tv History As It Happens Podcast CSPAN November 21, 2021 12:05am-1:02am EST
using the legislature as a springboard. he got himself nominated as vice president by the whigs at their convention in december of 1839, their national convention that nominated william henry harrison. and, of course, defeated the incumbent martin van buren in november of 1840. harrison, as you know, died 32 day into his term, tyler became president. this image on the right is a romanticized image of tyler receiving news of harrison's passing and his elevation to the presidency. >> watch this program and thousands more online at c-span.org/history. >> we welcome you to the washington times for this special episode of "history as it happens" podcast. it's for people who want to think about current events historically, and it's available wherever you get your podcast cans or at history as it
happens.com. i'm martin decare row, and today we're joined by james grossman of the american historical association. we welcome you, sir. >> good afternoon. thank you for having me. >> excited to have you here for an important discussion about business concepts, the past, how it's studied, whose version of events gains ascendancy. it's always been a battlefield in our country. that's because origin stories matter as much now as ever before in america. james, the aha is trying to influence this debate now roiling the the nation over what should be taught in history and social studies classes. first, what are divisive concepts and where did this controversy come from? >> well, divisive concepts seem to be things that some people are objecting to that teachers are teaching in their classrooms as part of american history. it seems to be that teaching the
history of division is problematic for some people, and that's where this term divisive contents are. that if you teach students that america was deeply divided over slavery, over jim crow, over various things over the course of our history, then what some people are arguing is these aren't business concepts that divide our country. rather than these being the history of our country that we have to understand if we're going to deal with divisions. >> in other words, students need to learn about these divisive concepts, in your view. >> students need to learn the history of division, of conflict, of differences of perspective, differences of experience in american history. this is not divisive concepts, these are facts.
and the facts are that these kinds of divisions have been part of our history. and if we don't understand them, we can't deal with them. >> i've been reading about the 1790s recently. that was not a period of unity pretty create in our -- politically in our country. so we've all seen scenes from school board meetings across the country on news broadcasts with parents objecting to the teaching of what they call critical race theory or anti-racism curricula. even here in the washington suburbs in loudoun county, it's been making national news. some school board members feel threatened and intimidated. where did this controversy come from? >> well, it seems to have come from a small group of people who, in essence, sat down and said how do we distract americans from what the real issues are in american politics and get them to argue about
cultural issues, about issues that, quite frankly, aren't really issues. if you look at the legislation that's been introduced in 27 states that relates to this, most of that legislation prohibits things that aren't happening. finish and so a lot of this is people screaming and yelling about things that actually either aren't happening or are happening only here and there in very few places. nobody's being indoctrinated. children aren't being indoctrinated. and, quite frankly, people who are so sure that their teenagers are being indock try may noted don't realize -- indoctrinated don't realize it's very hard to indoctrinate a teenager. >> i have a copy of one bill, but you mentioned to me when we were preparing for our conversation today on "history as it happens" -- nice to see you in person, by the way.
>> nice to be in person. >> you mentioned legislation was the same in every place virtually, written by a conservative think tank, the heritage foundation? >> it comes out of think tanks, it comes from one particular journalist who has published, basically, guidelines and how to write this legislation. it comes from conservative activists who has proudly announced that he has branded critical race theory. he has basically created something that was barely a presence in american education, certainly outside of higher education, and he's proud of fact that he has branded it and made people think the it's what he said it is which is, quite frankly, brilliant marketing and very bad history. >> so is here's a bill in the state of ohio, i believe this is now law. here's the language. no public institution of higher education, school district or public school including a public
charter school shall direct or otherwise compel students to personally affirm, adopt or adhere to any of the following tenets -- >> let's stop there before we get to the tenets, because let's do piece by piece. you've been a student. i've been a teacher. i don't know if you've ever taught. >> no. i don't know if i was a very good student either. >> well, but i'm guessing as a student you weren't compelled to do -- >> i did go to catholic school. >> and even a catholic school, which is a little stricter than a public school -- the. [laughter] you were compelled to take gym class. you were compelled to sit in your seat -- >> not in history class. >> well, we'll never know. but this notion that these schools are compelling students to believe x, y or z, i would love to see some examples of this compelling going on. in history classes there's not a
lot of compelling going on. >> no. here's one of the tenets or that are now off limits. for instance, teachers are not allowed to teach their students that any sex, race, ethnicity, religion, color or national origin is inherently superior or inferior. i mean, that sounds harmless enough in print. that individuals by virtue of -- >> let's stop there because i want to parse this piece by piece. >> sure. >> read that again. >> sure. so no public institution shall direct or otherwise compel people to believe any sex, race, ethnicity, religion, color or national origin is inherently -- >> so let's stop there. there's a phenomenon in the marketing world called push-pull, right? where by asking people particular questions you subtly imply facts. it's almost like the the, you know, when did you stop beating
your wife kind of push-pull issue. >> i know what you mean there. >> and that's what's going on here because when you see this in the legislation, then that implies that there are teachers out there, history teachers out there who are teaching students that one race is superior to another. that actually has not -- that has happened in american history. that that took place in history classrooms for over a century where students were taught that white people were superior to everybody else. and, quite frankly, none of these people objected during those hundred years. there are not history teachers out there teaching that one race is superior to another. they might be teaching that there have been historical patterns where white americans have had advantages. that's fact. where white americans have used the civil to civic power that
they have to oppress other people. that's a fact. nobody is saying, i don't think, history teachers as far as i know are not saying to students either white people are superior to black people, black people are superior to white people. that's not what's going on in history classes. and that, quite frankly, is not what these people are objecting to. but by articulating that in the law that way, they're implying to people that this must be happening because that's why you have -- >> and the way this manifests itself in a classroom, i assume, you can correct me if i'm wrong, is that teachers might second guess their decision to want to teach about jim crow, teach about how the nazis looked at jim crow as a model, how the nazis saw american indian reservations as something they wanted to do in the east of
europe. >> they might. i think that probably that is -- >> a couple of examples. >> yeah. that kind of chilling effect, which is what you're describing, probably comes from somewhere el in the legislation. we can keep reading the legislation. i think that comes from someplace else in the legislation. this part of the legislation is just nonsense, quite frankly. there are other places in the legislation where you get more into this issue of divisive concepts where they're teaching about divisions where teachers might say i better be careful here. >> we'll go over one more tenet, and we'll move on to what the aha, american historical association, is doing about this. individuals by virtue of sex, race, ethnicity the, religion, color or national origin are inherently responsible for actions committed in the past but other members of the same sex, race, ethnicity, religion, color or national origin. so teachers are not allowed to teach that idea. >> so this is where we get more
buggy and a little more interesting in system ways. this is inpossible to deny -- impossible to deny that especially in certain parts of the country but more or less to a different degree everywhere pretty much in the united states, but certainly more in some parts of the country than others that white americans did things that oppressed african-americans. and that's a fact. >> that's a fact. >> that's a fact. we have documentation of lynching, we have documentation of legally man deathed segregation -- mandated session redivision. it wasn't black people who passed laws that forced black children to go to school in some that states that were funded at less than one-tenth of the rate per student than white people. so these are historical facts, this kind of discrimination that was, in essence, racially
structured. a teacher has to teach that in order to even american history. to teach american history. that doesn't mean that the teacher is looking at the white kids in the class and saying this was your fault or this is your parents' fault. now, a white kid in the class whose great grandfather was in the state legislature many alabama in the early 20th century and voted for the appropriation for these schools, you can't deny that this kid's great grandfather was responsible, partly responsible for this. but you're not saying to the kid you're responsible. so again, this is a bit of a red herring here. it is saying that over time white americans have been responsible for this kind of discrimination, for this kind of violence. it's not saying that every white
kid in the class has a great grandfather who was responsible for this because my great grandfather was in europe until the late 1890s. >> i always assume that although, again, i haven't been in a classroom for while, that students in the united states have been taught about slavery, jim crow, etc. we're going to get into what, you know, students are actually learning and how well americans are educate on these subjects in a little bit. but first, the aha is taking some action about this. here's a joint statement that your organization and you personally signed with other educational organizations on legislative efforts to restrict education about racism in american history stating firm opposition to a spate of legislative proposals many at least 20 states -- in at least 20 states. you've also formed something called the learn from history coalition -- >> we haven't formed it, we
joined it. i don't want to take credit for work that somebody else has done. [laughter] >> thank you for correcting me. learn from history coalition seeks to combat deliberate misinformation about the current state of history education. so you've joined the coalition. why don't you briefly tell us what these efforts are about. >> well, i can start, quickly, with the coalition. the coalition is, i think at last count has at least 25 members, most of which are education-oriented. just a few of us are there as historians. i think a lot of the expertise in the coalition is, relates to what happens in american classrooms and includes the national association of school boards, it includes the superintendents' organization. and we're part of it, i think as is the national council for social studies, the organization of american historians and the american association for state and local history. the four of us are there to help
them with the historical part of this, content. but what we're trying to do is to help teachers think about how you can teach what you already described in a way that is professional and honest. so as you were saying, we've always taught about jim crow. this legislation, when you read it carefully, says that teachers in some of these states, teachers must teach that slavery, jim crow, lynching were deviations from the broader arc of american freedom. and the deviations especially from the visions and the values
embodied in the declaration of independence, the constitution, etc. now, it is very possible for a good teacher -- and i hope many teachers do this -- to have students read the declaration, read the constitution and talk about was slavery a deviation from these principles? because some students would say, no, actually, slavery is built into these. other students would say, no, some historians say yes, some historians say no. these are things we argue about. they're things people do in history chat. the problem is concern. >> arguing. >> arguing -- >> we're still drawing on those. >> yeah, arguing about what they mean, what they said, what the intentions were of the people who wrote them. the problem is that phrase "anything but." "anything other than." in other words, what people writing this legislation don't want teachers to do is to say
that slavery, continuities of racism, segregation, various other, various other things that have happened in our history, they don't want, they don't want kids to believe that these things are are completely consistent with our founding documents. that, in fact -- and this is not saying the founders were evil people. the founders were slaveholders. that's a fact. that's a historical fact. and to say that, therefore, they created founding documents that were influenced by their values that they had, by the economy they lived in,ning by the social structure they lived in makes all the sense in the world. so where the problem lies is the notion that teachers should not be automobile to have students -- be able to have students talk seriously about
what the role is of racism as it relates to founding documents. that's what we object to, is teachers being told you can't talk about that because those are divisive concepts. >> interesting. race just one issue. for instance, the treatment of labor unions through history. i've done a bunch of podcasts lately about military industrial complex x then we9 got to this point where we don't question this prosaic military presence across globe. any number of concepts might make students not feel uncomfortable, but maybe question beliefs and the ideas that created them at first. as i say in the -- columbus -- >> i'll make them uncomfortable. >> i just did a podcast about columbus. most of what we learned, at least what i learned when i was a kid, was garbage. and then i started to learn that
he committed some cruelties. he was locked up, put in chains, brought back to europe he was such a terrible administrator. you don't learn those things as a while. when you learn these things as an adult or teenager, it might jar your world view. and i guess' what some of the opponents -- that's what some of to points are i saying. they don't want kids to lesh that it's not all concern learn that it's not all glory. >> yes. if i'm a 15-year-old student and i am from a military family three, four generations and i amex posed to am exposed to a conversation in class about the dangers of the military industrial complex, i probably am going to be the uncomfortable. and i might even say this is un-american, you know, this is terrible. and then teacher's going to say to me, excuse me, this is from a
speech by dwight eisenhower. >> right. >> it's part of our history. general eisenhower warned us about this when he was president eisenhower. there isn't much about history that is not going to make somebody uncomfortable. >> that's the point, right? >> and that's how we teach students to step back, ask some questions. yes. columbus, i learned 1492 columbus sailed the ocean blue which certainly helped me learn some may names and dates. [laughter] this is over time historians ask questions because the world around us changes, and this were things we didn't think were important 50 years ago. now we do. but we also see documents that we didn't know about 50 years a. >> i mention columbus as just
one recent subject i'd taken up on my podcast, but his statues have been in the news. when you were on ad podcast for an end sold entitled charlottesville says good-bye to the confederacy, we talked about the assumptions people today might have had about why those statues were put up. we'll get into that. one more point about battle over school curricula. a recent headline just to show how crazy this issue can get out of texas where a school official, her name was gina pet i, executive director of -- petty, executive directive of click rum and instruction in the dallas/fort worth area. 8400 students telling a teacher, apparently, that if you're going to have a book about the holocaust, make sure you have a book that has an opposing view because if you only teach one side, you know, the new law in
texas might come down on you. i suppose that translates to if you're going to teach about the history of lynchings, you have to come up with the other side on that too? this is crazy, of course. >> first of all, she has apologized. >> yeah, she apologized. >> but in a way, there's a way in which the apology is not irrelevant, but it's still a problem. and that is that we have to ask what is it that induced her, stimulated her to say this to the teacher? and it was the legislation that we're objecting to. because of that legislation, she scratched her head and said i need to tell this teacher that there needs to be an opposing viewpoint because that's what the legislation says. >> just a point in fact, gina petty was the official who was caught on -- >> right. >> -- recorded. the superintendent was lane ledbetter. it was that person who issued the apologies. we know there's not two sides to the holocaust.
>> the superintendent issued an apology on behalf of the school district. >> yeah. >> the important thing here though, and this goes back to some wording that we had earlier, this notion of opposing viewpoints. that when we teach history, if we're teaching it well just like if we're studying it well, we teach what i would call different angles of vision. ing there can be many angles of vision on the holocaust. because you want to be thinking about how did it happen. what was response of the german people. were german people in support of what was going on, the non-jewish german people. there are lots of questions you can ask about the holocaust that provide different angles of vision. and that's what students should be learning about. but this notion of opposing viewpoints, what that assumes is that what teachers are doing is
saying to students this was good and this was bad, and we're going to have an opposing viewpoint. nazis were terrible or nazis weren't so terrible. that's not how we think about -- >> exactly. >> -- history here. >> simple dichotomy. >> simple dichotomy. but, yes, these laws are going to stimulate these kinds of actions because what it's saying to add mors -- administrators is if you want to be doing your job right, you need to force teachers to do this or else the parents will be coming after you, and the school board will be coming after you. and so you have a chilling effect on the teachers, you have administrators who aren't quite sure what their role is, as in this case, and you have parents and school boards looking over the shoulders of professional teachers who are trying to teach students history in the way that
they have learned how to teach history as professionals. >> so let's talk about the larger context in which this controversy is occurring. our nation's been having a reckoning with the history of racial injustice. black lives matter movement, the murder of george floyd and other black people killed by police. and into this maelstrom in 2019 came "the new york times"' 1619 project. so we've been talking a little bit about fables on the right in our country, for instance, this so-called 1776 project which is also, in my view, poor history. but on the left, if we could use a simple dichotomy, the 1619 project came in. and by the same token that, in my view, should not be taught in schools either because it's festooned with serious errors about american revolution. and this speaks to my initial point when i opened up our
conversation about path being a battleground, a battlefield. we have these polar, these extremes, competing narratives. neither one is really altogether correct. i know that aha has had things to say about 1619 project. what's your view on that? >> i think the first problem is the notion of competing narratives. that's a simplistic way of thinking about what historians do, what historians teach and how we argue about it. there are different and i'm going to go back to angles of vision. there are different ways of seeing the 18th century, the 17th century, the american revolution, the role of the founders in perpetuating slavery. and the problem is that we have people who are saying it's either this or it's this.
as opposed to saying, okay, first, is the evidence -- what is the evidence that's used in either set of materials or that set of materials. where the evidence isn't very good, you have to say the evidence isn't very good. and you could use it as a learning experience. you go to the students and say, okay, let's read this. and you say to the students, tell me what evidence this historian or in this case group of journalists has mobilized to demonstrate their argument. what is the actual evidence? i'm old-fashioned, use a blackboard -- [laughter] you go up to the blackboard, you say this is the evidence that they martial, okay in now, where does that evidence come from? >> talking about 1619. >> you could do that with 1619, you could do that with that 1776 report. one of the differences is that 1619 and however debatable it
is -- and, yes, professional historians have been arguing over various interpretive aspects of it, especially this notion of what a founding is. there were professionals involved. professional historians. not as many as i might have liked, but there were professional historians involved. counter-argument, 1776 report, there was not a single professional historian of the united states on that commission. there was one historian who studies ancient military history largely. basically, they did this totally bereft of any expertise what with so far. so these are not equivalent. the 16 -- the materials in the 1619 project in some ways are, need to be looked at the same way other materials that are out there can be used by teachers.
and what happens is you put things out there, they get reviewed, they get discussed, people say doesn't work. >> a lot of existing textbooks aren't all that great. >> look, if you took the economics in college, you probably had a textbook written by a guy named samuelson which is by now probably in its 50th edition. [laughter] economists change their minds more than historians do maybe, i'm not sure. but, yes, scholarship and knowledge evolves. and it involves by people throwing out controversy. >> according to this news service piece, the the 1619 project's being considered as part of the curriculum in 4500 schools nationwide. you mentioned some of the professional historians who are on the left, by the way, who crypt size the 1619 project -- crypt size. first of all, i have read it. some of the essays are quite
good. i think most of the problems are with the main essay written by nikole hannah-jones, here is sean will lens writing in an essay beyond just the factual mistakes about the american revolution being fought to preserve slavery -- the that was the main factual problem with 1619 -- wilentz goes on to say instead of the trying to instruct about the importance of slavery and racism to american history, the project promoted a narrow, highly ideological view of the american past according to which white supremacy had been the nation's core principle and chief mission ever since its founding. so i understand your point about competing narratives. it's not the right way to look at this. but on on the one side, we do he some folks saying our founding has been a fraud, our principles were betrayed from day one and on the other side saying our
glorious past, valley forge and d the-day and george washington -- d-day and george washington never chopped down a cherry tree. >> again, sean's a very good historian. >> i love sean. he knows that. >> i disagree with him, he disagrees with me. we could sit here and talk about his first book and discuss its treatment of race. it's a brilliant book, it won all -- but, quite frankly, as someone whose book has been in african-american history, there are disagreements i would have with it, and he and i would sit across the table in a very civil fashion and have this argument. and it's the same ways with materials in the 1619 project. i can disagree with some of them, i can agree with some of them. i think that there's absolutely no reason why students cannot
get into a really interesting discussion of what founding means. >> yes. >> what do we mean when we say "founding"? does towning mean the moment -- founding mean the moment that a nation is created? that makes sense to me. but then there's another notion of does founding mean the creation of the foundation upon which the nation grows? in other words, using the word foundation. those are very different ways of seeing it. and students aren't stupid. they can understand the importance of arguing about this, that in 1619 we can locate in some ways the beginnings of the institution of slavery in the united states, and we can argue that slavery was the foundation of the economy --
>> large part of the country, absolutely. >> and that slavery was also by the early 18th century, in's -- in essence, baked into the culture and social relations of much of the country. and that gets you thinking about founding. give you a good example. historians actually were arguing for a while over the difference between a society with slaves and a slave society. the 1619 project is arguing that we were a slave society from the beginning which i think is hard to argue with. people who are writing these laws, that are saying this is a deviation from the founding principles and from the general arc of american history are saying, no, we were a society with slaves.
and we can excise that and then go on. that's very different from saying we were a slave society if you think about a medical analogy and what you can excise from your body. >> so sean wilentz was one of the many historians who denied the 1619 project. there were 4 million enslaved people in the united states by 186 of 0 and the civil war was fought over, but what i think point is just as the 1776 project if lacks nuance, 1619 shoehorned the american revolution into a narrative that from day one american history's been an unbroken line of white supremacy to today. and also another point following along that narrative was abraham lincoln was a racist -- >> and, again -- >> -- statue was actually taken down in new york city by the
city council chambers. >> you said has been an unbroken line. >> there's more to our history than race. >> there's more to our history than race, but you cannot understand our history without understanding the unbroken line. look, one of the major critics of the 1619 project going back to not just sean is james oakes at the university of -- >> another great historian. >> do you know what the name of his first book is? >> book? >> his first book. >> i don't. >> his first book is called "the ruling race." okay? so it's not as if he doesn't think that this has not been some kind of continuous thread in american history. and this difference between saying that white supremacy has been the essence of american
history as opposed to white supremacy has been on the present, has been continuous -- omnipresent and has continued to influence our institutions and our culture. so these are are two different kinds of things. lincoln was a racist -- and, again, this goes back to what historians do is we argue with each other. >> yeah. in a civil manner. >> in a civil manner. the most important book in some ways or the most highly visible book that argues lincoln was a racist was a biography of lincoln called "abraham lincoln: racist." with i don't agree with it. the author was my friend. we were good friends in chicago. we got along very well. we argued with each other rather vigorously. but we're friends. and we respected each other as scholars. and this is my point, is that
these are different ways of seeing history. and teachers and students benefit -- >> yes. >> -- from these conversations. >> in our culture wars, people can cherry pick facts without nuance, and when you say abraham lincoln was a racist, his statues need to come down, you overlook the fact that before he died he came around to supporting black suffrage and black civil rights, and had he not have been assassinated -- >> and it's important to know. and again, this goes back to thinking about they're complicated and that it's important to stand for principles, the different -- the american historical association issued a very strong criticism of the san francisco school board when it was about to change the name of 44 schools including abraham lincoln high school. we said, no. you don't have a process where you consulted historians.
this was not a serious inquiry into the histories of the people who these schools were named after, no, you shouldn't do this. >> and i mentioned in one of my sentences that new york city today, thomas jefferson statues are coming down the city council chambers. so let's move on to the issue -- >> go ahead. >> i am a great admirer of a lot of jefferson's ideas. and so are many americans on all places of the political spectrum. they're taking the statue of jefferson down. we can argue about whether or not it should be taken down or not. this is a lot of statues of thomas jefferson. >> yes, that's right. i stood at monticello -- >> we are not erasing thomas jefferson from our history. >> there's an issue of who and where -- >> right. >> that's our next top topic
because when you appear in july around the fourth anniversary of the unite the night rally, the confederate statues came down, actually, it was in august. generals lee and jackson. and our discussion was really about why certain narratives gain ascendancy and why we today believe certain narratives or believe a certain version of history instead of, say, a different or more complete or revised version. and i think the issue of the confederate statues is arguably the best one because, you know, as a yankee myself -- the i moved down from washington. i'm a mets fan, but i am from the north. i'm a yankee, i guess. moved down to washington about a decade ago, and i noticed right over the river in alexandria, there were still streets and roads named after confederates. and in charlottesville the
statues were not put up right after the civil war to, they were erected in 1924 as symbols of white power. the ku klux klan held a parade to celebrate the statues. and we got around to discussing the dunnings rule, right? so follow my premise and then i'll let you take it away. i alluded to it before. as children, as young adults we're greeted by a certain set of values, beliefs, narratives. i call it the lining of the crib. and then when we're introduced to new ideas, it can be quite, you know, jarring to the senses. the dunning school interpretation of the confederacy and reconstruction just didn't come from some crazy guy in left field. it was a prestigious eye ivy league university, and that version of history dominated scholarship for about a century,
right? so what was the dunning school, and why is it important? my long question. and why is that important for this discussion today. >> so dunning was a historian at columbia university. he had a lot of influence on the ways in which historians wrote about reconstruction. and the arc -- basically, their argument in a nutshell was that reconstruction was a failure, it was corrupt and that the heroes of the period were really what were called the redo you remembers, the people -- redeemers, the white southerners who basically drove black and white republicans out of the statehouses, had, quote, redeemed the governments of their states from this corruption. it just wasn't true. it was the way historians saw things for a century -- >> yeah. >> and by the 1960s,
historians were again asking different questions. in some cases, looking at evidence that had not been looked at before. the dunning school was the equivalent in some ways or the follow-up to what was what one might call the phillips school of slavery are offul phillips, also who taught at a school in the north, an ivy legal school, argued that slavery was a school -- that was the metaphor that he used -- and that the children were let out too early. in other words, that emancipation was premature, that enslaved african-americans were not ready for freedom. dunning then follows that up with an argument that these people who were not ready for freedom were easily manipulated by white northerners, by yankees and other african-americans who
instituted these terribly corrupt governments that did great harm. but, again, it was seen, freeze people as, in essence, child like. >> paternalistic view -- >> worse than that in many ways. and this was 'em poilded very powerful -- embodieded very powerfully in a film call "birth of a nation." again, we hadn't been teaching until 30 years ago that african-americans across the north especially fought against the showing of "birth of a nation." in chicago, actually, it was banned. >> and some people objected to the statues going up in the 1920s. >> that's right. and african-americans objected to the statues. the importance of the statue is
that a statue basically says to our children and visitors, these are the values that we honor. and what i've argued in the case of the statuary in the senate -- in the capitol is the values that we honor, the people that we honor change. our population changes. our ideas change. our values change. that's just history, that's what happens. everything changes. so why not say every 25 -- every generation, every 25 years let's step back and look at these steps. you can say is that still who we want to honor? >> i think the important point here, another important e important point here, if i may, is just as some peopled today might object to the teaching of slavery or just how much it might be emphasized in a high school classroom, a hundred years ago you couldn't probably walk into a single high school classroom in the united states and learn that the cause of secession was slavery and that
the civil war was fought over slavery. i.e., the dunning school. james mcpherson, the great historian, has written about how the con fed yates or the me yo-confederates -- neo-confederates, mcpherson has written about how the lost cause mythology eyesers, the survivors of the confederacy understood how important the education system was. they always made sure children were present at these monument unveiling. he wrote they that so the rising generation would know personal memories of war but understand the heroism of their fathers. the united daughters of the confederacy has children's auxiliaries, they had historical committees in the 1890s, and they published textbooks that were basically the textbooks used in schools in the south and elsewhere for, as we said, until the 1950s, 1960s --
>> well later than that. >> it's the after that? okay. >> it's in the '50s and '60s that professional historians start or to say this stuff isn't true. >> [inaudible] >> and the textbooks take a bit of time, that's right. >> okay. so to the next subject, you know, the cause of this is -- or result of this is here's a washington post poll 2019, recent. 52% of americans know slavery was the main cause of the civil war, but 41% blame another reason. to our earlier point about what are kids actually being taught, 16199 aside. >> but again, let me emphasize here in some ways this complica, in some ways it's not. was it 41%? >> yeah, 41%. >> another reason are. to dig into that poll, my guess is that what you're going to find is the other reason is statements' rights. >> yeah. >> -- states' rights.
>> and if i'm a teacher, i'm going to say, okay, what do we do with this data? x percent are saying states' rights. i'm going to ask the students, well, states' rights to do what? is statements' rights really a principle -- statements' rights really a principle by which people take up guns and kill other people? >> that was a means to an end because -- >> yes. >> -- when it came to the fugitive slave act, northern states, people in northern states refusing to hand back black people so they could be enslaved again, the slaveholders didn't respect their states' rights. another poll here about the holocaust along the same lines. the reason why i introduced the polls about slavery show that, again, knowledge is superficial. most adults know what the holocaust was. this is pew research.
you know, what the holocaust was and approximately when it happened, but fewer than half can correctly answer multiple choice questions about the number of jews who were murdered or way adolf hitler came to power. i think the point is based on these polls, based on what we've been discussing we needed to do a better job, i think, everyone about history, not just students. >> and it's hard. look -- and hen in this climate, it's difficult -- >> it is. let's stick with for a second the holocaust and american history. most americans are not aware of what is basically communicated very straightforwardly in the current exhibit at the u.s. holocaust museum which is that most americans in the 1930s thought that americans knew what the nazis were doing. that's well documented in this
exhibition. most americans thought it was horrible and that jews were suffering and that what was going on was unconscionable. and they also were opposed. the polls show they were a opposed to letting jews into this country. so that's a stain on american history, isn't it? >> absolutely. >> that's an uncomfortable aspect of our history. and this is, this is not a question of one side or the other. these are the facts. the materials that are on exhibit at holocaust museum are presenting in a very straightforward way. these things should make us uncomfortable, and that's parking lot of what's going can be the you're a mets fan. >> i did admit that here in public. >> okay. so the founding manager of the mets, one of my heroes. one of heroes, casey stengel.
turns out he was a virulent racist. >> i did the not know that. >> i did not know that either. so there i have to step back. this is uncomfortable for me. he was my childhood hero. then i start reading books about baseball players in the 1960s. not very comfortable. >> ty cobb -- >> well, that's earlier -- >> that's right. >> one of the greatest players of all times. >> not very admirable is an understatement. so what do you do with that? these are just aberrations? well, no. because in the case of cobb, cobb worked hard to keep black people out of major league baseball. so you can't say, well, this is just something in the past, and we've fixed it, because that became deeply are embedded in major league baseball, that segregation. people suffered. people lost opportunities.
we can't just dismiss it as an aberration. it's uncomfortable. these are my heroes. >> you used a world before civil how historians debate things, most of the time in a civil manner. certainly on mid podcast, there's -- my podcast. there's a controversy now roiling our country. again, as i mentioned before, we've all seen news clips of parents at school board meetings who i don't want to, i don't want to overgeneralize here and i say that they're all, you know, pitchforks and whatever that saying is. but there's a lot of anger out this. and some people are being threatened. you know, it's a sensitive the subject, i certainly don't want anyone to believe that i'm painting all parents with a broad brush or that all of their concerns aren't worth considering, but there has been a lack of civility about this. so we'll close on point. from the atlantic, a great essay
by george packer, can civics save america? of course, we can't agree on what should be in civics education, but there is agreement that -- pointing to those polls before -- that civics education is failing young people. to the extent they get any at all, what's your take on it? >> i think our testing data shows that mathematics education is failing young people. i think we know from some of conversations about mask wearing that there must be something about our science education that's failing americans. >> definitely. [laughter] >> we have a different the kind of crisis here. what's failing -- and it's true. lack of civic knowledge is a problem. there's no question about that. >> [inaudible] >> it's an attack on expertise, that's right. and that's very different -- civic education is not
democracy, actually. and we also have attacks on democracy right now that are a problem. but the attack on expertise is a problem in terms of when we think about whether it's science, whether it's history, and there's an attack on inquiry. and that's where the civics problem comes in. do you look at our founding documents as bibles? or do you look at our founding documents in a historical context and say these were created by people. who were these people? what values did they have? that's not saying that these people were awful people. it's saying who were they and what values did they have. >> it's complicated. >> and it's complicated. how did that affect the documents that they wrote? >> it makes it more interesting. >> and kids are are more interested then in it. students -- teenagers don't want it fed to them.
and, quite frankly, we know it doesn't work. the historical precedent for what you've been describing here is mccarthyism in the 1950s. we've seen this before. in fact, recently one of the publications or a few of the places where people are going are in favor of this legislation. they said if your kid's teacher is using any of the following 10 or 20 the phrases, then they're teaching crt. that's almost word for word, if your kid's teachers are using the following words, they must be a communist. this was already in the united states in the '50s and '60s. i'm 599 years old, that means -- 59 years old, there's not a lot of communists out there. if the teachers were indoctrinating the students, they failed -- [laughter] >> some of my history and
political science professors in college used to joke around with me, you know, we're trying to undermine and subvert american society, we're doing a pretty bad job. well, james grossman, of the american historical association, we thank you for this conversation today. hope we got people thinking today. >> i hope so too, because that is a what historians do, is we try to get people thinking. that's our goal. >> and you will get people thinking by listening to "history as it happens" podcast. you were on, people can look that one up. charlottesville says good-bye to the confederacy. from the washington times, i want to thank everyone who's been watching this conversation. i'm martin di caro and have a great day. ..