Sunday, February 3, 2008

Not Your Daddy's American History

Special thanks to Kimberly Honnick, Assistant Superintendent of C & I, for providing me a copy of Glencoe's "The American Vision".

  • George Washington – Commonly hailed as the “Father of our Country”
  • John Adams – Author of our nation’s oldest constitution (Massachusetts) and defense attorney for the British soldiers of the Boston Massacre
  • Benjamin Franklin - the Renaissance man of his day, he was a writer, philosopher, inventor, businessman, statesman, and diplomat
  • James Madison – Credited as being the “Father of the Constitution”
  • Thomas Jefferson and John Adams – Both men died within hours of each other on the 50th anniversary of our nation’s declaration of independence
These are just a sampling of facts you’ll never learn from reading our high school’s American history textbook.

The Matawan Regional High School uses Glencoe’s “The American Vision”, probably the best of the four nationally recognized American high school textbooks. A victim of political correctness, the textbook is over 1100 pages long, weighs over 5 pounds, and has lost all sense of narrative.

America’s War for Independence, from 1776 – 1783, receives a scant 8 pages (5 if you discount the pictures and charts). A war of tremendous sacrifice and extraordinary heroism has been reduced to a simple timeline of events.

Consider the Battle of Trenton. Here’s my version:
After the British captured New York City (and accidentally burned it down), they headed for Philadelphia, home of the Continental Congress, but had to stop early for winter.

Washington’s army was inexperienced, untrained, poorly equipped, and of low morale from the recent defeats in New York. Plus, most of the soldiers’ enlistments were due to expire on Dec. 31st. Washington needed a victory or his army would disband.

He called for support from General Lee and General Gates but both men were scheming to take Washington’s position and withheld support (though Washington did ultimately receive reinforcements). Undeterred, Washington planned a dawn attack on a military outpost of Hessian mercenaries in Trenton. He chose the day after Christmas, hoping the enemy would still be recovering from a night of revelry.

The password for launching the offensive was “Victory or Death”. As immortalized in a painting by Emanuel Leutze, Washington crossed the Delaware River amid the raging waters, heavy ice floes, and pitch darkness. Washington then led his men for nine miles through a sleet storm that rendered many of their rifles inoperative; two of his men froze to death during the march.

When they arrived, Washington’s soldiers achieved complete surprise. In 45 minutes, the Continental Army had captured or killed over 900 men. A few days later, Washington was again victorious in some minor skirmishes outside Princeton.

Flush with victory, most of the Continental Army re-enlisted.
Here’s how “The American Vision” recounts the Battle of Trenton:
At this point, Washington tried something daring and unexpected – a winter attack. On December 25, 1776 [sic], he led approximately 2,400 men across the icy Delaware River. The army then attacked a group of Hessians at Trenton in the middle of a sleet storm. They killed or captured almost 1,000 men. Several days later, at Princeton, Washington’s forces scattered three British regiments. Having achieved two small victories, Washington headed into the hills of northern New Jersey for the winter.
The textbook version completely misses the significance of the Battle of Trenton and the challenges Washington faced (not to mention getting the date wrong).

Nowhere is Washington recognized for extraordinary bravery or leadership as when he rode his horse between British and American lines at Brandywine Creek. Nowhere is he credited with single-handedly holding together the Continental Army despite Congress’s inability to supply the army or pay the soldiers’ wages.

Following the war, Congress not only refused to pay back wages to the soldiers, but slandered the officers and denied them any recognition for victory. Washington alone prevented a military uprising. None of this is recounted among the textbook’s 1100 pages.

I’ve used George Washington as the prime example but all of our founding fathers receive short shrift. Benjamin Franklin’s Poor Richard’s Almanac (“A penny saved is a penny earned.”) never gets a mention. Nor do his scientific accomplishments (electricity, bifocals, Franklin stove, etc.) warrant a footnote. As an aside, he also founded the country’s first public library, first firehouse, and the University of Pennsylvania.

The Federalist Papers, the arguments underpinning our nation’s constitution (”If men were angels, no government would be necessary”) are relegated to a few samples in the appendix.

Even the myths that have become part of American lore are never mentioned (i.e. Washington chopping down the cherry tree or Hancock signing large enough for King George to read without his glasses). Nor is there any recognition that the founding of our country marked the greatest advance in human civilization since the invention of the printing press.

The “missing history” goes far beyond the examples I’ve given and far beyond the American Revolution.

Do our students learn beyond what’s in the textbook? I don’t know. While each teacher is free to use supplemental materials, there is no standard curriculum beyond what appears in the textbook.

Unfortunately, as I mentioned, our textbook is likely the best one available. What to do? Retain a panel of historians from local universities/colleges to formulate a list of the most significant persons and events in American History. Then, make that list available for public comment. Once finalized, adopt excerpts from popular books (with prior approval from the publishers), creating a simple reader as a supplement to the textbook.

“The American Vision” has serious shortcomings. We can do better and should.
>>> Read more!

32 comments:

Give me a break said...

Once again amazed by how much of an expert you are in well, just everthing. I think that the school board should just make you the head of all curriculum. Maybe, even better , just clone you and put you in every classroom.

Give me a break!Your rantings are just pure nonsense. Textbooks do not replace research and other readings. You are just a blowhard that only wants to see the negative side of whatever you look had. Just go homeschool your children.

Anonymous said...

My child is in the high school, and I have to say that if the texts went into great detail about every historical event in American History, the kids would never be able to carry the book home.

My kids carries home a backpack full of notebooks, binders and textbooks every day, his backpack weighing about the same as a 8 year old child.

I believe the suplemental notes and lectures that the kids get generally cover more in depth what is touched on in the texts.

I also believe that the textbooks are a general guide to the subjects, with the teachers going in to more detail as the age/ability levels of the kids in their classes demands.

Texts with general information allow kids with classified learning issues to use the same books as their peers, allow the teachers to put more focus on the topics that their students find most interesting (therefore keeping them engaged in learning), and the kids can actually carry them around instead of having to rent a u-haul for their homework.

I'm not saying that the texts are perfect. I am saying that we have to look at all the reasons that they might make sense.

Anonymous said...

I think you might actually want to google "when did Washington cross the Deleware" because he did actually do it on Dec. 25.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, you're the one who has the date wrong. Washington did indeed cross on Christmas. I'm pretty sure they fact check history texts pretty thoroughly.

In case you don't believe it, here's a quote from eyewitnesshistory.com:


During the night of December 25, Washington led his troops across the ice-swollen Delaware about 9 miles north of Trenton. The weather was horrendous and the river treacherous. Raging winds combined with snow, sleet and rain to produce almost impossible conditions. To add to the difficulties, a significant number of Washington's force marched through the snow without shoes.

The next morning they attacked to the south, taking the Hessian garrison by surprise and over-running the town. After fierce fighting, and the loss of their commander, the Hessians surrendered.


Perhaps you should check your facts before disparaging the districts (and much of the countries) choice of history texts.

Aberdeener said...

Washington crossed the Delaware River on December 26th, the day after Christmas.

Here are my sources:
Wikipedia
TheAmericanRevolution.org
US-History.org
MyRevolutionaryWar.com

If anybody feels these sources are insufficient, please let me know and I'll provide additional sources.

Washington's Ghost said...

I crossed the Delaware River on Christmas night in 1776, and I attacked on December 26, 1776.

Aberdeener said...

I concede the text could be interpreted to mean that Washington began the Delaware Crossing on Christmas night and then attacked the following morning. However, the clear inference (especially for high school students) is that the crossing and the Battle of Trenton all occurred on Christmas day.

Aberdeener said...

I've contacted the publishing company and will post their response when I receive it.

Truth In Matawan said...

Cut him a break--he admits the book is already BEYOND lengthy (1100 pages) and is the best of the options available. The school board got it right given the options they had. He then goes on to suggest a little out of the box thinking to enhance the educational experience.

The four chief problems with today's education as we see it, in order of importance, are:

1) An inability to grasp the tenets of basic English, primarily in writing it, but also in reading it and speaking it.

2) An inability to execute the basic maths needed to perform most jobs of a technical or professional nature

3) A complete disregard for the geography of the world around them

4) A complete disregard for the lessons of history


So while we agree with Aberdeener on the importance of this problem, we see even bigger problems affecting out students.

There remains, of course, no easy answer. We think Aberdeener is merely trying to start a dialog with this post.

Anonymous said...

Surprisingly, expressing concern over the deficiencies of our local educational system can be done without sounding like a condescending blowhard.

I starting reading this blog to get facts about the Aberdeen area that maybe I wouldn't be able to get elsewhere. What I get, instead, is someone who seems to be desperately trying to prove how much smarter he/she is than the rest of us.

Anonymous said...

Since you have so much time on your hand, Aberdeener, why don't you write a history book?

Hold The Pickle said...

Boy, the Aberdeener is takin' it on the chin.

Anonymous said...

The Matawan-Aberdeen Regional School Board has scheduled a SPECIAL Action Meeting for Monday, February 11th at 7:30 p.m.

Agenda Item:
Appointment of a new Superintendent

Location: One Crest Way

Aberdeener said...

Thanks for the info. I've posted the information in the announcements section (top right) of the website.

Anonymous said...

Everyone interested in the future of our district should be at this meeting. Because of the problems with the board, many administrators have left this district. It will be interesting to see who would want to take this job and at what price to the taxpayers. Be there and ask questions. We could be stuck with this person for a long time if the wrong decision is made.

Anonymous said...

Hey Aberdeener- Christmas is coming early for you! The NJ State school report cards are coming out next week...got your pen ready???

Anonymous said...

In response to the previous two posts. We seem to be putting all of the blame for the problems in this district on the board (an unpaid position) instead of on the
Superintendent who left the children of this district out to dry. His job was getting increasing difficult when he no longer had a rubber stamp board. You see it was never about education. It was all smoke and mirrors. As I see it, he was the great divider in this district. Thank God we finally have new people on the board that are willing to question the administration and do what is best for the students and taxpayers of this district instead of what is best for themselves or their friends. I look forward to meeting the new Superintendent so we can move forward and concentrate on educating the children of this district. After all, isn't that what it is all about?

Anonymous said...

Please do not use Wikipedia as a reliable source to quote from. A wiki is a web site that lets any visitor become a participant: you can create or edit the actual site contents without any special technical knowledge or tools. All you need is a computer with an Internet connection. A wiki is continuously “under revision.” It is a living collaboration whose purpose is the sharing of the creative process and product by many. One famous example is Wiki-pedia, an online encyclopedia with no “authors” but millions of contributors and editors. The word "wiki" comes from Hawaiian language, meaning "quick" or "fast." (source:TeachersFirst)The elementary students
in Matawan are not allowed to use this website as a reliable source of information because many times the information is just plain wrong!

Aberdeener said...

Justice Posner of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals is, in my opinion, the greatest living jurist in America. The New York Times quoted him as follows:
“Wikipedia is a terrific resource . . . [But it] wouldn’t be right to use it in a critical issue. If the safety of a product is at issue, you wouldn’t look it up in Wikipedia.”

As long as Wikipedia is used as one of several independent secondary sources, I see no problem in using it.

I doubt elementary students are using that many primary sources. If they're not allowed to use Wikipedia, then what secondary sources are they using?

Hold the Pickle said...

They use factmonster.com, biography.com, worldbookonline, etc. There are many good secondary sources on the Internet. You just have to hunt and find them.

Anonymous said...

once again, the aberdeener is WRONG!

Aberdeener said...

Thx, Pickle. Those are good sites.

Truth In Matawan said...

Once again, and anonymous poster is a hateful, purposeless, non-contributory loser.

12 month school year said...

Once again I am amazed that the Aberdeener uses this blog to show his "greatness". And there is TRUTH IN MATAWAN like the TV sidekick agreeing with what his buddy says. And you should know Aberdeener - you should have checked your precious internet for information which says Wikipedia is not recognized by colleges as a TRUE source because it is fabricated..... There are numerous historical stories.... there are only 10 months of school, unless the Aberdeen (batman) and Truth in Matawan (robin) want 12 month school years so we can teach our kids about Washington's dental hygiene, Lincoln's underwear size, and Kennedy's hair products.....

Truth In Matawan said...

What are some good arguments against a 12-month school year?

Hold The Pickle said...

Here's what I don't understand. You say the school system doesn't function properly, yet you want more time doing something that you say doesn't work. Is that how it is done in the private sector? If you truly believe the schools are failing, how could you possible think that doing more of what is providing failing results will result in anything but failure?

Aberdeener said...

Pickle,
Here's an editorial from today's New York Sun that suggests more class time does produce tangible results.

Hold the Pickle said...

Will giving a mechanic who cannot change a transmission filter more time make him any more capable of completing the job? I think not. If Truth in Matawan thinks the school system (the Board of Education, the administration, and the teachers) are not doing a very good job, how can he possibly think doing more of what is not working will have a different result?

Truth In Matawan said...

Hold up, Hold the Pickle, YOU mentioned a 12 month school year, not us. Since you introduced it, we thought it was something you were knowledgeable about, or at least wanted to talk about. We're aware that in some districts in some states they do this, so we humored you by asking for some arguments against it. Or for it. Or whatever you have.

You are right about one thing--banging your head against the wall hurts. Banging it more only makes it hurt worse.

Hold the Pickle said...

What on Earth are you talking about? I never suggested a 12 month school year. Try and read carefully. Don't put words into my mouth, and don't assume I think like everyone else who opposes you. I'll give you one argument against a 12 month school year. How about the fact it would be nice to let kids act like kids? You and I were given summers off. This was a time that was spent with family, going on vacation, or playing with my brothers around the house. It was a time of staying up late and not having to worry about getting enough sleep. To put it bluntly, it was an enjoyable time. These children, after graduating high school or college, are going to have to work for the next 40 to 50 years of their lives. Don't you think some time off for a child to be a child is important?

Truth In Matawan said...

Pickle, someone who you say is not you beings it up. The extent of our comment was "Let's hear some arguments against it". That's it.

YOU then do exactly what you complain about by putting words in our mouths: Asking why on Earth if we think th school system is so bad would we want more of it. As said, a fair question. I guess the real question is, where did you even come up with the idea that we were for it?!?

Looks like a little quick reading and even quicker assumptions on both parts.

Hold the Pickle said...

How is asking a question putting words in your mouth?