Write or Be Written

Remember the recently degraded Texas textbook standards? The ones requiring the removal of left-leaning historical figures like Thurgood Marshall, while inserting important institutions such as the Heritage Foundation, the National Rifle Association. Or that America be referred to as a "republic" rather than a "democracy" - lest kids learn to like the word democrat? Well, Thomas Gokey of Syracuse University wants to fight back against this top-down dismantling of education with some bottom-up restoration of the historical record. He's organizing a wikibook called A Supplement to the Texas U.S. History Textbook in the hope of developing "a textbook written from a different perspective" (like, what really happened, without blacks and Jews and lefties removed). From our email exchange:
It is meant to be used in the classroom and written by people all over the world, including Texas middle and high school students themselves. An 11th grade social studies class in Ohio is already writing their own textbook, and I think this is a great way to avoid be written out of history. I think that our wiki textbook can be more faithful and be a better read and be a much better educational tool because it involves the students themselves in the messy task of historical research. If students can create their own textbook and in the process enter into debates in real time with historians and amateur history buffs it will demystify the process of historical research. I want to get students to really confront critically the way a history gets produced. How exactly do historical facts and cultural values entangle themselves in the production of history? Instead of writing term papers I would like to see teachers have their students research a particular historical event and write an article for inclusion in the textbook.


  1. A Supplement to the Texas U.S. History Textbook

    Link Fail. No banana for you to just look at!

  2. Ok, I agree that these changes are exceptionally nutty and not in the best interests of creating well educated people…


    The US *is* a republic. Except for a few small areas of the country and/or for a few local issues this is a representative republic, not a democracy.

  3. To be fair, we’re not a democracy, but rather a democratic republic. Well, that’s what my 11th grade history teacher made me memorize.

    1. We are not a democratic republic, we are a representative republic. Look it up! Perhaps that is why the standards need to be changed, to teach the actual facts instead of opinions or propaganda the leftist socialist progressives would have our children believe.

  4. Wow. A Secret History for students in Texas. An end-run around the malevolent dinosaurs behind the Texas school book standards. What a great idea — give the power to the students!

    Thanks, Doug. This made my day.

  5. We’re not even a democratic republic, really. The US is a plutocratic republic, since almost all national-level politicians and most state-level politicians are millionaires.

    Because votes can be manipulated so easily on a large scale by the media, and because media firms are vast cash-processing machines, only those with cash need apply.

  6. This is an unfortunate response to people from the other side of the spectrum doing the same. It’s getting idiotic. Thank God we can still Home School in this country (unlike Germany and other “Progressive” countries that find the practice “antisocial”.

    For an extreme example of how stupid liberals can also be just look at the requirements for New York State Hunter Safety courses. This year the course requirements deleted the First Aid requirement so that a segment on Sexual Harassment could be inserted.

    Hmmm… lack of common sense maybe? Someone gets injured while hunting and their buddies might not know how to stop their bleeding, or splint a broken limb, but they will know how not to sexually harass them! Awesome! Way to go, clueless partisan bureaucrat! Now I can take my 12 year old who is not at all interested in sex yet and introduce him to the subject, just so he can hunt.

    The best policy is to include all sides and let the kids figure out what they think the truth is. Problem is that too many people think that group think is the best way to move society forward (and I’m not giving Liberals, Conservatives, Socialists, Democrats, Republicans, or any other special interest group a pass on that statement).

  7. “like what really happened”?!?!? like ANY history book can definitively claim that. Every book has bias, and inaccuracies. Granted a wikibook has the potential to present additional evidence and information that can support and allow for rebuttal from any side, but to claim that any nonfiction book is full of “what really happened” is a stretch wider than it is long.

  8. your response seems nonsensical, BobbyMike. What other response is there to a whitewashing (literally) of US History in an entire state (and perhaps in other states as well)?

    It isn’t like random people can fund other textbooks in Texas, so a wiki of historical events seems appropriate.

    I’m trying not to treat you like a troll here, but I don’t get it.

  9. Can an apple be both fruit, and round, at the same time?

    the United States is BOTH a republic (corporate governmental structure) AND a democracy (government controlled by the people). Only cons who can’t hold more than one concept in their minds at one time can’t understand this.

    1. To be fair, it isn’t technically a democracy insomuch as federal issues are not voted on. It is a republic. There are individual cities and towns that have representative democracies for governments (which is to say that while there are elected leaders, there are also referenda in which individuals vote on issues).

      This is, of course, totally tangental to the subject at hand. While it happens to be true that the united states is not (and has never been) a democracy, the truth rarely has bearing on this kind of political game-playing. This is an effort to skew what is being taught towards one side of the current political spectrum (and I say current because in a few years the issues will be totally different; keeping these books for much longer is likely to result in the kind of pedagogy you expected from soviet states, with the repetition of outdated and only vaguely related pseudo-marxist catchphrases as the only safe response (the difference being that rather than quoting early 20th century interpretations of a 19th century economist’s ideas, it’ll be quoting early 21st century interpretations of a mid-20th century hack writer)).

      While there is no reason to believe that textbooks are likely ever to consist mostly of facts (as the son of a historian, I know that the facts involved in a balanced understanding of even a minor situation are rarely clear enough for a dedicated student to understand after years), we should at least try to keep the lies we teach our children about history balanced and current (or if not current, at least not current to some definable bygone age, like the leisure suit).

  10. I think what BobbyMike is trying to say is that all of us are getting too extreme with our extremism (though he might try to word it differently next time to not seem so confrontational to liberals).

    However, including all sides seems like a fair thing to do. We can believe what we want, but we shouldn’t try to make others believe what we want them to.

    1. That’s exactly the argument that Intelligent Design supporters make. But just because a subject has two sides doesn’t make them equal. Sometimes, and it seems increasingly so these days, the two sides are reality and fantasy.

      1. I understand, but still…to eradicate/erase evidence of the beliefs of others kind of seems wrong to me.
        Intelligent Design may not be accurate or correct, but then again, how much of any of our past or present knowledge is (like man’s prior – hopefully not again – belief that the world is flat)?

        One of my past history teachers put it sort of like this — the history books are never accurate, no matter how hard they might try to be. It’s our job to discern the truth to the best of our ability and from all information that we can gather, and even then we may not have it right.

        Fantasy or not, it’s important information that helps us to understand the people who are presenting it to us a little better. I think it’s more important to be informed about than oblivious to seemingly archaic or uninformed modes of thinking.

        1. Intelligent Design may not be accurate or correct, but then again, how much of any of our past or present knowledge is (like man’s prior – hopefully not again – belief that the world is flat)?

          There are completely different degrees of accuracy and correctness. Asimov’s Relativity of Wrong is a good essay on the subject. Including all sides on issues sounds like a good thing to do, but in practice, a general overview always means restricting your attention to the most important ones.

  11. Importantly, the United States of America is a republic, under the Rule of Law, with democratically-elected officials in the legislative and executive branches. It is not a democracy.

    Equally importantly, the Texas Board of Education is comprised of some intelligent people and some religious zealots, and is heavily lobbied by religious zealots whose sole aim in life is to take every possible effort to hijack public schooling to indoctrinate children with religious doctrine (see: “Teach the Controversy”, evolution deniers, prayer in school deniers, etcetera).

    Equally importantly, the textbook standards set by the Texas SBOE are followed by many other states, so much so that whatever is set by the Texas SBOE influences the rise and fall of textbook publishers for at least a decade after the decision.

    Most importantly, it is important for PARENTS TO BECOME INVOLVED IN EDUCATING THEIR CHILDREN. Schedule time during the first week or two weeks of school to go over the textbooks your children receive, make notes about factual inaccuracies, back them up with citation and research, contact school authorities and other parents regarding those inaccuracies, lobby and educate. AND INVOLVE YOUR CHILDREN IN DOING IT TOO. Critical thinking skills are the single most important skillset you can teach your children, and when you teach your children that textbooks are static artifacts, designed by committee, with political motivation, you will teach them those skills.

    80% of all jobs created in the next decade will require math and science skills (Source: National Science Foundation), and the ability to think critically, have the facts, discern falsehoods from truth, will be highly necessary for those jobs.

    As Mr. Rushkoff states, Write or Be Written.

  12. The US is certainly not a democracy. For much of US history blacks, indigenous people, women, etc could not vote. Youth have never had the vote and probable never will. In most cases voters can only vote on representatives, not the issues themselves. In some ways the US has become more democratic. A greater segment of the population now have the vote. In others we have moved away from democracy. With the growth of corporate power relative to state power, less of the key decisions effecting our lives are even made by the public sector. The US is closer to a plutocracy than a republic.

    However, democracy is an important concept to teach. Democratic institutions have played an important role in US history. The IWW comes to mind. In the IWW, all constitutional amendments, changes to bylaws, and resolutions are made by referendum of all members. All elected officials tasked with executing the constitution and day to day administration can be recalled at any time by a vote of the membership. We aught to strengthen prefigurative democratic institutions that could one day take over the power of undemocratic states and corporations.

  13. But Mo-o-o-o-om, I don’t want to learn more history. I want to play outside with my friends!

    When I was in school (a private U.S. school), I saw no evidence at all that any students particularly cared about the subject except to do the work and get the test over with. Yes, we were well-behaved. But nobody really cared. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I valued history.

    This is not to say that teaching history to children is useless. I’m just saying that if you add on more schoolwork that isn’t even required by the school, I think you’ll end up with resentful kids…

    I’m certainly willing to listen to contrary opinions, and apologies for the grump in me.

    1. I was in a public Canadian school, and there were those of us who were genuinely interested in history, sometimes even frustrated there wasn’t more. Not many, but we did exist.

  14. Seriously though, introducing a little controversy to a history class might be a legitimate strategy for actually getting kids interested in what they’re learning.

    Texas doesn’t want you to know this! Those hippy liberals don’t want you to know this!

    Personally, I think the things they’ve added are important. I just don’t generally trust strong partisans of either side to properly represent why, and that includes me.

  15. Give kids copies of A People’s History of the United States, or some of the similar books edited by Zinn.

  16. The most important thing you can teach kids about history is to examine the source of the interpretation you are being given.

  17. I think it is important to mention curriki.org at this point. Why not take this effort and direct it to making an open-source history book which is not biased left or right (at least not unduly so) which could be usable inside or outside of Texas.

  18. Luckily, Texas schools don’t have to use these “textbooks” (though most do). It was much to my delight when my daughter here in Texas brought her Econ book home and I discovered it was written by Paul Krugman. And here I figured he had been banned.

    That said, my wife learned about US history when she lived in Virginia. It wasn’t until she moved to Maine that she discovered that the South actually lost the Civil War.

  19. First a big thank you to Doug for highlighting the project!

    A number of commenters have noted that the US is technically a republic. The problem I have with the Texas Board of Education teaching that we are a republic and not a democracy is that this is primarily an effort at rebranding and not really about technical accuracy.

    If every student in Texas could write a technical analysis explaining the differences between a republic and a democracy I would be pleased as punch!

    The reason they want the US to be called a republic is specifically because they want to promote the idea that in the US we have “republican values.” David Barton, the founder of Wallbuilders and transparently spells out the motive at work here:

    “…we have ‘republican’ values or ‘republican’ process rather than ‘democratic’ values or process.” (See his review of the standards here PDF).

    What is clear is that this is not motivated by a thorough understanding of civics, rather this is a rebranding effort plain and simple.

    They also attempt to rebrand capitalism, which they take to have too many negative associations (I wonder why that would be?), as the “free-enterprise system.”

    1. the US is technically a republic

      No, this is not a technical subject.

      Demokratia and res publica are not technical terms invented by technicians to delineate clearly defined and distinct parts of some kind of Venn diagram.

      An electron is a “lepton” and not a “baryon.” Period. Note that there is no debate about this.

      The United States is/are a “democracy” and/or a “republic,” or both, or neither. Depending on the point you’re trying to make, or which party you’re trying to recruit for, or which specious argument you heard first, or which specious argument you heard most recently. So shut up, all of you.

  20. I would also like to respond to a number of comments that suggest this project is trying to be a leftist version of the Texas textbooks.

    I hope that doesn’t happen. I regard the culture wars as a trap. On the one hand you can’t just ignore this right-wing hijacking of our history. If we ignore it these distortions will remain unchallenged. But as we respond we have to be careful not fall into a kind of mimetic rivalry where we end up with a mirror image of what we are resisting and produce a leftist distortion of history.

    I think the way we avoid this trap is to develop a kind of healthy indifference to these right-wing distortions. We must keep our eyes on the prize. If we focus on responsible scholarship there will be more than enough material for conservatives and progressives to work with.

    I hope that this project develops elements of great literature. A well written history should provide a kind of Rorschach blot to each student that they have to interpret on their own. There is enough material in our history to work with and end up with solid conservative positions.

    A smart young kid who studies history will encounter all kinds of things that frustrate the image she would like to have of her world (and herself). The Texas textbook removes this frustration, it gives the conservative conclusion without the hard work of earning that conclusion.

    The problem with many contemporary conservatives is that instead of wresting with these frustrating facts they wave a magic wand (borrowed from Christine O’Donnell no doubt) and get rid of them all together inventing facts from whole cloth to take their place. The problem with the Texas textbook is that they take out the reality principle which resists our own ideals and wishes. Or as Stephen Colbert aptly put it, “reality has a well known liberal bias.”

  21. If keeping science and civil rights in the curriculum is vital to you, and not just something to whine about in a thread while you are pretending to work, there is only one long-term solution.
    Texas Secessionism; hurl that Lone Star off into the firmament.
    From the outside, it really looks like most of the great things about America will be eclipsed by those sinister troglodytes given time; hip America doesn’t seem to have the money, media savvy, strategic focus, energy or sheer-bloodymindedness to combat them. A case in point: one side controls what goes into the actual textbooks; the other responds with a website that gets reported on a popular blog.
    Please convince me I don’t know what I am talking about, I’d really prefer to be wrong about all this.

  22. opinions or propaganda the leftist socialist progressives would have our children believe


  23. This is good to see.

    Where I live, Queensland, Australia, they stopped teaching history in schools years ago. Perhaps because Queensland happens to have a rather murky history, with importing of slaves from the Pacific until the 1920s; genocide; racism; plus corruption of the electoral system, suppression of free speech and of the right of assembly around the 1970s – to name a few things.

    At least with the Texas textbook you have something there to start with, a framework around which you can build, something to push against with your wiki. We don’t have that. We don’t have a place to start. And our universities are winding down and even eliminating the humanities, because they are not commercial.

  24. “Write and be written”
    “Program and be programmed”

    More accurate, in this day and age.

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