Re-Writing History

August 15, 2013


History has always been an inexact science. There are always historians that are devoted to the truth, but they are very rare. Historians have mostly written for a specific audience that paid them to say what they wanted to be true.

Again we hear stories about the State Board of Education in Texas. They are accused of re-writing history again and again - mostly for political reasons. Well, in large part they are merely returning to the lies of an earlier time, the history they were taught as school children. They are uninterested in history as truth. They view history as a tool that can be used to train youth into a set of values. They do not care one bit about truth or reality. They do not want to educate. They do not want critically minded, free-thinking individuals who seek out all the different sides of issues and make up their own minds. They want conformity and agreement with their own ideas, and support for their political positions.

If you read history that was written more than 150 years ago, you will find it mostly to be a series of narratives about characters. These characters are usually men of high position. Each story gives a rendition of the events of the lives of a character. Almost all of the stories tell good things about the great men who won the battles and bad things about the great men who lost the battles. Sometimes there are sweeps of fashion in favor of new ideas, or old ideas. In the Great Enlightenment, most of the characters whose opinions formed the theoretical basis for our republican system of government were vilified by historians of their time, and their followers and their achievements were belittled and besmirched. It was not until those achievers began to write their own histories that their enemies were castigated and reviled.

At about the same time public education was being introduced in this country, there came a new style of history. In this history, nationalism and patriotism were the watchwords. Washington's cherry tree, the great expansion, manifest destiny, Lincoln as saint of the Union, and many more were all creations of this pseudo-history. And this history was what was taught throughout the union with remarkable uniformity for about 100 years.

It was not until the 1950s that some historians, whom we call "revisionists" today, began asking questions about this balderdash that was being fobbed off on school children. A large part of undergraduate history curriculum in most universities in the 20th century consisted of the debunking and reassessment of actual history - separating the mythology from the actual facts of the past.

This movement among historians recognized the crimes of the past as well as the great successes. People like Howard Zinn and Michael Parenti dissected and debunked history for millions of people. Ours has been a checkered past, just like every other nation on Earth. We have been responsible for unspeakable atrocities as well as enlightened and beneficent acts. These are just facts, like physics and chemistry.

In much of Europe, History is taught in conjunction with Economics, because it is recognized that no one can have a really accurate understanding of History without understanding the prevailing economic trends and forces of the ages under consideration. This is rarely done in the United States and people's understanding of History suffers as a result.

Of course, Economics is as inexact a science as History, so there is considerable dispute amongst historians as to the correct interpretation of economic events. This is not a defect, this is a plus. Dissent among historians and economists results in more and better understanding of things, eventually. That is unless dissent is removed from the syllabus. If dogmatic opinions replace vigorous discussion and dispute, then you have the kind of desolation of thinking that we like to associate with the Middle Ages, or the various totalitarian regimes of recent history who have attempted to strangle independent inquiry and discussion. This is what is being tried in Texas by their board of education. They are deciding, from amongst a variety of competing opinions, which is the right and only opinion. They are choosing to teach dogma instead of debate. They are training students to be passive receivers of agreed to "truth" instead of active questioners and independent thinkers. This is a curriculum development model I usually associate with places like Saudi Arabia and Iran.

This is also why what they are doing is wrong and why it will fail. It will fail in the end, because it is rubbish and if you do succeed in getting people dumbed down to the desired extent, all you end up with is a morass of mediocrity. In that climate, your nation does not compete well with others. You reverse engineer a failed state from a strong and glorious Republic.

In the same way as we have seen major conglomerate retail chains destroy the fabric of local communities, this Retrograde History of American Exceptionalism destroys the intellectual integrity of the nation. It results in disaster. It creates people who are intellectually unable to find new solutions to old problems. It results in misinformed morons who are proud of their ignorance. And if that is the kind of world you want, some of you are already there.

And this is exactly what our nation does not need, especially now. We have so many real, difficult and intractable problems to solve. We are struggling to scale a cliff of debt, greed, crime, global warming and habitat destruction. These problems are not unique to the United States. They are global problems that threaten the continued survival of humans on this planet. Doctrine won't solve these problems. Belief won't help. We need strong minded free-thinkers who are passionately devoted to real facts and real solutions - not just another cartload of rhetoric and bombast. Self-congratulation will not work here. It will make our doom more certain, not less.

We should learn from history, that's what it's supposed to be for. Returning to the time-honored practice of telling people lies, because it suits you better to believe in lies than to accept the truth, makes you unable to learn anything valid from history. Leaving stuff out of history, lying by omission, is just as bad as making stuff up, and has no place in education. In this case, those who are incapable of learning from history won't repeat it, they will end it.

Valid XHTML 1.0 TransitionalCreative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 Unported License.