Who Decides American History?

Legislatures and school boards politicize what our kids are taught.

from PxHere

While I have already highlighted the recent podcast conversation between Ezra Klein and Ross Douthat in a previous post, I thought their discussion about the recent fight over race in school curricula was worth its own post.

After a longish discussion of how we got here, they both agree on a premise that I would have thought at least one of them would push back on:

EZRA KLEIN: Of course, it is not the only story to tell about America, but sometimes I wonder if we’re really having an argument over American history, or we’re having, really, an argument over whose telling of American history is going to be included, and that the actual thing happening here is a fight simply over who gets to decide the curriculum.

ROSS DOUTHAT: Right, but some of that is just an inevitable function of having a public school system in a democratic society. Then the public school system has to be, in some way, an extension of the will of the people.

And just as liberals have anxieties about our democracy being undone by electoral college shenanigans and Senate apportionment on the conservative side, that manifests in a fear that things that should be under the control of actual voters are instead under the control of education bureaucrats who sort of do do a version of what you’re saying, who have sort of an internal debate and decide here’s how we’re going to teach kids not to be racist. And then suddenly, it’s just there in curricula without anybody in the wider public that theoretically controls the public school system having that conversation.

So I don’t think you can get away from some extent to which this is a question that has to be settled through Democratic politics. We don’t have a national school system, so it’s not going to get settled in national elections. It’s going to get settled across local and state debates. All that’s sort of inevitable. I think the question is whether there’s a zone between saying it’s just a contest for power.

And we’re just deciding, as the language has it, whose narrative to center, or whether you can say — whether it’s Coates arguing about the true history of segregation or the 1619 Project talking about the deep history of slavery — is there a way to incorporate those stories into a narrative that still fulfills a fundamentally patriotic function? Which I think is a reasonable thing to want a public school system to do.

And I think the answer is yes, in part because I think part of what is reacted to against in some of these historical revisionist narratives is not the substance of the facts that they’re reporting, but the implications that are being drawn about the nature of the United States and our loyalty to it. And I think it is possible to tell a story about American life that does deep justice to the Black experience and does justice through a heroic, rather than deeply pessimistic, like Coates in some of his darker moments, story about America.

Because the Black American story is a heroic story filled with people triumphing after much suffering over injustice and helping to defeat slavery and segregation both. And I think it should be possible to fit that into a story where you’re also looking at the founding first in a positive light before you turn to its dark side, where you’re looking at Lincoln in a positive light, acknowledging his failings.

And I think the desire to read the sort of lost cause narrative of the Confederacy out of that story is a good one. And I think you should be able to say, we don’t need to lionize the Confederacy anymore. We can see the Confederacy as the betrayal and the insurrection. But we can make a distinction between how we think about Jefferson Davis and how we think about Thomas Jefferson. I don’t even like Thomas Jefferson.

EZRA KLEIN: [LAUGHS] So let’s step back on this. One thing that I wonder about as I try to hack my way through the thicket of this debate is how to figure out what is actually going on. Because you were talking a minute ago about you want public schools to be a reflection of the public will, which is, of course, true, right? If you’re going to have public schools, they have to be, on some level, a reflection of the public will.

It seems obvious to me that having partisan politicians, often with very little expertise, setting the parameters of what may be taught in history, social studies, science, and the like is highly problematic. But, fundamentally, Klein and Douthat are right: to the extent the public is paying for it, the public is going to demand a voice and, in a representative democracy, that voice is in the form of politicians. I don’t like it but, then, don’t tend to like it when “unelected bureaucrats” make that call, even though I am in some sense one of them.

But Klein is also right on the next point:

EZRA KLEIN: But which public?

And America has an extraordinarily fractured education system. And sometimes it’s just hard for me to tell what we are actually arguing about or how we would fix it, even if we were. So one of the things that I think drives everybody a little bit crazy in the debate is that it is filled with examples of just random school districts that are very far to each side, right? A school district in the South that is using very old textbooks that still have a real lost cause narrative in them. Maybe a school district in New York City that has gone way into anti-racism, but maybe hasn’t thought through that curricula in any very deep way.

But nevertheless, that’s not a thing that is happening everywhere. That is a thing that, if you are going to put schools under the control of different publics all across the country, hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of them, then you’re going to get stuff on the edges. And particularly in our highly nationalized, highly social media algorithmized environment, it’s going to keep everybody in a very high state of outrage, when my suspicion remains that if you checked out what’s happening in most public school districts, history class remains pretty staid and has probably moved a couple ticks over to the left, but there’s not really a huge danger that all across the country, Lincoln is about to start getting taught to second graders as a villain.

ROSS DOUTHAT: Yeah, I mean, I think that’s probably true. I think the question of what’s actually going on in education is a sort of permanently baffling one, right? The Times, we did a really helpful feature a few years ago where we actually compared textbooks in California and Texas passage by passage, side by side, where you had basically the same textbook with slightly right-wing edits in Texas and slightly left-wing edits in California.

And I think we need more of that. We need more journalism that tries to sort of assess actual curricula. But even that is limited to the extent that all of the curricula are filtered through teachers, administrators, interactions between students and parents, and the reality that the scale of student attention to some of these things should not be overestimated.

Alas, there’s very little incentive for that type of journalism and very much incentive, indeed, for the kind that sparks outrage. And the latter is cheap to produce—collect anecdotes from social media, add blaring headlines and some outraged quotes, and viola!—whereas the former takes a lot of time and effort and is unlikely to go viral, much less counteract the dozens of anecdote-driven pieces that came out during the research, writing, and editing process.

This is an important point that applies to this debate and much of the larger Culture War. Too much of it is driven by anecdotes representing extreme, unrepresentative cases.

After a bit of going into the weeds into a few legislative attempts to drive the curriculum, they close this particular discussion with a good question:

EZRA KLEIN: I guess something I’ve been wondering about with all this is, what does a settlement here look like? And does anybody have the power to broker it? Specifically because it’s not something that is going to get settled through national legislation and specifically also because you’re just going to have very different kinds of legislation passing in different places.

But I don’t think people are happy here with a federalist outcome. And the places that are passing these laws are not working out a compromise with each other. And so, this just strikes me as a situation where the natural fracturedness of it is just going to create kind of a constant, almost endless feeling that the country’s sense of itself is in some state of dissolution.

ROSS DOUTHAT: Well, which it is, right? That’s accurate.

EZRA KLEIN: Fair enough, yeah. Maybe we’re teaching the truth here then.

ROSS DOUTHAT: I mean, yeah, I think having arguments over history education is a healthier way of working out the divisions in a divided country than having state legislatures overturn elections or plotting color revolutions if you have an electoral college / popular vote split. I’m much more here for the history wars than I am for the electoral college wars. And I think there are possible compromises available.

But again, if you look at the original Texas law, right, saying we should have kids read Frederick Douglass and we shouldn’t teach them to divide into affinity groups by race and contemplate their toxic whiteness, it seems like a good compromise to me. Yes to Frederick Douglass, no to telling fifth graders about toxic whiteness. That’s obviously an incredibly crude oversimplification.

But sometimes in the context of curricula, it’s not, right? I think it’s good — to take an example from my own kids’ school, right? They did a project this year where they researched a couple of slaves who lived at a house in Connecticut that’s now sort of a historical museum that had never before acknowledged the slaves who worked there. And so they did a project. And there was a ceremony. And they learned about slavery through this local story and added something to Southern Connecticut history. That seems, generally speaking, like a good thing. The work of Robin DiAngelo, insofar as it has filtered into educational fora, seems like a bad thing.

Again, I’m being oversimplistic, but I think there is a zone. Like celebrating Juneteenth, which lots of Republicans just voted for, even if some conservatives have now turned against because it’s a liberal coded thing, celebrating Juneteenth in the context of a positive narrative about American progress, that seems like a good thing. Arguing that the founding was fundamentally in defense of slavery or something, that seems like historically incorrect and a bad thing to be teaching kids. So I’m here for working your way towards compromise and a sort of narrative of America that goes further in incorporating the Black experience, but retains a sense of positive connection to the American and human past. That’s what I’m here for.

Not surprisingly, I suppose, I’m largely with Douthat as to where we should end up on this. I’m almost certainly more sympathetic than Douthat to Critical Race Theory but am skeptical that much of it should be taught in primary and secondary schools. The broader point that legal and structural barriers (slavery, the 3/5 Compromise, Jim Crow, segregation, etc.) made Black progress exceedingly difficult was explicit even when I was in those grades back in the 1970s and early 1980s—and I went to public school in Texas and Alabama, with three years in military base schools in Missouri in Germany in between. But the more subtle and controversial issues are better left to college, when the students—and, frankly, the people teaching—are prepared to have those conversations.

And, the thing is, it’s pretty much where the local curriculum is here in Fairfax County, Virginia, where my two girls go to school (and which votes pretty reliably Democratic). There’s a bit too much emphasis on racial history for my tastes, for example bending over backward to devote curricular time to inconsequential figures to highlight The First Black This or The First Hispanic That. But I object mostly because it actually has the opposite of its effect, making it seem that more of them could have succeeded if they only had more grit or something. Or, my longstanding pet peeve, continuing to portray Rosa Parks as though she were just a tired old lady who finally just snapped rather than a longtime civil rights activist determined to be arrested to change the system.

Regardless, too much of this conversation is driven by fear rather than facts. Most of the public school curriculum in most places is pretty damn anodyne. It evolves pretty slowly and is in many ways constrained by the massive buys in Texas and California from going too far to the left or the right.

FILED UNDER: Education, Race and Politics, US Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Modulo Myself says:

    We expect black kids to learn about Thomas Jefferson and how complex he was and the ins and outs of his relationship with the words he wrote, and this is a man who would have bought, sold, beaten, raped, and used them. We expect them to form this positive connection and that’s far more complicated than learning about whiteness or redlining or the fight against busing and desegregation. We are basically saying white kids have to be treated like morons who need their nice sweet idiotic myths but black kids should be fine with learning about the complex minds of the slave-owning Founding Fathers and should have no trouble hearing white kids say the n-word when reading Huck Finn. After all, the world is very complicated.

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  2. DA says:

    This is being treated as a new issue, but Joan DelFattore wrote a book, What Johnny Shouldn’t Read, on these same issues in 1992.

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  3. Kathy says:

    Pair any history course with Loewen’s Lies My Teacher Told Me.

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  4. KM says:

    But, fundamentally, Klein and Douthat are right: to the extent the public is paying for it, the public is going to demand a voice and, in a representative democracy, that voice is in the form of politicians.

    The problem with this is that it means that history and even facts should ultimately be subject to public popular opinion, which is how we got to where we are now. History is the framing of facts – the victor writes the narrative, the abuser hides their crimes, the rich and well-connected tell their story but the forgotten get lost to time. There’s always going to be a struggle over who’s telling what and from who’s perspective. What shouldn’t happen is bowing to ignoramuses who don’t want to learn or have their kids learn something as that keeps the cycle of ignorance in play. Education is about *learning*- if you keep those who do not wish to learn in power, than no learning is happening on their watch. It’s not elitist to say the content of education is better curated by the educated than someone with an agenda and a hacksaw.

    There’s a bit too much emphasis on racial history for my tastes, for example bending over backward to devote curricular time to inconsequential figures to highlight The First Black This or The First Hispanic That.

    Soooo…. they shouldn’t learn about the first White Person to do something either? Damn there goes a lot of history. Edison’s right out then as are the Founders – how can you talk about 1776 without mentioning it hadn’t been done before and oh yeah, these were the White guys that did it?

    You don’t think of history as The First White That because for you, it’s the default norm. If we left that kind of thing out, history would be a lot shorter and emptier. Instead, kindly rethink your framing as “racial history” and realize that all history is racial, you’re just used to yours not getting pointed out.

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  5. SKI says:

    I’m almost certainly more sympathetic than Douthat to Critical Race Theory but am skeptical that much of it should be taught in primary and secondary schools. The broader point that legal and structural barriers (slavery, the 3/5 Compromise, Jim Crow, segregation, etc.) made Black progress exceedingly difficult was explicit even when I was in those grades back in the 1970s and early 1980s—and I went to public school in Texas and Alabama, with three years in military base schools in Missouri in Germany in between. But the more subtle and controversial issues are better left to college, when the students—and, frankly, the people teaching—are prepared to have those conversations.

    Critical Race Theory isn’t being taught in primary and secondary schools. It isn’t really being taught in colleges. It is a form of legal theory taught mostly in law schools.

    So what do you mean when you say “Critical Race Theory”? Because a lot of the objections seem to be to the concept that racism isn’t something that exists solely in the past or that there could possibly be any racism today. And more to the concept that racism didn’t end with the civil war (or cause the civil war).

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  6. gVOR08 says:

    too much of this conversation is driven by fear rather than facts. Most of the public school curriculum in most places is pretty damn anodyne. It evolves pretty slowly and is in many ways constrained by the massive buys in Texas and California from going too far to the left or the right.

    Another episode of Vapid Ross talking about not much. I expect no better of Douthat, but I’m disappointed Klein is going down this rabbit hole. There are parents making a big stink at local school board meetings, but rather than pretend this is some grassroots thing let’s go a little meta. This was largely driven by an activist “journalist”, one Christopher Rufo, who stumbled across an irritating corporate seminar (aren’t they all) on anti-racism. He did a little research, discovered CRT, and realized he could make bank off it. Then it got picked up by the FOX “News” Mighty Right Wing Wurlitzer who made it into a thing. That made it a useful pander for GOP pols. And as always there’s a rich libertarian wing nut funding it, one Thomas W. Smith.

    The Republic would be better served by teaching this as another example of GOPs desperately searching for any culture war wedge they can turn into another Mt. Molehill (I told someone here I’d steal that) to fire up their base.

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  7. Tony W says:

    I remember being furious at my middle-school history teacher six months into college for the omissions.

    It wasn’t until then that I realized how curated my history classes had been.

    Many people never get that opportunity.

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  8. Monala says:

    I saw this New Republic article today:

    American Education Is Founded on White Race Theory
    The conservative hysteria over critical race theory is ultimately a refusal to acknowledge that the country’s classrooms have always taught a white-centric view of U.S. history.

    A quote:

    Conservatives want students to believe that white Americans, even slaveholders, were redeemable—even ultimately virtuous—purveyors of the American experiment in freedom.

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  9. Kathy says:

    @KM:

    You don’t think of history as The First White That because for you, it’s the default norm.

    it goes further than that. In Loewen’s follow up work, Lies Across America, he cites plaques commemorating when a certain place or region was first settled. These memorials ignore the fact those lands were settled by native tribes, sometimes for millennia. the assumption that only what whites did is relevant, literally erases other peoples from history.

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  10. Michael Reynolds says:

    I have a different version of CRT – Critical Religion Theory. The reason various white conquerors and colonists felt entitled to go about willy nilly stealing people’s land comes from the Christian division of the world into Christian and Heathen. Christian laws did not apply to heathen who could be enslaved at will in the hope that doing so would bring the slave to Jesus.

    Racism followed this religious bigotry. After all, one needed a rationale for continuing to hold slaves even after they’d accepted Jesus. Racism was never the motivation, it was just just the ret-conned rationalization.

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  11. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Kathy: On the other hand, some guy a long time ago said something to the effect that history is told in the voice of the winner [of some conflict or another, I assume]. I can’t remember who said it though, probably some Chinese philosopher or something.

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  12. Kathy says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    It’s been attributed to Churchill and many others. To some extent it’s true, because if you wipe out a nation, who’s left to write their history? I’d add immediate history is written by the victors. Latter history is different. A historian interested in Carthage today may not give a damn to bolster either Rome or Carthage, they’re far too removed from the action over 2,000 years ago.

    The issue is the second draft of history* is the one that tends to stick, because it’s still close and it’s what gets taught right away. It takes time for disinterested third parties to be more objective and factual about it.

    *The first draft of history consists of headlines and news reports.

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  13. James Joyner says:

    @KM:

    It’s not elitist to say the content of education is better curated by the educated than someone with an agenda and a hacksaw.

    Sure. And, hell, I don’t mind being elitist. But even professional historians—indeed, scholars of very narrow niches—disagree. Somebody has to decide what’s going to be taught in the primary and secondary survey courses.

    Damn there goes a lot of history. Edison’s right out then as are the Founders – how can you talk about 1776 without mentioning it hadn’t been done before and oh yeah, these were the White guys that did it?

    That’s a rather silly framing. Founding a country or inventing major technologies that changed society is very different from “first Black woman to start a bank.” Even in my day, we talked about George Washington Carver, WEB DuBois, Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, Jackie Robinson etc. There are doubtless important Black figures that we didn’t cover. But, mostly, the story is about the denial of opportunity and the cost that imposed on society.

    @SKI:

    Critical Race Theory isn’t being taught in primary and secondary schools. It isn’t really being taught in colleges. It is a form of legal theory taught mostly in law schools.

    This just isn’t true in anything but the most pedantic sense. Certainly, 1619 Project and various CRT-derived thinking is taught in our schools.

    @Kathy:

    In Loewen’s follow up work, Lies Across America, he cites plaques commemorating when a certain place or region was first settled. These memorials ignore the fact those lands were settled by native tribes, sometimes for millennia. the assumption that only what whites did is relevant, literally erases other peoples from history.

    So, while that’s a fair point it’s not the whole truth, either. The history of the United States of America doesn’t start with the Navajo or Apache but with Christopher Columbus and the Virginia colonies. It’s perfectly reasonable for the people of Springfield, USA to commemorate the founding of Springfield, USA while eliding what came before. It’s also perfectly reasonable for historians and anthropologists to focus on what came before.

    @Michael Reynolds:

    I have a different version of CRT – Critical Religion Theory. The reason various white conquerors and colonists felt entitled to go about willy nilly stealing people’s land comes from the Christian division of the world into Christian and Heathen. Christian laws did not apply to heathen who could be enslaved at will in the hope that doing so would bring the slave to Jesus.

    I’m pretty sure human conquest predates Jesus Christ.

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  14. Chip Daniels says:

    @Kathy:
    I’ll take it one step further.
    Most history books focus on the Great Civilization pattern where they begin with Greece and Rome, perhaps China and India, then move along to Charlemagne then the European medieval period, then the European expansion across the Western Hemisphere, and so on to the present day.

    But this has an implicit bias; It assumes history is only occurring in civilizations that leave behind vast amounts of data in the form of monuments and ruins, histories and artwork.

    We dwell on Rome, but not the contemporaneous Celts or pre-Muslim Arab states; Books focus on Medieval Europe but not the contemporaneous Native America civilizations. As if nothing of any importance was going on in North America around 1200 CE.

    Part of this is understandable- we have a lot of easily available data from Rome, but very little from ancient Scandinavia, a lot of writing from Medieval times but nothing from the Tongva people of the California coast.

    But it inevitably warps our views- it leads to people just assuming that the Tongva and indigenous people never existed, that this land was just empty and virgin wilderness.

    Worse, it also assumes an inequality. Bigotry relies on the idea that the Romans and Europeans were superior to the indigenous people and a big part of this is the childish view that they built big monuments, so therefore they were smarter and more “advanced” than those who were hunter-gatherers.

    I don’t have a convenient way to rectify all this, but we should at least keep in mind that our picture of history is incomplete and heavily biased in favor of what was written not what happened.

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  15. Kathy says:

    @James Joyner:

    So why not put a plaque that says “The first white people to settle this area in blah, blah, blah.”

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  16. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Chip Daniels:
    History follows the winners and dismisses the losers. The winners’s historical record survives, the losers records don’t. See: Aztecs and Incas. History is presented by those civilizations that could write and managed to avoid obliteration. In come cases we just run into mysteries: who exactly were the Sea Peoples and why were they both so successful yet left so little evidence?

    We know only the tiniest fraction of what happened pre-Rome and not that much afterward until relatively modern times. We piece together clues which at best give us a narrow window onto some specific aspect of a dead civilization, but we can hardly be blamed for telling whatever story the available evidence provides. Yes, it ignores 90% of the human race, but we don’t have data on that 90% so what are we supposed to do?

  17. Kathy says:

    @Chip Daniels:

    But this has an implicit bias; It assumes history is only occurring in civilizations that leave behind vast amounts of data in the form of monuments and ruins, histories and artwork.

    More like European civilizations that do this. It’s not like any of the Persian civilizations, the Egyptians, the Chinese, the Aztecs, the Maya, the Inca, and many others didn’t leave behind vast amounts of monuments and ruins. By sheer size and amount, Egypt beats Rome twice. Even the Romans kind of acknowledged this, when they took obelisks from Egypt to display in Rome.

    But that’s not all. If you see history as a means to understand the present, or to learn how things turned out the way they did, then you can’t escape the fact we live in the world Europe remade in its image starting around the late XV century CE. And then what matter most is what influenced that European civilization. one thing was a yearning for the Pax Romana that ended with the fall of the Western Roman Empire (the Eastern Roman Empire, aka the Byzantine Empire, fell until the mid XV century CE).

    A lot of actual and would-be conquerors in Europe styled themselves as either a New Rome, claimed to be setting up a Roman-like empire, or used Roman terminology. We see this as late as WWII, albeit largely in a symbolic sense.

    Rome had two early influences in its development: the Etruscans and the Greeks. Both left lots of written records as well as ruins, but knowledge of the Etruscan language has vanished, so we know little about them past what others recorded and what archaeology can learn. We know a lot about the Greeks.

    So, that’s the justification for studying Greece and Rome today.

    As things are going, though, we should start dusting off Chinese history.

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  18. wr says:

    @Michael Reynolds: “History follows the winners and dismisses the losers. The winners’s historical record survives, the losers records don’t. ”

    And that’s what’s so crazy about the way we teach history here. Because the Union won the Civil War, but Republican-led stated are demanding that only the Confederacy’s version can be taught.

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  19. Michael Reynolds says:

    @James Joyner:

    I’m pretty sure human conquest predates Jesus Christ.

    Yes, but not the point. We’re discussing western history, which has been dominated by Christians for two millennia, and when we talk about the thought process of western colonialism and imperialism, Christianity is a huge factor. The dehumanization that allowed for Cortés’ conquests came not out of a sense of racial superiority, but a sense of religious superiority. Christian contempt for ‘the other’ precedes racism, which is a more modern notion.

    In other words, Pizarro did not enslave the Incas because he didn’t like their skin color, he did it because 1) he could and 2) his faith gave him license. Ditto the later ethnic cleansing of Indians in North America. Christians built a moral theory that demanded humane treatment only of other Christians. (Later amended to apply only to a specific Christian subset). If you’re looking for the original sin of western imperialism and slavery, it starts with gentle Jesus meek and mild, not racism.

    Racism developed as an ideology later in the game when a different rationale was required to replace the Christian/Heathen dichotomy.

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  20. Modulo Myself says:

    History follows the winners and dismisses the losers. The winners’s historical record survives, the losers records don’t.

    This is untrue. The Greeks were defeated by the Roman Republic, for example, and they weren’t erased. And the barbarians who sacked Rome gave themselves names like Sulla Flavian Marius or something. Genghis Khan conquered China and they weren’t erased. Conquering cultures often get assimilated into those they conquer. That just didn’t happen with European Imperialism, which needed a blank slate.

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  21. Kathy says:

    @Modulo Myself:

    The case of Greece is a bit more complicated. There were several Greek colonies in the south of Italy, a region then known as Magna Graecia, or Greater Greece. This regions was among the first that was subdued and conquered by the ascendant Roman Republic.

    By the time they conquered Greece proper, they’d had been living with Greeks in their Republic for centuries. They had also borrowed much Greek culture and incorporated it into their own. Just in religion, they pretty much adopted the whole Greek pantheon under the names of similar Roman/Italian deities like Saturn, Jupiter, Juno, Minerva, Mars, etc.

    There are other factors, too. Pre-Christian pagans were far more tolerant of different religions. Partly because most pagan religions were very much alike, partly because there was no obsessive attachment to any one deity. Gods moved from one pantheon to another rather easily, or deities were mixed together in syncretism.

    About the only people the Romans obliterated, on purpose, were the Carthaginians. Largely because they were a rival power in the Mediterranean, and they were good at it. Once Hannibal occupied large areas of Italy for several years, there was no way Carthage could be allowed to exist if Rome was to be supreme. But it took a third war to finish them.

    After Augustus in the Imperial period, Rome did demand worship of the deified emperors from all their subjects, be they citizens or not. This cult of the Caesars was more political than religious, seen as a proof of loyalty and subservience to Rome. It was flexible, too. Jews, whose religion forbade the worship of gods other than Jehovah, were allowed to make offerings and sacrifices to their one god in the name of the departed emperors, for example.

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  22. JKB says:

    As long as schooling is public and compulsory, it will be a political prize. A contentious one in areas of “diversity” or mixed-nationality as von Mises observed in the wake of the Great War. In the US, compulsory public schooling was devised to “get the catholic children” and inculcate them with Protestant education. This settled into the Melting Pot theme which created a common narrative. But in this time of Diversity, compulsory public schooling is a political prize captured by one ideology with the aim of imbuing the students with their version of history and really quasi-religious beliefs.

    The greatest trick ever played was convincing parents and students that what was taught in compulsory public schools was what was necessary to be successful in life. It worked for quite a while, but increasingly those who emerge from 12+ years of schooling in the US are finding they don’t have the knowledge or skills needed to get ahead. Increasingly, even after adding 4 to 8 more years of “higher education”.

    The parents have “woke” so to speak to what is being taught. Overtly to the content, but probably more to the failures of the compulsory school system to prepare graduates for the current reality of the world. I would expect voucher support to expand. Working to fix the local public school has been a abject failure even more so with the increasingly aggressive resistance from those hired to prepare those students. They’ve “got the kids” and aren’t going to give them back without a fight. So the Catholic solution of the 19th century is likely to be pursued, that is alternative schools.

    In all areas of mixed nationality, the school is a political prize of the highest importance. It cannot be deprived of its political character as long as it remains a public and compulsory institution. There is, in fact, only one solution: the state, the government, the laws must not in any way concern themselves with schooling or education. Public funds must not be used for such purposes. The rearing and instruction of youth must be left entirely to parents and to private associations and institutions.
    –Mises, Ludwig von (1927). Liberalism

    Thomas Sowell summed up the problem with social justice and I would say it applies as well to CRT as it is being taught. “Social justice is an actual impediment to acquiring human capital”. Parents will fight for their children’s futures regardless of the opinions of the “elite”.

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  23. charon says:

    @Chip Daniels:

    I don’t have a convenient way to rectify all this, but we should at least keep in mind that our picture of history is incomplete and heavily biased in favor of what was written not what happened.

    Leadership of, and continuity of leadership of technology and economic and military power is highly correlated with who had the cutting edge best information technology – which historically was who had the cheapest and best written records.

    So yeah, where the written records are is where the economic and military leaders of the times were.

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  24. Michael Reynolds says:

    @JKB:
    So which school is to blame for your pathological dishonesty and avoidance of reality?

    14
  25. Stormy Dragon says:

    is there a way to incorporate those stories into a narrative that still fulfills a fundamentally patriotic function?

    To quote G. K. Chesterton:

    ‘My country, right or wrong,’ is a thing that no patriot would think of saying except in a desperate case. It is like saying, ‘My mother, drunk or sober.’ No doubt if a decent man’s mother took to drink he would share her troubles to the last; but to talk as if he would be in a state of gay indifference as to whether his mother took to drink or not is certainly not the language of men who know the great mystery.

    5
  26. wr says:

    @Michael Reynolds: “So which school is to blame for your pathological dishonesty and avoidance of reality?”

    Whatever it was, it must have had a very small budget, because they apparently could not afford a single book published after 1930.

    11
  27. @Michael Reynolds:

    History follows the winners and dismisses the losers.

    That’s the cliche, and I think it even has truth behind it.

    But the Confederate monument I just was parked by (on the town square in Troy, AL) during lunch would like to have a word.

    8
  28. @JKB:

    as von Mises observed in the wake of the Great War.

    Spoiler alert!
    .
    .
    .
    .
    .
    .
    .
    .
    .
    .
    .
    .
    .
    .
    .
    That was almost a century ago, so even if his observations were accurate (for the sake of argument), a lot has happened since then.

    11
  29. Scott F. says:

    @Michael Reynolds: & @Steven L. Taylor:

    History follows the winners and dismisses the losers…
    – – –
    … the Confederate monument I just was parked by…

    The truism that history is written by the victor, when coupled with the zero sum mindset that is so prevalent in US society, offers a lot to explain about what is so politically contentious about how history is taught.

    CRT doesn’t have to make white people feel bad about themselves. It’s the self-imposed interpretation that if my preferred version of history isn’t the one being exclusively taught, then I must be the loser. And I don’t want to be the loser.

    The persistence of Confederate monuments is about holding onto this illusion that the South wasn’t really traitorous to the Union and that they didn’t completely lose the Civil War.

    5
  30. EddieInCA says:

    Things I did not learn about – at all – in elementary, junior high school, or high school:

    1. Black Wall Street Massacre
    2. Cesar Chavez’s struggle to unionize farm workers
    3. That the North had slaves as well as the South.
    4. W.E.B DuBois
    5. That the GI Bill for returning soldiers from WWII was only for White Soldiers.
    6. The Little Rock Nine
    7. Fritz Pollard – First black NFL coach
    8. Jane Bolin – First black female judge

    12
  31. Chip Daniels says:

    JKB’s comment makes clear the current mindset of the conservative faction in America.
    Namely, that it is an insurrection force that refuses to admit the legitimacy of any opposition;

    Notice how they begin with the premise that all organs of the state are expected to serve the ideological interests of the ruling party.

    They are terrified of nonpartisan, independent centers of power which might act outside of their control.

    We’ve seen this mindset at various times in American history, switching from whichever radical group is outside of power. Now it is the Republicans turn to adopt it.

    13
  32. Scott F. says:

    @EddieInCA:
    I consider myself a fairly well read, inquisitive student of history and I learned about the Black Wall Street (Tulsa) Massacre through HBO’s Watchmen series.

    5
  33. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:
    It’s just taking a bit longer in the south, as so many things do. It takes them a while to come to grips with reality, much as Trumpies will eventually have to deal with reality. But Richmond’s Monument Boulevard is being purged, so, progress!

    2
  34. Gustopher says:

    Douthat:

    is there a way to incorporate those stories into a narrative that still fulfills a fundamentally patriotic function? Which I think is a reasonable thing to want a public school system to do.

    Given that the right-wing has been trying to redefine patriotism as a ethnic-nationalism, I find this attitude terrifying.

    It’s impossible to teach “just the facts” since there are too many facts and there would always be a selection bias if nothing else, but we should include the fact that the US was a multi-ethnic democracy twice — for 8-9 years after the civil war, and since 1968 or so.

    Because it’s a fact, and a damn important one.

    We were founded on an idealistic vision of equality that we haven’t always lived up to, and which we are in danger of losing.

    (And during those years after the civil war, women couldn’t vote…)

    6
  35. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: Always willing to take the contrarian position 😉 , I would note that the argument can be made that, relative to the usual course of war and its aftermath, the Confederacy won. (Consult with the statue you mentioned for details.) At any rate, the Confederacy certainly won the war “for the hearts and minds” of the citizenry–at least the paler, more (as conventionally understood) nativist segment.

    2
  36. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Scott F.:
    Could have learned about it from FRONT LINES a series whose author I cannot name for fear of immodesty. Now, as to where I learned about it, I cannot recall. It certainly wasn’t in school because the whole point of history curricula is to drain history of anything interesting.

  37. Gustopher says:

    @wr:

    Whatever it was, it must have had a very small budget, because they apparently could not afford a single book published after 1930.

    Apropos of nothing, Mein Kampf was published in 1926.

    We’re nearing the 100 year anniversary. We should have a book burning.

  38. Scott F. says:

    @Chip Daniels:
    I came across this quote from composer Frank Wilhoite earlier today:

    “Conservatism consists of exactly one proposition, to wit: There must be in-groups whom the law protects but does not bind, alongside out-groups whom the law binds but does not protect.”

    That captures the current GOP pretty well, I think.

    5
  39. Scott F. says:

    @Michael Reynolds:
    As you’ve often noted, society advances through the popular culture first. Academics, journalists, and especially politicians get there later.

  40. de stijl says:

    I am extremely pissed off that I only learned unvarnished US history on my own dime.

    Any confident nation would teach the good and the bad both. Our forbears were fallible humans not demi-gods. Fuck that whole nonsense.

    I would have preferred the whole truth then please and thank you.

    A brittle authority ignores the bad and mythologizes the “good”. Creates a patriotic narrative on myth, omission, and ethnocentrism.

    That’s propaganda, not education.

    1
  41. flat earth luddite says:

    @JKB:
    Uh, exactly what are you smoking, where did you buy it, and how did you afford an entire 40′ container of bulls***?

    Only asking because I’d like to avoid accidentally purchasing some of this by mistake when ordering my cigars online.

    4
  42. Gustopher says:

    @EddieInCA: My public school education had nothing about the labor movement.

    There was a mention of “The Jungle” and then somehow everything was solved.

    And history ended in about 1960, so no civil right movement, and no reason to bring up Jim Crow.

    5
  43. Stormy Dragon says:

    @Scott F.:

    There was a good essay I read on that Wilhoite quote pointing out that it implies the existence of a corresponding “anti-conservative” principle: the law cannot protect anyone unless it binds everyone, and the law cannot bind anyone unless it protects everyone.

    It argued this is the implicit principle that actually unites all the various factions of the Democratic party right now.

    6
  44. mattb says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    That was almost a century ago, so even if his observations were accurate (for the sake of argument), a lot has happened since then.

    Not for devotes of the Austrian School.

    Also, I will note that for someone who holds such disdain for intellectuals, JKB really love his precise sites of… *check his notes*… intellectuals. Me thinks that the distain really is for those whose views he disagrees with than intellectuals in general.

    2
  45. Mu Yixiao says:

    @EddieInCA:

    1. Black Wall Street Massacre

    We learned nothing about anything between the Civil War and WWII other than “WWI happened, and then there was the Great Depression”. So leaving out the Tulsa Massacre wasn’t special.

    2. Cesar Chavez’s struggle to unionize farm workers

    It’s all family farms around here, so unionization of farm workers in the south west isn’t overly relevant. And we didn’t learn about any other unionization by white people, so again, not special.

    3. That the North had slaves as well as the South.

    This was discussed when talking about both the Revolutionary War and the Civil War.

    4. W.E.B DuBois

    We learned about him.

    5. That the GI Bill for returning soldiers from WWII was only for White Soldiers.

    The GI Bill wasn’t discussed at all.

    6. The Little Rock Nine

    Long discussion about this in high school

    7. Fritz Pollard – First black NFL coach

    Why would we study NFL coaches in school? We didn’t even study Vince Lombardi, and he’s a demi-god in these parts.

    8. Jane Bolin – First black female judge

    With the exception of one teacher who frequently quoted Thurgood Marshall, we never studied any individual judges.

    You have to remember that most of this stuff is high-school level history in everything above general mentions (you’re not going to teach 3rd-graders about the plight of California fruit pickers and their struggle for union representation). There’s only so much time to dedicate to any one topic. And history is a really big topic.

    NCES says there’s about 1,000 hours in a school year–about 40 hours per class (assuming classes are one semester long). How much can you teach in 40 hours?

    4
  46. Kathy says:

    If it’s any consolation, this is a more universal phenomenon.

    On my first semester of Mexican History in high school, the teacher more or less began his class thus: I assume you all learned about Hidalgo and Morelos and the war of independence, and about Madero and Pino Suarez and the Revolution, right? good. now forget all of that. We’re going to spend the next few months learning all the messy details about what actually happened.

    1
  47. Mu Yixiao says:

    One thing that’s being left out of this conversation is a very salient fact:

    Legislators don’t teach our students. Teachers do.

    There may be curriculum mandates, but when the chalk hits the blackboard, it’s the person standing in the front of the class that guides the discussion.

  48. de stijl says:

    @Mu Yixiao:

    You can teach a lot in 40 hours. It doesn’t have to be just authority-serving mythology bullshit.

    1
  49. Mister Bluster says:

    @EddieInCA:..2. Cesar Chavez’s struggle to unionize farm workers…

    Of those 8 items I can only honestly address #2.
    When I was in Junior College (Fall ’66-Spring ’68) I worked at the Jewell grocery store in Homewood IL. While I never got any formal education concerning the farmworkers struggle, there were High School students picketing the store on a few weekends in support of the Delano Grape Strike.
    The store manager, a total prick as I recall, actually let the demonstrators do their thing as long as they didn’t block the entrance. “Now the customers will know that we have grapes.” he said.
    Ironically when I was hitchhiking from San Franciso to St. Louis in early January of 1971 my first day out got me two rides that took me from the Bay Area to Delano where I spent the night in an old motel just off the 99 Freeway.
    Turned out to be a lucky stop for me as the next morning some guy saw me sitting on my suitcase at the freeway entrance. He drove by me at freeway speed and actually had to shift into reverse and back down the shoulder of the road to pick me up. He later picked up another hitchhiker. We took turns driving non stop to Amarillo, Texas where he let us off in a snowstorm as he was heading south.
    We wondered aloud how long we would be there in the blizzard. Wasn’t more than 10 or 15 minutes and some guy with Indiana plates stopped. He was headed to Indianapolis. Same routine. All three of us drove nonstop in shifts. I made it to St. Louis from the City in 3 days riding my thumb.
    If my second ride on my first day out had not let me out at Delano I might still be standing on a corner in Winslow, Arizona.

    3
  50. EddieInCA says:

    @Mu Yixiao:

    Thank’s for — intentionally — missing the point.

    4
  51. wr says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: “That was almost a century ago, so even if his observations were accurate (for the sake of argument), a lot has happened since then.”

    Including, you know, ANOTHER great war…

    1
  52. JohnSF says:

    @Kathy:
    Also, a quirk of the Romans: though capable of incredible cruelty (start with mass slavery, move on via gladiatorial games, decimation, crucifixion etc) they viewed human sacrifice as appalling.
    It appears to have genuinely been a reason (among others, especially “you have it, we want it”) for their hatred of both Carthaginians and Druids.

  53. wr says:

    @Mu Yixiao: “There may be curriculum mandates, but when the chalk hits the blackboard, it’s the person standing in the front of the class that guides the discussion.”

    Right. The fact that it’s the legislator who has passed a law threatening the teacher with firing or even jail time if she says something that disagrees with said legislator’s politics can have nothing to do with what get taught, because it’s the teacher at the blackboard.

    4
  54. Mu Yixiao says:

    @wr:

    The fact that it’s the legislator who has passed a law threatening the teacher with firing or even jail time if she says something that disagrees with said legislator’s politics can have nothing to do with what get taught, because it’s the teacher at the blackboard.

    Two words: Teachers Union
    Two more: Sympathetic Strike

    That’s a hornets’ nest that not too many legislators want to get into.

    1
  55. de stijl says:

    I would expect an adult to acknowledge past bad behavior, and to be able to talk about it rationally.

    We expect way less out of US history HS classes. Quasi-historical narrative that favors the euro-American POV.

    I had to endure that. Enough.

    Our kids now should not have to get that narrative. Teach truth not myths. OMG, maybe acknowledge mistakes in our past.

    It pisses me off hard when we teach bullshit to our kids.

    2
  56. Kathy says:

    @JohnSF:

    Right now, I can’t help but think that sacrificing Andrew Wakefield to Aesculapius would help to end the COVID pandemic.

    1
  57. de stijl says:

    @Mister Bluster:

    Pictures Of My Dress is a song you should listen to.

  58. @Michael Reynolds: There has been progress, to be sure. But the Civil War was lost in 1865 and yet the history that was written did not fully reflect that fact, and the narrative still doesn’t. Not adequately.

    3
  59. Teve says:

    @Kathy: it’s worth a shot!

  60. @Michael Reynolds: @Steven L. Taylor: And, I would note, I did most of High School in SoCal, including US History. Granted, that was a while ago, but there was a ton that was glossed over even there.

    1
  61. Mister Bluster says:

    @de stijl:..Pictures Of My Dress

    Whenever the Cubs game gets over…

  62. JohnSF says:

    @Modulo Myself:

    European Imperialism…needed a blank slate.

    Depends on where your imperialist area of operations is.
    Settlement areas are a very different matter from other types: commercial domains, forced labour plantation zones, political domination/acculturation.
    Most of Africa and Asia was certainly not reduced to a “blank slate”; nor did the imperialists seriously attempt or even contemplate doing so.
    The basis of popular culture was frequently relatively untouched (eg India, Egypt, Indonesia, Vietnam) or only slowly and organically modified by religous conversions (eg Mexico, Philippines)

    Very often co-option of elites was the preferred course.
    See the Indian Princes of the Raj; or the interesting tale of the Dukes of Moctezuma de Tultengo, Aztec royalty who became full-on Spanish nobility.
    IIRC quite a few Mixtec etc. families who were allies of the Spaniards against the Aztec became Spanish-Mexican “nobility” as well.

  63. JohnSF says:

    @JKB:
    “Social justice is an actual impediment to acquiring human capital”
    Tell that to the British working class (US-speak “middle class”) organisers of the Workers Educational Association.
    Or the Dissenting Academies.

    Or the role of Working Men’s Associations in adult self-education.

    A massive element of the histories of the Liberal and Labour parties in Britain (and in Europe generally, in many cases) is that of the desire of (some of) the “lower orders” for a state education system that could help their children to rise out of industrial serfdom.

    Or perhaps you can argue with the socialist (boo!) government of post-war UK?
    JKB vs Major Clement Attlee. Place your bets, folks.
    (Yes, I’m waxing a bit sarcastic, because a bit annoyed…)

    2
  64. EddieInCA says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Exactly. I’m a product of LA Unified Schools. So much was glossed over, or, better put, ignored.

    2
  65. de stijl says:

    @Mister Bluster:

    I love roadtrips.

    Whether driving or shotgun or backseat.

    I instigate and I follow. Treasure it.

    When I was without an address the thought of a road trip would have repulsed me. I need food, water, shelter not monkeyshines.

    I only roadtripped when I had a home to go back to. During that homeless time I could not have. I was petrified always.

    The person in this song is gladly bombing around the SW US asking strangers to hold up a dress that meant something to her 9 years ago. So she could take a picture of it. 9 years and seven months.

    Another person she temporarily convinced to serve her utter delusion.

    It is an indelibly sad song of a lost soul seeking….

    Something lost. On a lonely highway in New Mexico. Or in a Dallas Burger King parking lot.

    It breaks my heart.

  66. JohnSF says:

    @Kathy:
    I think Aesclepius, or Apollo, or Hygieia would be seriously offended.
    Beat up, yes, sacrifice in our honour? GTFO.

    Personally I’d vote for the high priest of Chalchiuhtotolin; with a blunt obsidian knife.

    4
  67. Kathy says:

    @JohnSF:

    Maybe if we throw in a hecatomb or two of Wakefield’s sheep?

    2
  68. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @flat earth luddite: I don’t think he’s buying it online. Also there seem to be some real serious quality control issues.

  69. JohnSF says:

    To comment on the main topic: I would say I am above average in my knowledge of American history.
    It partly comes from being a geeky kid growing up in England in the 1960’s and 70’s when the USA was so much a source of cultural innovation.
    For me, things like Marvel comics, science fiction, blues, jazz, rock, westerns, science fiction! NASA! New York! etc etc.
    America was just so exotically fascinating! You all had freezers! And big cars with fins! And surf!
    Three of my personal “heroes” (I never really did heroes) were Isaac Asimov, Carl Sagan and Richard Feynman.

    And I remember my father passing to me a Readers Digest “condensed version” of My Life with Martin Luther King by Coretta Scott King, would have been in the early 70’s, and him saying “You need to read this.”

    And have since studied some aspects of US history at university level.
    Was aware of some history of racial politics and violence (Wilmington 1898, Chicago 1919, Detroit 1943, lynchings in general, Jim Crow and segregation)

    But I still had no idea till the past year about the Tulsa Massacre.

    I still admire the USA; but in part because at least some of you can address the problematic side of your history.
    (Just as we British should appraise our own history with a sceptical eye, and a regard for those on the shitty end of the stick.)

    6
  70. JohnSF says:

    @Kathy:
    Whatcha got against sheep, eh?

    1
  71. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Mu Yixiao: “NCES says there’s about 1,000 hours in a school year–about 40 hours per class (assuming classes are one semester long). How much can you teach in 40 hours?”

    Good point. My recollection of US history was that in 30 weeks worth of classes–and including US geography as part of the subject matter–we scrambled to get to WWI by the end of the term both times–8th grade and 11th. (And I graduated from high school in 197o–so Vietnam and civil rights were considered “too contemporary for a history class” anyway.)

    3
  72. flat earth luddite says:

    @Kathy:
    Learned way more about middle European view of WWII than I imagined existed thanks to HS teacher (who’d joined Polish resistance at age 12, survived German occupation, Russian occupation, 2 unsuccessful attempts to flee via Austria, and eventual relocation to USA). Let to very interesting conversations with my stepfather, who’d been airborne in the Pacific theater.

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:
    Way too contemporary for us, Cracker! After all, we both knew too many guys who came home F’d up to some degree or another. Although it was fascinating to be in college classes with both US and Vietnamese veterans in class explaining to the instructors exactly how f’ing stupid they were.

    2
  73. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Mister Bluster: I was in wholesale produce a couple of years later and having grapes at all was still a pretty big thing. The other conflicting issue that I remember was that the Teamsters were organizing lettuce workers at the time. I can’t remember why anymore, but the two competing organizing efforts created complications and jurisdictional disputes.

  74. gVOR08 says:

    Above @gVOR08: I argue that this isn’t real, it’s another phantasm thrown up by FOX “News”. Kevin Drum did a long piece at Mother Jones doing a deep dive on how we came to be so polarized and so angry. He has pretty good evidence that it comes down to one thing, FOX “News”. Serendipitously for me, he has an example, emphasis mine,

    The recent battle over critical race theory is an instructive example of how all roads lead to Fox News. Turning a decades-­old critical framework deployed mostly in grad school into the latest culture war was originally the brainchild of a conservative activist named Christopher Rufo, who appeared periodically on Fox last year to promote his cause. But it remained bubbling under the surface until early this year, when—facing flagging ratings and increased competition from the even more far-right outlets Newsmax and OAN—Fox suddenly decided to put it into heavy rotation. Starting in March, Fox mentioned CRT 1,300 times in the space of just three months. Six weeks after its campaign started, CRT began trending on Google. By the end of June, 26 states had introduced legislation that restricted or banned teaching CRT and related topics. Fox may not have invented this most recent conservative culture war, but it didn’t really go anywhere until Fox decided to make it the latest outrage of its white viewers.

    I’ve sometimes here described GOP voters, GOP pols, and GOP media as a positive feedback looop. Drum agrees,

    The Fox pipeline is pretty simple. Fox News stokes a constant sense of outrage among its base of viewers, largely by highlighting narratives of white resentment and threats to Christianity. This in turn forces Republican politicians to follow suit. It’s a positive feedback loop that has no obvious braking system, and it’s already radicalized the conservative base so much that most Republicans literally believe that elections are being stolen and democracy is all but dead if they don’t take extreme action.

    Positive feedback loops keep running hotter and hotter until something breaks. Could be FOX, could be the GOPs, could be the country.

    Drum contiues,

    For the past 20 years the fight between liberals and conservatives has been razor close, with neither side making more than minor and temporary progress in what’s been essentially trench warfare. We can only break free of this by staying clear-eyed about what really sustains this war. It is Fox News that has torched the American political system over the past two decades, and it is Fox News that we have to continue to fight.

    Continuing to defend CRT or something in K-12 is a category error. There’s no there there. Didn’t Rove or somebody have a quote to the effect that if they have us talking about the wrong thing, they’re winning. Stop doing it. Talk about what’s really happening, that we have a culture war because GOPs and FOX work hard at creating a culture war because they have nothing else.

    4
  75. JohnSF says:

    @Chip Daniels:
    Historians have a definite of bias to written records.
    That is a fundamental part of the old history/prehistory division.

    From the viewpoint of human history over time, we should, perhaps, divide attention over timespan?
    In which case the entire pre-literate “history” of Homo sapiens requires 100 times the attention paid to literate cultures.
    And the only evidence we have indicate some 300,000 years of “new day, same ol'”

    Or perhaps we should allocate attention according to total numbers?
    IIRC the calculation is that despite our recent – ie. post 4000BC – increase, the bulk of all sapiens who ever lived were in the pre-agricultural era.
    The vast extent of pre-historic time is vertiginous.

    I hope to be forgiven, but I find more technically advanced cultures simply more interesting.

    Even there, we moderns underestimate the depth of TIME:
    Cleopatra of Egypt is closer to us in time than to the builders of the Pyramids.
    The Pyramids are closer to us than the First Dynasty of Egypt.

    Times of faster relative development are inherently more eventful and interesting than vast eons of (apparent) stasis. You just run out of things to say about the continuity of the paleolithic toolset.

    1
  76. JohnSF says:

    @Chip Daniels:
    Historians have a definite of bias to written records.
    That is a fundamental part of the old history/prehistory division.

    From the viewpoint of human history over time, we should, perhaps, divide attention over timespan?
    In which case the entire pre-literate “history” of Homo sapiens requires 100 times the attention paid to literate cultures.
    And the only evidence we have indicate some 300,000 years of “new day, same ol'”

    Or perhaps we should allocate attention according to total numbers?
    IIRC the calculation is that despite our recent – ie. post 4000BC – increase, the bulk of all sapiens who ever lived were in the pre-agricultural era.
    The vast extent of pre-historic time is vertiginous.

    I hope to be forgiven, but I find more technically advanced cultures simply more interesting.

    Even there, we moderns underestimate the depth of TIME:
    Cleopatra of Egypt is closer to us in time than to the builders of the Pyramids.
    The Pyramids are closer to us than the First Dynasty of Egypt.

    Times of faster relative development are inherently more eventful and interesting than vast eons of (apparent) stasis. You just run out of things to say about the continuity of the paleolithic toolset.
    (Well, unless you’re an archaeologist, of course. Archaeologist vs historian fight! )

    1
  77. JohnSF says:

    @Michael Reynolds:
    IMO the interesting thing from the history of ideas POV is the recession of slavery in Europe in the Medieval period.
    For instance the Normans (who were, by and large, “bastard coated bastards with bastard filling”) actually reduced slavery in England compared to pre-Conquest.
    And overall, chattel slavery that had been ubiquitous in Roman Europe was relatively marginal by the 12thCentury.
    IMO due to convergence of economic and religious influences.

    But then, post 1492 (though really taking off post 1600) we get the plantation economies.
    People getting stupendously rich on the slave trade and sugar/tobacco/cotton plantations.
    But, how do they justify slavery now?
    And here is where IMO critical race theory hits the target: slavery is increasingly justified on the basis of spurious racial grounds: economic interest demands racism.
    And that racism become s increasingly embedded in the society.
    It becomes unable to discard it without confronting how morally compromised it had become; so the racism lingers on after the economic drivers for it have passed away.

    That’s why I sometimes criticise CRT: in its own terms, IMO, it fails to explain post-slavery racism.
    My explanation? Sheer bloody minded social inertia.

    3
  78. JohnSF says:

    @Michael Reynolds:
    We also need to recall the conquistadors grew up in a hard school.
    1492: the voyage of Columbus
    1521: conquest of Mexico.
    Meanwhile in the Old World:
    1453: Fall of Constantinople
    1526–1566: Ottoman Conquest of Hungary
    1573: Fall of Cyprus.

    The Spanish and Ottomans had been in a war to the knife in the Mediterranean in the 16th century; and their fellow Hapsburgs had been fighting losing battles in south east Europe for over a century.

    Our perspective of European dominance from the 18th century onward tends to make us forget that for much of the period after the fall of the Roman Empire, Europeans were regularly getting thoroughly stuffed, or at best holding on in bloody desperation.
    It’s notable that up until the late 18th century, European states were very cautious about tangling with e.g. Ottomans, Manchus, Persian, Mughals etc on their home turf on land (at sea was another thing).
    Often forgotten: when Cortez rocked up outside Tenochtitlan for the second time in 1521, he had an army of about 1,000 Spaniards and 20,000 odd “Mexicans” who were hefting obsidian-studded clubs and spears, looking at the Aztecs and saying “payback time, you bastards.”
    Neither Aztec nor Incas had made themselves well liked by their neighbours.

    Imperialism? We haz it.

    2
  79. Michael Reynolds says:

    @EddieInCA:
    My kids as of a decade or so ago still had to do the thing where they build a mission. Evidently it’s the law. It’s eye-rolling nonsense at best and offensive at worst. Besides if you want to bully kids (and their parents) into constructing thematic dioramas about California, I nominate Buster Keaton and the falling building. Action! Pathos! Practical effects!

    1
  80. Michael Reynolds says:

    @JohnSF:

    economic interest demands racism

    Exactly, it’s an evil motivated by profit. There’s no moral difference between slave owners and professional hit men – they destroy people, humanity itself, for money.

    I have a certain sneaking admiration for Cortés. That was neat work on his part staying alive, let alone prevailing against the empire that had every other city state in the region shit-scared. The Aztecs come under the ‘needed killin’ rule credited to every gunslinger ever. They were bastards by any definition. They just ran into equally big bastards with steel and horses… and immunities.

    OTOH Pizarro is just a piece of shit. The Incas were not Vermont Democrats, but Spain had no pretense even of a moral high ground there.

  81. de stijl says:

    @JohnSF:

    I admire us too. We have a lot of good qualities.

    Please ignore Trump like we ignore Thatcher.

    A mostly good people on a mostly good path.

    The RW wants us to ignore past mistakes because it diminishes the narrative of whatever. A past. Some idealized perfect past which is utter bullshit.

    They are incredibly wrong. We are better when we acknowledge past mistakes and accept responsibility. Fully.

    I am perfectly fine knowing my forebears fucked up early and often. It is the adult response and understanding of our shared condition.

    Only a naive child wants an idealized ancestor. People are fucking complicated. This is not new, radical knowledge.

    National mythology is a damned curse.

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  82. de stijl says:

    Adults misunderstand the resiliency of kids. They have forgotten that point in life where everything is new and quasi-magical.

    Bad parents want kids who are only experienced in what they want them exposed to.

    Sad news. Implied ownership by mere parentage is mistaken. You created a new consciousness that has self determination.

    The teenage years hit and separation happens. Separation that might profoundly disagree with your preferred world view. Deal.

    The concept of curating a childhood solely designed to create a new version of you is abhorrent and it never, ever works. Maturing means creating a self. Distinct from mom and / or dad. Distinct from any siblings. You make you. It is inevitable. A part of the process.

    People who want cloned kid copies are extremely maladaptive. That is not how maturation works. Sorry, Mormonism.

    They are independent creatures testing new limits. Playing with identity. Trying on and often discarding roles as if they were hats. It is the expected result.

    When puberty hits all bets are off.

    Teens are inherently very frightening. They are creating themselves daily. They are creating self. It is a good thing.

    Per My Chemical Romance teenagers scare the living shit out of me.

  83. de stijl says:

    @de stijl:

    Kids nowadays are way cooler.

    When I was kid bullying was expected.

    Your parents might have given you foolish guidance, but actual bullying is not 50s sitcom plot fodder. Life is not Leave It To Beaver.

    Actual bullying by kids towards kids is astonishingly effective. It thwarts natural development. Twists it. Either by gossip or getting punched in the face for being a wuss.

    Kids today are actively anti-bullying. That is a remarkable achievement in human history. It needs to be noted. Empathy and sympathy. Kids support each other by word and deed. It is a new step towards a new enlightenment.

    It was relatively easy for me. I actively did not want to fit in. I had no expectation.

    And if you fuck with me I will win because I will fucking destroy you now or later promised.

    I actually fit in and was popular. I was not a pariah. People liked me.

    Initially, I was not well prepared for that. I was unprepared for it and it kinda weirded me out. My mother taught me I was unworthy and dependent on her.

    I grew up and decided her bullshit was bullshit and to be ignored. We did not speak for 20 years. I sent a birthday card once or twice.

    My tale is boring. Trite.

    That kids are actively anti-bullying and proud of it is truly a positive change and should be highlighted. I want today’s kids to have a better experience.

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  84. Zachriel says:

    @Kathy: A lot of actual and would-be conquerors in Europe styled themselves as either a New Rome, claimed to be setting up a Roman-like empire, or used Roman terminology.

    Hitler wanted to another Napoléon. Napoléon wanted to be another Caesar. Caesar wanted to be another Alexander. Alexander wanted to be another Hercules (his forefather and son of Zeus). So, really, it’s all the fault of Hercules.

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