|Back to September Ed Reporter|
|NUMBER 212||THE NEWSPAPER OF EDUCATION RIGHTS||SEPTEMBER 2003|
|American History 101: Anti-American History? |
As her mother describes, "Kimberly went in with a smile and came out disillusioned." Her disillusionment was caused by a combination of factors, including the four books chosen for the class in lieu of a textbook. She especially objected to The Devil's Dominion: Magic & Religion in Early New England, by Richard Godbeer. The Levels say this book focuses on witchcraft and portrays the Puritans in an unfavorable light, setting up Christianity for distortion and criticism. According to Mr. Level, the book refers to Puritan ministers as preaching "Protestant propaganda," while describing witches as "ministering healing."
Kimberly says she was disappointed in the book because, "of all of early American history, the material covered primarily consists of witchcraft, sorcery, and astrology." She says that course instructor Kay Blalock, Ph.D., an assistant professor at the college, indicated her intention to spend considerable class time discussing these subjects. "Is this the most beneficial use of class time, to cover subjects that are insulting to some students' personal convictions and beliefs?" Kimberly asks.
The Levels spent several hours discussing their concerns with Dr. Blalock, and also met with the head of the History Department, the dean, and the pres-ident of the college over a period of several days. At no time, they say, did they feel welcome, nor did they feel that their concerns were taken seriously.
Mr. Level told Education Reporter that Dr. Blalock claimed that much of U.S. History "has been portrayed positively and patriotically" and that it is up to her "to present the more negative aspects."
When Mr. Level mentioned the contributions of Christopher Columbus, Queen Isabella, the Jesuits, and the explorer Cortez, one college official became visibly angry and disparaged those historical figures, referring to "the evil intent of Christianity." With such attitudes on the part of instructors and administrators, the Levels ask, how can a student expect to be given a balanced view of American history and how can Christians expect their faith to be treated fairly?
The Levels say they asked the officials to recommend an alternative class and/or a professor whose teaching might be less offensive to Christians, in the hope that Kimberly could remain at St. Louis Community College. They declined to make a recommendation. Instead, the Levels report, Dr. Blalock and the other school officials suggested that Kimberly "should attend a Christian college." When contacted by Education Reporter about the allegation, Dr. Blalock said she believes the only way Kimberly might feel comfortable is at a Christian college. "I do not think she would be comfortable in any class here," Blalock observed, although she added that Kimberly "has a right to public education" and said she wanted her "to come into her class."
Blalock defended her choice of books because "I select books intentionally to stir up controversy to get students to think." The Levels have no problem with this intent. But they say Dr. Blalock told them that her class "is a history class, not a religion class." They wonder how introducing a book that is clearly about religion can preclude the discussion of religion. Mr. Level said that "Kimberly's inclination would be to defend the Christian beliefs of the Puritans and America's founders, and it didn't appear that this would be allowed."
Dr. Blalock says she does not make personal judgments in class and that she cannot present a sanitized version of American history. She said she was offended by the Level family's assumption "on the basis of one book" and on the appearance of her office and classroom, that the course would be biased.
Other educators familiar with college history departments say that the books selected by Dr. Blalock "are not as bad as" many others currently offered at colleges elsewhere.
Of the courses that are offered, many suffer from what one education researcher referred to as "stifling political correctness," focusing only on the negative elements of America's past, and excluding her heroes and achievements. Some colleges do require courses in "non-Eurocentric culture or society," and this requirement can be filled by courses in human development, sociology, theater, dance or film. Social science requirements can be met by courses in women's studies.
Why has American history instruction, once a staple in classrooms at all education levels, become so distorted? Experts say there are several factors, including that many history teachers, especially at the high school level, did not major in history. Another is that teachers are not prepared by teachers colleges to present a balanced view of our nation's past. They teach the biased version of American history that they themselves were taught.
"Standards" was denounced by the U.S. Senate in a vote of 99 to 1. Longtime American Federation of Teachers CEO Al Shanker noted that this was the first time a government ever tried to teach children to "feel negative about their own country."
After a public outcry, the authors made some cosmetic changes in Standards. But by then, thousands of copies of the original book were already in use. Its contents remain incorporated in textbooks, lesson plans, and are reflected in both high school and college history courses.
Kimberly Level's parents have some advice for other parents whose children are entering college: "Beware of course descriptions and recommendations. They are so vague it is impossible to determine what will actually be taught in the classroom. Investigate for yourselves. Visit the schools and interview the professors. Then speak out against the propaganda and indoctrination."