9.13.2005

all the glory that the Lord has made

I wanted to write about the concert last night. But I can't. Instead, I must write about two other things, not at all related, I don't think. The first is that a few days ago a 95 year old woman was brutally murdered, and likely sexually assaulted as well, by a local man who had used her phone several days before. This occurred two blocks from my house...a relatively peaceful neighborhood where people say 'hi' to each other and sit on their front porches. I don't usually get torn up by stuff like this. But in this case, it angers me that the old and the infirm are so removed from everyday society that things like this are visited upon them in particular--usually without anyone noticing. And yet even as I bluster about it and get knotted up inside, I did nothing personally--and have no idea what I would do--to make this situation better, to prevent things like this from happening in my neighborhood, my city, my world, or even my church. The second thing, almost as intense, is my encounter with Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States. Books like this should be banned, if for no other reason than that they are so good, so well-written, and so damning of the "moneyed aristocracy" that I can't imagine how they get published in the first place. The chapter on the Mexican-American War was enough to get me fired up. I can't image what reading the chapter on Vietnam or Gulf War I will be like...like getting hit in the guts, I imagine. I have a link to this book over there to the right in the "allconsuming.net" column. Buy this book. Or better yet go to your library and check it out. Read it before you watch your next episode of the nightly news. Or better yet, never watch the nightly news again and only read books like this. Holy crap, our political system is f#%$ed up! And it has been for so long that I think we can safely say that something major needs to happen if we can ever expect to rely on it again for anything other than highway improvements.

6 Comments:

Blogger brian carlson said...

I am forever amazed at the power of words. I had a prof once who told me: "If you really want to change the world, really learn how to write, because words have power." I believe she was write.

I have read Howard Zinn's book (being a history major I do things like that) I thought it was very well written. I also understand though that it was written with an agenda. I respect Zinn but I also understand his agenda. He does relate his idea of history from somewhere on the extreme left, similair to Paul Johnson's Modern Times, which was written from somewhere on the far right. I believe the truth, as Socrates would say, is probably somewhere in the middle. Not that I wish to dampen your enthusiasm, just something else to chew on

9/14/2005 7:08 AM  
Blogger e said...

BC--thanks for leaving a comment.

No doubt you are correct: Zinn has an agenda. You wouldn't write a book called the People's History of the United States if you weren't interested in defaming the "non-people" a.k.a., the elite.

What is interesting to me is that we are not taught this stuff in school at all. I went to a public high school where I was an ethnic minority. I went to a Grace Brethren Chrisian elementary and middle school (and a year of high school) where I was essentially like everyone else. In both places, I heard the same story about the United States--a story about moving from strength to strength. Moral strength, ideological strength, and "democratic" strength at first; political, economic, and military strength by the late 19th/early 20th century.

What I wasn't taught was that this history ignores what happened at the level of the average citizen. I learned what presidents, congressmen, governors, business owners, inventors, generals, etc. did or thought or wrote about.

So, now also being part of the academic history project, I guess, I'm trying to come to terms with this "hidden" history. And it's not just Zinn, though he may be the most vociferous and well known. I haven't read much, if any history--any type of history, really--that show regular joes being enfranchised by elites. It seems that the United States, when you're examining it over the course of its history, has many more commonalities with the English and Western European monarchies than it does with what we might think of as "democracy."

BC, since you are also a historian, I'm wondering how else might you tell the story without just replicating the anemic top-heavy history taught in schools....

9/15/2005 10:27 AM  
Blogger brian carlson said...

well if at some point I do actually get the chance to teach history, I would avoid the text books almost entirely, the are generally poorly written and are presented on the pretense of objectivity, which is something they rarely achieve. I tend to favor the approach of using several historial monographs that relate to a specific period of event, preferably written from differing points of view, or taking different approaches. I do think that it is important to understand the top-down approach to history I.e. the study of the important people, but I also believe it is important to understand the situation of the little people as well. I agree with you that the state of history education in most school systems is deplorable. John has told me about the history education at your school... or as he refers to it as: historical fiction, most unfortunate. One of the biggest problems is that there really is not very much time allocated to the study of history in school, which unfortuatly leads to the predomination of the top down approach. It takes a bit more time and energy to teach history in a truly equal and nuanced style. The probelm is that most history teachers are not allowed to teach much beyond what is approved by thier local school board, or they are required to teach to some state or local minimum that does not alow room for anything else to be taught, I find it all very frustrating

9/15/2005 11:23 AM  
Blogger e said...

bc--very thoughtful. and i hope you do get a chance.

Zinn and other overviews paint in very broad strokes. And that might be a problem once you get to upper level undergraduate classes. But for intro college and high school history, it seems that you want something that does give an overall narrative. The problem I see with most overall narratives is the Dead White Male problem. The alternative, nearly as bad, Anything But Dead White Male history.

In both cases, it seems we aren't getting even a rudimentary understanding of what we might call "pragmatic history" or "history of the present". By this I mean simply taking as given the events of the present and then looking back for the antecedents of current events--using the present to get kids interested in the past. It's a bad way to do professional history, but it couldn't be must worse pedagogically than what is currently out there.

Zinn, though extreme, might give a different picture of present class struggles--that "hidden history" that I refered to before--than you would get from any other comparable source. Zinn writes well and covers a lot of interesting material, albeit from a totally different angle. I'm all for presenting things like this to kids and just saying "what do you make of this?" More than likely, they're coming to the book with the status quo, conservative outlook of their parents, anyway...or they don't think about these things at all.... Either way, even radical history is better than what they're currently given.

I'm sure I've said at least one thing in here that boils your blood--keep commenting; I appreciate your responses.

9/15/2005 10:26 PM  
Blogger brian carlson said...

Well the blood isn't boiling yet. Actually the biggest problem right now is that students aren't really learning anything at all. The history curriculum in most places is such a watered down jumbled mess that students aren't even learning the basics. I have tutored students at both ends of the economic spectrum, from the worst ghetto schools to Columbus Academy and the common denominater is that they are just not being taught.They finish high school with no conept of even basic history, and I mean the easy stuff like what we learned from schoolhouse rock. I agree we need to come up with a more comprehensive and inclusive history to be taught, but then we actually need to teach it. We need to know where we come from before we try to decide where we are going.

9/16/2005 7:56 AM  
Blogger e said...

BC--good points.

that's why i'd advocate teaching history as a "history of the present" recognizing that it necessarily gives a false impression of the general scope of past things given our present interests. but at least it would be a point of entry to get kids actually interested in history--how it applies to them. And then throw open the floodgates of learning, once they're interested.

I'm sure it won't work...but it's got to be worth a shot.

9/16/2005 2:05 PM  

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