The other day I discussed how Rosen Publishing had sneaked ancient astronaut beliefs into school libraries through the publication of an anthology of fringe history articles aimed at a high school readership, including a contribution from convicted child molester Frank Joseph. But at least that steaming pile of worthless literature was confined to the libraries of schools that bought it, where presumably students would have to seek it out. I was deeply disturbed to read in Slate magazine yesterday that some charter schools in Texas, which are public schools, are using strange claims about history in their curricula and actually teaching it in the classroom.
Slate focused, understandably, on creationism, the biggest threat to science education, which was more than evident in the charter curricula and materials it reviewed. This included one curriculum that until recently taught that the Loch Ness Monster was real in order to call evolution into question. However, since I am not a biologist, my interest was piqued by the weird history claims that are also being taught in Texas schools.
Slate reviewed the Responsive Ed curriculum, one used by the secular arm of a religious curriculum provider run by a creationist. Responsive Ed takes religious curricula and removes explicit references to religion.
Responsive Ed teaches its students that “anti-Christian bias” was responsible for World War I and the breakdown of the divine right of kings: “[T]he abandoning of religious standards of conduct and the breakdown in respect for governmental authority would lead to one of two options: either anarchy or dictatorship would prevail in the absence of a monarch.” But what really takes the cake is Founders Classical Academy in Lewisville, Texas, a Responsive Ed school, uses the right-wing Patriot’s History of the United States (2004) by Larry Schweikart and Michael Allen as its U.S. history textbook. This is a book endorsed by both Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh
This is how the book begins:
Is America’s past a tale of racism, sexism, and bigotry? Is it the story of the conquest and rape of a continent? Is U.S. history the story of white slave owners who perverted the electoral process for their own interests? Did America start with Columbus’s killing all the Indians, leap to Jim Crow laws and Rockefeller crushing the workers, then finally save itself with Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal? The answers, of course, are no, no, no, and NO.
The authors then “reject” the approach of “academics” (sound familiar?) and “left-wing historians,” who “assume that ideas don’t matter,” so the authors can declare that America’s history is a “shining light” based on personal “virtue,” by which they heavily imply Christian religion. I am not unsympathetic to the criticism that mainstream history is obsessed with issues of race, class, and gender to the exclusion of all else—but this book is a wretched bit of propaganda, so dripping with partisan polemic (whole pages are devoted to excoriating hated “liberal” academics) that it is simply offensive that anyone could teach it as a straightforward history of America.
Since I’m not particularly interested in modern history, I’m going to take a look at the section on early exploration, just as I previously did with the parallel section of Howard Zinn’s People’s History.
The first chapter begins by explaining that European powers were motivated as much by the need to bring the Gospel to the pagans as by the potential for capital gain, both, of course, being virtues since God and money are so closely entwined (Matthew 6:24). It then states that the Vikings were the first Europeans to discover America, sometime around 1000, at Vinland, but that its “historical impact was minimal.” This, at least, is correct.
The authors go on to state that voyages of discovery became possible because European monarchs had consolidated their kingdoms into “cohesive” dynastic states, which I’m not sure would accurately describe the uneasy union of Aragon and Castile, which remained politically independent despite passing under the name of Spain. They further state that the Protestant Reformation after 1517 spurred colonization as England and Spain acted out of fear that the other would convert new peoples to the wrong religion. This seems to be prima facie false since Spain and Portugal had colonized big chunks of Africa and the Americas prior to the Protestant Reformation, and the biggest colonial dispute of the era was between those two powers, adjudicated by no less a Catholic figure than the Pope, who gave Portugal everything east of Brazil and Spain everything west.
The authors describe Columbus as having undertaken his voyage of discovery in order to Christianize the people of Asia, and they claim that “only a few merchants, explorers, and dreamers” took interest in Columbus’s discoveries. This would seem at odds with the fact that as far abroad as Turkey the cartographer Piri Reis included Columbus’s material in his world map of 1513, testifying to the rapid diffusion of knowledge of the New World across the Old beyond merely a “few” merchants and dreamers.
But, overall, this early section is not too far from mainstream facts. Then things get a little wonky.
In describing the conquest of Mexico, the authors claim that the Spanish encountered “powerful Indians called Aztecs,” which is not true since the name Aztec was invented by Baron Alexander von Humboldt in 1810. The Aztec called themselves Mexica, but the Europeans of the 1800s didn’t want modern Mexicans to feel a connection to pre-Conquest peoples. The authors further castigate the Aztecs for brutality and for running a “monstrously” large city with rigid class segregation, as though the Spanish were not equally devoted to preserving the distinction between nobility and commoner.
Let us not mince words. The Aztecs had some of the bloodiest sacrifices in all of world history, but the exact number of sacrifices is not known. The authors take Spanish accounts of Aztec sacrifices uncritically at face value, and they report that the Aztec sacrificed fourteen prisoners per minute for days at a time during festivals. The authors state that Cortes achieved a “stunning” victory over the “murderous mass of Aztecs” because each Castilian soldier had a “sense of individual rights, civic duty, and personal freedom nonexistent in the Aztec kingdom.” These were also non-existent back home in Spain, where subjects owed fealty to their sovereign and lords; where civic duty was obedience to God, king, and lord; and where, let us not forget, the sovereign received automatic pro forma rubberstamp approval of all acts from the Cortes, and—oh, yeah—the Inquisition was busy upholding the “individual rights” of non-Catholics to convert or leave.
The authors then claim that Europeans emphasized “group cohesion of free citizens,” which made them both tactically and morally superior to disorganized native peoples. They claim that most native peoples “lived off the land” while Europeans had “industrial” power that freed them from subsistence concerns. So who do they think was living the “monstrously” large city of Tenochtitlan, and who was feeding them? Where did they think “industrial” power came from before the Industrial Revolution?
They then claim that Spain—and indeed all Europe—at the time had “the legal framework of republicanism and civic virtue” that allowed their forces to continue on while the monarchical natives gave up as soon as their chief was slain. I imagine Emperor Charles V (who was also King Carlos I of Spain) would be quite surprised to learn that he presided over a republic, or the Iroquois to learn that their semi-democratic Confederacy was really an absolute monarchy in disguise.
A sub-section discusses whether Columbus was responsible for genocide, comparing “the intrepid voyager’s courage and vision” to “anti-Columbus groups” who begrudge “the establishment of European civilization in the New World.” They assert that as few as 1.8 million Native Americans (whom they call “Indians”) lived in North America in 1491 (despite also claiming that “hordes” of hundreds of thousands of Aztecs attacked Cortes), and they deny that European-borne diseases caused a population collapse. They purposely bounce back and forth between North America above the Rio Grande and the Americas in general in order to confuse the numbers and minimize the population crash that followed Contact by restricting the inquiry solely to North America, which had a sparser population than the cities south of the Rio Grande.
That said, there is genuine controversy over the size of the Native population in 1491, but no serious historian doubts, as these authors seem to do (though not consistently), that European contact had a significant and damaging effect on Native peoples. The scholarly consensus is that as many as 90% of Native people died as a result of Contact. Advocates of high and low estimates have accused the other side bias against Native Americans or Western Civilization respectively.
More specifically, the authors claim, citing Betty Meggers, that the Conquistadors’ estimates of Native populations were exaggerated, which might well be true, except that the authors just finished telling us that they accepted without question the Conquistadors’ reports of Aztec sacrifices in all their exaggerated numbers. In their view, the structure of the Aztec hegemony was the real force allowing the Conquest since the Aztecs were so highly centralized that the Spanish merely took over for them, so that the common man merely “exchanged of group of despots for another.” This grossly oversimplifies the complex structure of Aztec hegemony, which, unlike the Inca Empire, was not an absolute monarchy but a federated system of alliances. They also blame the Natives for dying off from their own native diseases. Citing the climate-driven population collapse of the Great Basin in the 1200s and 1300s, they assert that Native populations were already in decline in the 1400s. In their view, Native Americans were doomed to die no matter what, and at best Europe merely accelerated the process.
They conclude the section by again mixing North America with Latin America when convenient for their views. They describe the emergence of the mestizo class in Mexico through the intermarriage of Spaniards and Natives, whose major achievement, they say, was adopting European culture.
At no time in this discussion of first contact do they present even a moment’s consideration of the Native peoples from their own perspective, seeing them only in terms of their role in the European narrative. For the authors, Native peoples were, in short, bloodthirsty, authoritarian warrior-monsters who nonetheless were also a sickly, miniscule race of primitives doomed to extinction. Strangely, this was also the view of many historians in the early 1800s, during the run-up to the Removal Act.
The Patriot’s History version of the Conquest is just as horrible as Howard Zinn’s, but from a completely opposing point of view. Neither one should be used as a school text book.
1/17/2014 07:21:27 am
I'm greatly disturbed that any part of my state, which holds the most influence on public education through text book choice, would embrace such Eurocentric bullshit.
Hi Jason, to be honest, they are reinforcing a ghetto mentality with their approach and they are content to do so. No matter how I look at it, I find their view presumably attempting to advocate American Exceptionalism backtracks down the rabbit hole and devolves into another version of cultural aesthetic. Depending on what kind of history we are talking about, reflexivity may be par for the course and I don't want to bash pluralism by mistake, but it seems to me they are drawing large brush strokes to make sociology more palatable. Never have I seen such fear of pluralism expressed in so reflexive a way.
1/17/2014 07:48:27 am
"The authors further castigate the Aztecs for brutality and for running a ... city with rigid class segregation"
1/17/2014 07:56:28 am
I would like to point out, however, that as bat-shit crazy as these authors are they do not believe Templar knights settled Marthas Vineyard, Minnesota, or Oklahoma.
RLewis, I believe it is very possible that Templars may have explored and marked-up positions here in the Upper Midwest, in MN and SD, respectively. Yet, I am not bat-shit crazy. It may be bat-shit crazy to ignore this very possibility.
1/17/2014 05:47:40 pm
Of course the Templars decided to travel to North America (which was undiscovered at the time) without leaving a single trace in historical records.Just like Alexander Helios,who according to Scott Wolter,also traveled to North America with an entourage of 5000 & sought refuge in a cave located in the Grand Canyon.Again I wont even address the "technicality" of a transatlantic journey to North America, because scholars have already done the job extensively,but another charlatan,Richard Hoagland, pretends he has photographic evidences of a German Panzer on Mars:
1/17/2014 06:54:33 pm
Nice links, Tara.
Discovery of America
1/18/2014 01:33:50 am
Gunn Sinclair commented:
Discovery of America
1/18/2014 01:36:08 am
Gunn Sinclair commented:
1/18/2014 03:05:47 am
KRS and stone holes. KRS and stone holes. Presenting a theory is not the same as presenting evidence Just as with Oak Island, Bigfoot, Goddess Worship in DC, UFOs, Moon-Builders, Hidden Egyptian Treasures, Giants - the evidence for Templar exploration has been explained with much more reasonable theories multiple times.
1/18/2014 03:33:54 am
Historical records. Thanks for not going berserk on me for earlier comments, Tara. It seems like you are learning to bite your tongue, yet again, this seems not to be the case. In any event, I must apologize for trying to ring your bell, as I was checked in my spirit about this. I had tried to point out your inconsistencies as a "ring girl," but I could've just bit my own tongue. Anyway, for what that's worth.
1/17/2014 07:58:03 am
This goes to show that good history text books don't automatically float to the top like cream on milk. As long as humans are involved in the selection process, there will be clumsy mistakes, and some purposefully ignorant decisions being made along the way, caused by uneducated people being allowed to make title choices.
1/17/2014 11:19:57 am
Young Earth Creationists share a great deal in common with fringe historians and conspiracy theorists. They're hatred of academics and questionable use of evidence make them natural allies. The big problem I have is when they try to force their ideas on others.
1/17/2014 11:35:30 am
I checked out the link. Yikes!!! Very disturbing stuff.
1/17/2014 01:01:29 pm
I'm remained how the view that most people thought the earth was flat was an invention of the author Washington Irving, most folks as far back as Greece and Egypt knew the earth was round.
1/17/2014 04:00:49 pm
It seems like most people, even in prehistoric times, would have looked up at the moon and thought it was probably round, and not flat. Then, finding other planets and thinking the same thing, and then thinking of earth and thinking the same thing...that the planet is round and not flat.
1/18/2014 01:22:00 am
The earth being round is a simple matter of observation, especially by sailors. Anyone near the sea or on ships could observe ships and land disappearing below the horizon as distances increased. Eratosthanes and other Greeks measured the circumference of the earth by measuring shadows at various points on the surface of the planet. Greeks also liked to think about people who walked upside down on the other side, antipodeans. The idea of a flat earth is a modern myth about the past, as others here have pointed out.
1/18/2014 11:21:04 am
Secret mapping represented secret power. One cannot simply set a date, like 1500, and say the maps known in existence at around that time carried all the navigational knowledge of the era. Obviously, some known mapping was held close to the breast. This is something we can assume to be true, I think. Secrets were kept in the past, as now.
1/18/2014 12:10:15 pm
Assumptions are not acceptable historical data. Without evidence there is no reason to think any special geographic knowledge existed. There was certainly no attempt to hide the European geographic discoveries in Africa, India, and the Far East in the 15th century. Why would the Americas be different?
1/18/2014 12:37:59 pm
The 1300s or 1400s are not the first time perhaps the idea
1/17/2014 12:58:47 pm
History books are always bias. The ones my kids used in public school were awful. They categorized 1870 to 1910 as one long depression when actually the USA had the greates growth opinion wages and productivity ever because prices slightly declined,,,well with sound money and increasing productivity they are supposed to. Then the Great Recession of 1920 isn't covered, todo so would ask too many questions with regards the the Great Depression. The aliens and sedition act are rarely covered nor is WWI and Wilson throwing Americans in prison for protesting against conscription. And on and on...history as taught can be bunk...
1/17/2014 01:32:29 pm
Having taught about the Aztecs/Mexica (but not done deep research on them) I did want to point out one thing I think is relevant and which you pointed out in your Zinn post but not here. The Aztecs had a very complex social system based on trade, conquest, and tribute (which you do point out here). However, the Mexica had created this empire by conquering the surrounding groups around them and bringing them under their sphere of influence. The Mexica exacted tribute from these subordinated groups (including victims for sacrifice) and exercised a degree of political control, but it was in no way a homogenous empire and many of the other groups resented Mexica rule. It was into this contentious political atmosphere that the Spanish arrived. When the Spanish made their move to conquer the Aztec Empire they exploited these divisions and recruited allies among the native peoples. Thus, it wasn't a small group of valiant and superior Spanish defeating endless hordes of Natives all by themselves, it was the Spanish utilizing large numbers of the Mexica's enemies to overthrow their hegemony in the region. The same fact is true in the conquest of the Inca Empire as well. Thus, in reality the Native people's played just as important a role in the European conquest of the Americas as the Europeans did...
1/17/2014 03:48:18 pm
I thought of that as well. I like to point it out when I'm feeling devil's-advocate-y with the "Native Americans were cartoonishly peaceful proto-hippies until the white man arrived" crowd. What the Europeans did was reprehensible, but painting a picture of natives as uniformly innocent lambs incapable of feeling ambitions or making mistakes doesn't do them any favors; at best it makes them sound like well-behaved children, and at worst, dehumanizes them completely as they approach the aforementioned cartoon character status.
1/17/2014 10:36:05 pm
That was one my criticisms of Howard Zinn's version of the Conquest.
1/18/2014 06:01:11 am
Oh, I hope it didn't sound like I was directing that gripe at you or anyone else present, Jason. I remember what you wrote in your exploration of Zinn's book. It's just a pet peeve of mine.
1/18/2014 06:03:29 am
No, no. I was just agreeing with you that the proto-hippie stereotype is equally ridiculous. It actually has a sinister side since such stereotypes (promoted by some native tribes themselves) prevented the acceptance of evidence for Anasazi cannibalism because many researchers feared reporting it would limit their access to tribal lands.
1/18/2014 12:46:00 am
I was in elementary school in Texas in the 60s. This is not much different from what we were taught then. My wife had a teacher who told the class that the Indians were "extinct, like the dinosaurs".
1/18/2014 02:47:40 am
"Creationism, the biggest threat to science education"....
1/18/2014 11:35:25 am
i can easily label climate change as centrist or moderate as
1/18/2014 11:45:11 am
There was a brief sweet interlude in episode 2 of Bigfoot Bounty
1/18/2014 11:39:37 am
I saw a recent report about how the polar bears are losing habitat due to global warming. You are saying that this is not true, and that the ice is not diminishing in an unnatural pattern? I thought this was the proof...that the ice is diminishing too quickly for it be from a natural cycle.
1/18/2014 12:15:41 pm
Gunn, a few years back i remember reading about the idea
1/19/2014 04:51:34 am
Well, I guess we'll find out whether or not the environmental changes are small or not. One would think we could give ourselves the benefit of the doubt, but we probably won't. Hindsight will of course be 20/20 while we look for new ways to deal with the negative effects of climate change...which is occurring, whether by man or by nature or by both. We can debate the causes of global warming, but we'll soon enough see its worse and worse effects.
1/18/2014 03:55:48 am
I'm pretty sure the usage of the term "Aztecs" for the Mexica people is not unique to right-wing text books.
1/18/2014 03:57:22 am
Of course it isn't; I was pointing out the authors' error in stating that the Spanish encountered people who called themselves "Aztecs." It's a later term, and the sentences should have said they were people "later called" or "later known as" Aztecs.
1/18/2014 04:06:49 am
Thanks for the response, and I acknowledge and technically agree with your clarification. But, I would also point out that virtually any text book, right-wing, left-wing, or completely unbiased would probably fail this standard. No?
1/18/2014 04:09:55 am
I wasn't criticizing them for using the word Aztec, just for the ambiguous and somewhat misleading phrasing. There's nothing wrong with calling the Aztecs by that name.
1/18/2014 03:59:56 am
"The authors take Spanish accounts of Aztec sacrifices uncritically at face value." Isn't this what you do, Jason, when you review period literature to discount the theories of fringe historians.....take the accounts of original sources uncritically at face value?
1/18/2014 04:03:16 am
I should certainly hope not. When I present period literature against fringe claims, it is usually to illustrate that the fringe historians ask us to take sources literally and then proceed to ignore those that, if taken literally, tell a different story. This is in contrast to attempting to tell the story of what really happened, which involves critical analysis of primary sources. Fringe writers pretend they are involved in critical analysis, but as I hope I have shown, they rarely have detailed knowledge of the sources they purport to examine (such as Philip Coppens on the Famine Stela).
1/18/2014 04:13:55 am
I completely agree with you and your analysis of fringe historians and their version "critical analysis". However, in this particular instance what other sources should have been referenced over the first-hand accounts of the Spanish in relation to Aztec human sacrifice? Or are you simply saying that a more balanced version should have been offered; one that better explained the indigenous peoples' culture?
1/18/2014 04:19:03 am
In terms of the human sacrifices, the authors do not actually cite firsthand research but rather secondhand summaries. They ask for us to (a) accept the Spanish figures for sacrifices at face value as fair and objective and (b) ask us to reject Spanish estimates for Native population size as grossly exaggerated for propaganda reasons. These points are in direct conflict. The authors, who examine the evidence for population size with a variety of sources, fail to do the same for human sacrifice. One would logically expect the same level of critical thought in both instances.
1/18/2014 04:30:13 am
Thank you, again, for the clarification. I would again point out that virtually any textbook would fail this test. Especially textbooks directed toward grade-schoolers where subject matter has to be condensed and simplified.
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