as well.
Consider how textbooks treat Native religions as a unitary whole. The American Way describes Native American religion in these words: “These Native Americans in the Southeast believed that nature was filled with spirits. Each form of life, such as plants and animals, had a spirit. Earth and air held spirits too. People were never alone. They shared their lives with the spirits of nature.” Way is trying to show respect for Native American religion, but it doesn’t work. Stated flatly like this, the beliefs seem like make-believe, not the sophisticated theology of a higher civilization. Let us try a similarly succinct summary of the beliefs of many Christians today: “These Americans believed that one great male god ruled the world. Sometimes they divided him into three parts, which they called father, son, and holy ghost. They ate crackers and wine or grape juice, believing that they were eating the son’s body and drinking his blood. If they believed strongly enough, they would live on forever after they died.”
Textbooks never describe Christianity this way. It’s offensive. Believers would immediately argue that such a depiction fails to convey the symbolic meaning or the spiritual satisfaction of communion.
Textbooks could present American Indian religions from a perspective that takes them seriously as attractive and persuasive belief systems. The anthropologist Frederick Turner has pointed out that when whites remark upon the fact that Indians perceive a spirit in every animal or rock, they are simultaneously admitting their own loss of a deep spiritual relationship with the earth. Native Americans are “part of the total living universe,” wrote Turner; “spiritual health is to be had only by accepting this condition and by attempting to live in accordance with it.” Turner contends that this life view is healthier than European alternatives: “Ours is a shockingly dead view of creation. We ourselves are the only things in the universe to which we grant an authentic vitality, and because of this we are not fully alive.” Thus, Turner shows that taking Native American religions seriously might require reexamination of the Judeo-Christian tradition. No textbook would suggest such a controversial idea.
Source: Lies My Teacher Told Me, Kindle Edition, Page 113
If textbooks allowed for controversy, they could show students which claims rest on strong evidence, which on softer ground. As they challenged students to make their own decisions as to what probably happened, they would also be introducing students to the various methods and forms of evidence—oral history, written records, cultural similarities, linguistic changes, human genetics, pottery, archaeological dating, plant migrations—that researchers use to derive knowledge about the distant past. Unfortunately, textbooks seem locked into a rhetoric of certainty.
> I have often argued to students, only in part to be perverse, that one cannot understand the history of education in the United States during the twentieth century unless one realizes that Edward L. Thorndike won and John Dewey lost.
(I am assuming, I suppose, that you know who these two figures are: Edward L. Thorndike was an educational psychology professor at Columbia University who developed his theory of learning based on his research on animal behavior – perhaps you’ve heard of this idea of his idea, the “learning curve,” the time it took for animals to escape his puzzle box after multiple tries. And John Dewey was a philosopher whose work at the University of Chicago Lab School was deeply connected with that of other social reformers in Chicago – Jane Addams and Hull House, for example. Dewey was committed to educational inquiry as part of democratic practices of community; Thorndike’s work, on the other hand, happened largely in the lab but helped to stimulate the growing science and business of surveying and measuring and testing students in the early twentieth century. And this is shorthand for Condliffe Lagemann’s shorthand, I realize, but you can think of this victory in part as the triumph of multiple choice testing over project-based inquiry.)
Thorndike won, and Dewey lost. I don’t think you can understand the history of education technology without realizing this either. And I’d propose an addendum to this too: you cannot understand the history of education technology in the United States during the twentieth century – and on into the twenty-first – unless you realize that Seymour Papert lost and B. F. Skinner won.
What historians do more than anything else is we teach a radical form of empathy, a radical way of understanding people as different as possible from the sort of society that we were raised in.
Imagine an eleventh-grade classroom in American history in early fall. The text is Life and Liberty; students are reading Chapter 2, “Exploration and Colonization.” What happens when an African American girl shoots up her hand to challenge the statement “Not until 1497 to 1499 did the Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama sail around Africa”? From rap songs the girl has learned that Phoenicians beat da Gama by more than two thousand years. Does the teacher take time to research the question and find that the student is right, the textbook wrong? More likely, s/he puts down the student’s knowledge: “Rap songs aren’t appropriate in a history class!” Or s/he humors the child: “Yes, but that was long ago and didn’t lead to anything. Vasco da Gama’s discovery is the important one.” These responses allow the class to move “forward” to the next topic. They also contain some truth: the Phoenician circumnavigation didn’t lead to any new trade routes or national alliances, because the Phoenicians were already trading with India through the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf. Textbooks don’t name Vasco da Gama because something came from his “discovery,” however. They name him because he was white. Two pages later, Life and Liberty tells us that Hernando de Soto “discovered [the] Mississippi River.” Of course, it had been discovered and named Mississippi by ancestors of the American Indians who were soon to chase de Soto down it. Textbooks portray de Soto in armor, not showing that by the time he reached the river, his men and women had lost almost all their clothing in a fire set by Natives in Alabama and were wearing replacements woven from reeds. De Soto’s “discovery” had no larger significance and led to no trade or white settlement. His was merely the first white face to gaze upon the Mississippi. That’s why most American history textbooks include him. From Erik the Red to Peary at the North Pole to the first man on the moon, we celebrate most discoverers because they were first and because they were white, not because of events that flowed or did not flow from their accomplishments. My hypothetical teacher subtly changed the ground rules for da Gama, but they changed right back for de Soto. In this way students learn that black feats are not considered important while white ones are.
These are powerful, influential people shaping education policy, and they have no idea what they’re talking about.
Source: Why History Matters
As always, this story demands historical context. Historical context is, as we know, something whiteness exists to shield white people from entirely. Whiteness protects and defends ignorance, but you don’t know what you don’t know so we will endeavor to learn together.
A good history teacher takes away your innocence about information.
Google is in a never-ending cat-and-mouse game with the people who try to game it. So that’s a piece of knowledge that’s important for people using the internet to fact-check or to think about the quality of information.
Fact-checkers know that in a digital medium, the web is a web. It’s not just a metaphor. You understand a particular node by its relationship in a web. So the smartest thing to do is to consult the web to understand any particular node. That is very different from reading Thucydides, where you look at internal criticism and consistency because there really isn’t a documentary record beyond Thucydides.
Unschooling flow: Twitterstorian threads on the birthday of Ruby Bridges -> Chapter 4 of “Democracy in Chains” on school desegregation and the Byrd machine -> Drunk History on the Children’s March -> Fables of Faubus by Charles Mingus