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tv   History As It Happens Podcast  CSPAN  December 16, 2021 6:04pm-7:02pm EST

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inspiration from these words. so for some people it was inspirational, for other people it was con confrontational and alarmist. >> it's available to watch online anytime at c-span offers a variety of podcasts that have something for every listener. weekdays washington today gives you the latest from the nation's capital. and every week book notes plus has in-depth interviews with writers about their later works. the weekly uses audio from our archive to look how issues of the day developed over years. and our occasional series talking with features extensive conversations with historians about their lives and work. many of our television programs are also available as podcasts. you can find them all on the c-span now mobile app or wherever you get your podcasts.
6:05 pm 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 podcasts or history as it happens dot-com. we are joined by james grossman of the american historical association. >> good afternoon. thank you for inviting me. >> excited to have you here for an important discussion about divisive concepts. the past, how it is studied, whose version of events gains ascendancy has been a battlefield because origin stories matter as much as ever before in america. james, the aha is trying to influence this debate, now roiling the nation over what should be taught in history and social studies classes. first, what are divisive concepts and where did this
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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 concepts 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 are divisive concepts. that divide our concepts rather than the history of our country that we have to understand if we are going to deal with divisions. >> in other words, students need to learn about these divisive
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concepts in your view? >> students need to learn the history of divisions 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. if we don't understand them, we can't deal with them. >> i have been reading about the 1790s. that was not a period of unity politically in our country. we have 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 circula. even here in the washington suburbs in loudon county it's been making national news. some school board members feel threatened and intimidated. where did this controversy come from? >> it seems to have come from a
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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 has been introduced in 27 states that relates to this, most of that legislation prohibits things that aren't happening. and so a lot of this is people screaming and yelling about things that actually either aren't happening or are happening only here in and there in very few places. nobody is being indoctrinated. children aren't being indoctrinated. quite frankly, people who are so sure that their teenagers are being indoctrinated don't
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realize that it's very hard to indoctrinate a teenager. >> i have a capitol of a bill here. before i read some of the language, you mentioned when we were preparing for our conversation today on history as it happens live and in person, by the way, nice to see you in person. >> good to see you in person. >> instead of over zoom. you mentioned to me that the legislation is basically the same in every place. it was 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 how to write in legislation. it comes from conservative activists wh very proudly announced 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 is proud of the fact that he has branded it and made
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people think. it's what he says it is, which, quiet, frankly, brilliant marketing and very bad history. >> so here is a bill in the state of ohio, i believe this is now law. here is the language. no public institution of higher education, school district or public school, including a public charter school, shall correct or otherwise compel students to personally affirm, adopt or adhere to any of the following tenants. here is one of the tenets. >> let's stop before we get to the tenets. let's do this piece by piece. you have been a student. i have been a teacher. i don't know if you have ever taught. >> i don't know. >> i don't know if i was a good student either. >> i am guessing as a student you weren't compelled to do anything. >> i did go catholic school. >> and which is a little stricter than the public schools, there wasn't a lot of -- i mean, you were compelled to take gym class. you were compelled to sit in your seat. >> not in history class.
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>> well, in history class, one never knows. 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 class, there is not a lot of compelling going on. >> here is one of the tenets 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. that sounds harmless enough in print. that individuals by virtue -- >> let's stop there. he wants to parse this piece by piece. read that again. >> sure. no public institution of higher education school district, public school shall direct or otherwise compel students to believe any sex, race, ethnicity, religion, color, or national origin is inherently
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superior. >> let's stop there. there is a phenomenon in the marketing world called push/pull whereby asking people particular questions you subtly imply facts. it's almost like the, you know, when did you stop beating your wife kind of push/pull issue. 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 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 100 years. there are not history teachers out there teaching that one race is superior to another.
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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 and 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 student either white people are superior to black people, black people are superior to white people. that's not what's going on in history classrooms. and that, quite frankly, is not what these people are objecting to. but by articulating that in the law that way, they are implying to people that this must be happening because that's why you have to make it illegal. >> and the way this manifests itself in a classroom, i assume,
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you can correct me if i'm wrong, is that teachers might second-guess their decision to what? teach about jim crow? >> yes. >> 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 -- >> to cite a couple of examples. >> that kind of chilling effect, what you are describing, probably comes from somewhere else in the legislation. i think that comes from someplace else in the legislation. this part of the legislation, it's just nonsense, quite frankly. there are other places in the legislation where you get more into this issue of divisive concepts where they are teaching about divisions where teachers may say, i better be a little careful here. >> one more tenet and we will move on to what the aha, american historical association, is doing about this. individuals by virtue of sex,
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race, ethnicity, religion, color or national origin are inherently responsible for actions committed in the past by other members of the same sex, race, ethnicity, color, or national origin. teachers are not allowed to teach that idea. >> so this is where we get more fuzzy and a little more interesting in some ways. it is impossible to deny that, especially in certain parts of the country, but more or less in different degrees everywhere pretty much in the united states, but certainly more in some parts. country than others, that white americans did things that oppressed african americans. that's a fact. >> that's a fact. >> that's a fact. we have documentation of lynching. we have documentation of legally mandated segregation. it wasn't black people who passed laws that forced black children to go to school in
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southern 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. now, a teacher has to teach that in order to teach american history. that doesn't mean that the teacher is looking at the white kids in the class and saying, this is your fault, or in your parents' fault. a white kid in the class whose great-grandfather was in the state legislature in alabama in the early 20th century and voted for the appropriations for these schools, you can't deny that this kid's great-grandfather was responsible, partly responsible for this. rz but you are not saying to the kid, you're responsible. so, again, this is a bit of a
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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 in the -- until the late 1890s. >> and i always assumed that -- again, i haven't been in a classroom for quite a while, that students in the united states have been taught about slavery, jim crow, et cetera. we will get into what, you know, students are actually learning and how well americans are educated on these subjects in a little bit. i have some polls here. but, first, the aha is taking some action about this. here is a joint statement that your organization, and you personally signed with other
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educational organizations on legislative efforts in american history, stating firm opposition to a spate of legislative proposals in at least 20 states. you have formed something the learned 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. >> thank you for correcting me. learn from history coalition seeks to combat deliberate misinformation about the current state of history education. so you joined the coalition. why don't you briefly tell us what these efforts are about. >> well, i could quickly with the coalition. the coalition is -- i think at last count had 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. it includes the national
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association of school boards, includes a superintendents organization. and we're a part of it, i think, and as is the national kourn for the social studies, the organization of american historians and the american association for state and local history. the four of us are there to act -- to help them with the historical part of this. the 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 slavery. 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
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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, et cetera. 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? 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. these are things we do in history class. >> arguing when the ink was still drying on the documents. >> yeah, arguing about what they
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mean, what the intentions were of the people who wrote them. the problem is that phrase "anything but." neg other than. in other words, what people writing this legislation don't want teachers to do is to say that slavery, continuity of racism, segregation, various other things that have happened in our history, they don't want -- they don't want kids to believe that these things are completely consistent with our founding documents, that in fact it's not that -- 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 the values that they had, by the economy
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they lived in, by the social structure they lived in, that makes all the sense in the world. so where the problem lies is the notion that teachers should not be able to have students talk seriously about what the role is of racism as it relates to founding documents, continuities of american history. that's what we object to, is teachers being told you can't talk about that, because those are divizable concepts. >> race just one issue. for instance, the treatment of labor unions through history. i have done a bunch of podcasts lately about the military industrial complex and how we got to this point where we don't question this prosaic military presence across the globe. any number of concepts might make students not feel uncomfortable, but maybe
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question the beliefs and the ideas that created them at birth. as i say, in the lining of our crib. columbus, for instance. >> it will make them uncomfortable. >> i did a podcast about columbus. most of what we learned from columbus, what i learned when i was a kid, was garbage. then i learned that he committed some cruelties. he was locked up, put in chains, brought back to europe. he was a terrible administrator. you don't learn those things as a child. then when you learn them as an adult or teenager, it might jar your world view. and i guess that's what some of the opponents of -- are saying. they don't want their children to learn that american history is not all glories. >> that's what learning is about. yes, these are things that will make you feel uncomfortable. if i am a 15-year-old student and i am were from a military family, three, four generations, and i am exposed to a
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conversation in class about the dangers of the military industry complex, i'm probably going to be uncomfortable. and i might even say, this is un-american, this is, you know, this is terrible, and then the teacher is going to say, excuse me, this is are from a speech by dwight eisenhower. 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. >> yes. >> ask questions. yes. >> columbus, i learned 1492 columbus sailed the ocean blue, which certainly helped me learn some names and dates. this is, over time, historians
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ask new questions because the world around us changes, and there were things we didn't think were important 50 years ago. now we do. but we also see new documents that we didn't know about 50 years ago. >> i mentioned columbus as just one recent subject i have taken up on my podcast. his statues have been in the news. when you were on a podcast a few weeks ago for charlottesville says goodbye to the confederacy. we talked about confederate statues and their origins and the assumptions people today might have had about why those statues were put up versus the real reasons. we will get into that. one more point about the 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 petty, the executive director of curriculum and instruction at a school district in the
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dallas-forth worth area, 8,400 students telling a teacher apparently -- i think i am getting her name correct, that if you are going to have a book about the holocaust, make sure you have a book that has an opposing view. if you only teach one side, you know, the new law in texas might come down on you. so i suppose that translates to if you teach about the history of lynch ijs, you have to come with the other side, too? this is crazy, of course. >> well, first of all, she has a apologized. but in a way there is a way in which the apology is not irrelevant, but is 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 are objecting to. because of that legislation, she scratched her head and said, i need to tell this teacher there needs to be an opposing
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viewpoint because that's what the legislation says. just a point of fact. gina petty was the official who was caught on tape -- or recording. the superintendent was lane led better. it was that person who issued the apology saying there is not two sides to the holocaust. >> the superintendent issued an apology on behalf of the school district. the important thing here though is -- and this goes back to some wording that we had earlier -- is this notion of opposing viewpoints. that when we teach history, if we're teaching it well, like if we are studying it well, we teach what i would call different angles of vision. there can be many angles of vision on the holocaust because you want to be thinking about how did it happen? what was the response of the german people? were the german people in support of what was going on, the non-jewish german people? there are a lot of questions you
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can ask about the holocaust that provide different angles of vision, and that's what students should be learning b you this notion of opposing viewpoints, what that assumes is that what teachers are doing are saying to students, this was good, and this was bad, and we are going to have an opposing viewpoint. nazis were terrible or nazis weren't so terrible. that's not how we think about -- >> yeah, exactly. >> -- history. so that is the problem. >> simple dichotomies. >> simple dichotomies. but, yes, these laws are going to stimulate these kinds of actions because what it's saying to 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.
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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 has been having a reckoning with its 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. we have 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
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a simple dichotomy, the 1619 project came in. by the same token, in my view, should not be taught in schools because it has serious errors about the american revolution. this speaks to my initial point when i opened up my conversation about the past being a battleground, a battlefield. we have these polar, these extremes, competing narratives, and neither one is really all together correct. i i know that aha 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 -- aisle go back to angles of vision. there are different ways of
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seeing the 18th century, the 17th century, the american revolution, the role of the founders in perpetuating slavery. and it's the -- the problem is that we have people who are saying it's either this or it's this as opposed saying, okay, first, is the evidence -- what is the evidence that's used in either this set of materials or that set of materials where the evidence isn't very good, you have to say, this evidence isn't very good, and you could use it as a learning experience. you throw it in front of students and you say, okay, let's read this and you say to the students, tell me what evidence this historian or in in case a group of journalists has mobilized to demonstrate their argument. what is the actual evidence? whack-a-mole fashion, use a
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blackboard, you say this is the evidence that they have marshaled, okay? now, where does that evidence come from? >> you are talking about 1619. >> you could do that with 1619. you could do that with the 1776 report. one of the differences is that 1619, however debatable it is, and, yes, professional historians have been arguing over various interpretative 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. this counterargument, 1776 report, there was not a single professional historian of the united states on that commission. there was one historian. he studies ancient military history largely. basically, they did this totally bereft of any expertise
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whatsoever. so these are not equivalent. the materials in the 1619 project, in some ways, are need to be looked at the same way other materials that are out there to be used by teachers. and what happens is you put these out there. they get reviewed. they get discussed. people say, this doesn't work, because a lot of existing textbooks aren't all that great. i mean, look, if you took economics in college, you probably had a textbook written by samuelson, which is by now probably in the 50th something edition. economists change their minds more than historians do maybe. i am not sure. but, yes, scholarship and knowledge evolve. and it evolves by people throwing out controversy. >> according to this, the 1619
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project is being considered as part of the curriculum. 4,500 schools nationwide. you mentioned some of the professional historians who are on the left, by the way, who criticized the 1619 project. first of all irk have lead read it. i think some people who criticize it haven't read it. some of the he is case are quite good. i think the problem is the main essay written by nicole jones. this is a recent essay about the issues with the 1619 project beyond the factual mistakes about the american revolution being fought to preserve slavery. he goes on to say, instead of trying to instruct the public about the significance of the near 1619 and hence the foundational importance of slavery and racism to american history, the project promoted a narrow, highly idealogical view of the american past according to which white supremacy has been the nation's core principle and chief mission ever since its
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founding. so i understand your point about competing narratives. it's not the right way to look at this. on the one side we have some folks saying our founding has been a fraud. our principles were betrayed from day one. on the other side saying our glorious past, valley fortunately and d-day and george washington never chopped down a cherry tree. >> i mean, again, sean is a very good historian. >> i love sean. he knows that. >> i disagree with him. he disagrees with me. i disagree with him. we can sit here and talk about his first book and discuss its treatment of race, class. it's a brilliant book. it won -- >> chance democratic. >> chance democratic. but as, quite frankly, as someone whose focus has been in african american history, there are disagreements i would have with it and he and i would sit
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across the table in a very civil fashion and have this argument. and it's the same way with materials in the 1619 project. i can disagree with some of them. i can agree with some of them. i think that there is absolutely no reason why students cannot get into a really interesting discussion of what founding means. >> yes. >> what do we mean when we say found sng does founding mean the moment that a nation is created? that makes sense to me. but then there is other notions of does founding mean the creation of the foundation upon which the nation grows? in other words, using the word foundational. it's also very different ways of seeing it, and students aren't stupid. they can understand the importance of arguing about
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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 slave which was the foundation of the economy in the early years of the united states. >> in a large part of the country, absolutely. >> and that slavery was also, by the -- by the early 18th century, in essence baked in to the culture and social relations of much of the country. and that gets you in an argument of what do we think about founding. there is a -- 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
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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 the general arc of american history are saying, no, we were a society with slaves. and we excise that and march on. that's different from saying we were a slave society if you think about a medical analogy and what you can excise from your body. >> yeah. so sean willents was one of many fine historians who objected to the premise of the 1619 project not because they denight the importance of slavery in american history. there were 4 million enslaved people in the united states by 1860 and the civil war was fought over it. the point is, just as the 1776 project lacks nuance, 1619 shoe horns into a narrative that
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american history has been an unbroken line of white supremacy to today where -- and also another point following along that narrative was abraham lincoln was a racist who -- >> and again -- >> thomas jefferson's statue was taken down in new york city. >> you said has been an unbroken line. >> yeah. >> i think it would be hard to argue as included an unbroken line. those are two different things. it's a subtle difference. >> there is more to our history than race. >> there is more to our history than race, but you cannot understand our history without understanding that unbroken line. look, one of the major critics of the 1619 project going back to not just sean is james at the university of new york. >> another great historian. >> you know what the title of his first book? >> first book? >> first book? >> i don't. >> it's called the ruling race.
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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 omnipresent, has been continuous and has continued to influence our institutions and our culture. these are two different kinds of things. lincoln was a racist, and this goes back to what historians do is argue with each other. >> in a civil manner. >> in a civil manner. the most important book in some ways, or the most highly visible book that argues that lincoln was a racist was a biography of lincoln called "abraham lincoln racist." i don't agree with it. the author was my friend
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bennett. we were good friends in chicago. we got along very well. we argued with each other vigorously. but we were 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 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 come down, you overlook the fact before he died he came around to supporting black suffrage and black civil rights and had he not been assassinated maybe we could -- >> and it's important to know -- and again this goes back to things are not simple, they are complicated, and that it's important to stand for principles with different political valences.
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the american to historical situation issued a strong criticism of the san francisco school board when it was about to change the name of 44 schools, including abraham lincoln high school. and we said, no, you don't have a process where you consulted historians. this was not a serious inquiry into the history of the people these schools were named after. >> i mentioned before in one of my sentences that new york city today thomas jefferson statue is coming down from the city council chambers. so let's move on to the issue -- go ahead. >> before we -- before we start worrying about thomas jefferson, i am a great admirer of a lot of jefferson's ideas, and so are many americans on all places in the political spectrum. they are taking a statue of jefferson down.
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we could argue about whether it should be taken down or not. there is a lot of statues of thomas jefferson. >> yes, there is. >> we are not erasing thomas jefferson from our history. >> there is an issue. who gets to decide who is honored and where. that's our next topic because when you appeared on history as it happens podcast fairly recently, it was actually in july, around the fourth anniversary. "unite the right" rally, the confederate statues did come down. actually, it was in august. i take that back. the confederate statues came down in charlottesville, generals lee and jackson, and our discussion was really about why certain narratives gain ascendancy and we why 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, as a yankee myself, i moved down
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from washington. i'm a mets fan, but i am from the north. i am a yankee, i guess. moved down to washington, d.c., about a decade ago and i noticed over the river in alexandria there were still streets and roads named after confederates and i thought about it, as to why that would be -- and in charlottesville the statues were not put up right after the civil war to honor battlefield heroes. they were erected in 1924 as a symbol of white power. the klu klux klan held a padre. we discussed the dunning school. follow my premise. i abluded to it before. as children, as jung adults, we have values, beliefs, narratives. when we are introduced to new ideas it can be quite jarring to the senses.
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the dunning school interpretation of the confederacy and reconstruction just didn't come from some crazy guy from left field. it was a prestigious ivy league university and that narrative dominated, that version of history dominated scholarship for about a century, right? what was the dunning school and why is it important by -- >> yeah. fine. that's fine. >> why is that important for this discussion today? >> dunning was a historian at columbia university. he had a lot of ph.d. students, a lot of influence on the ways in which historians wrote about reconstruction, and the -- 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 redeemers, the people, the white southerners who basically drove the black and white republicans out of the statehouses and,
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quote, redeemed the governments their states from this corruption. it wasn't true. it was the way historians saw things for a century. by the 1960s historians were asking different questions, 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 -- one might call the phillip school of slavery. phillips, who taught at a school in the north, an ivy league school, a white southerner, 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
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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 seeing -- freed people as, in essence, child-like. if you look at -- >> paternalistic view. >> worse than paternalistic in many ways. this was embodied in a film called "birth of a nation" in 1915 which had tremendous influence. one of the things that is important to know, which again we hadn't been teaching until, say, 30 years ago, is that african americans across the
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north especially fought against the showing of "birth of a nation." in chicago, it was banned. >> some people objected to the statues going up in the 1920s. >> yes. and african americans objected to the statues. the importance of the statues is that a statue basically says to our children and to visitors, these are the values that we honor. and what i have argued in the case of the starch other 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 happening. >> our consciousness. >> everything. why not say every generation, every 25 years let's step back and look at these statues and say, is this still who we want to honor? >> and i think the important point here, one, another point
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here, if i may, is just as some people today might object to the teaching of sloughry or just how much it might be emphasized in a high school classroom, 100 years ago you couldn't probably walk into a single high school classroom in the united states and learn the cause of secession was slavery and the civil war was fought over slavery, i.e. the dunning school. james mcpherson has written that -- about how the confederates, the neoconfederates -- let me take that back. mcpherson wrote about the lost cause mythologizers, survivors of the confederacy understood how important education was. they made sure children were present at the monument unveil ijs. he wrote they did that so the rising generation with no personal memories of the war would understand the heroism of their fathers. the united daughters of the
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kedsy had children, auxiliaries, the daughters and other confederate groups this a historical committees in the 1890s and they published textbooks that were the textbooks used inside schools in the south and elsewhere for as we said about a century until the 1950s, 1960s. >> well, later than that. the '50s and '60s professional historians started to say this stuff isn't true. >> that's when the scholarship began. >> 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 the result of this is here is a "washington post" poll. 2019, recent. 52% of americans know sloughry was the main cause of the sufl war but 41% blame another reason, to our earlier point about what are kids actually being taught. 1619 aside. >> again, let me emphasize here, this -- in some ways this is
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complicated and some ways it's not. the 41%? >> yes. >> dig into that poll. my guess is that what you are going to find is the other reason is states rights. and so if i'm a teacher, i am going to say to the students, okay, what do we do with these data? we got 52% saying slavery, 41% saying something else and x percent are saying it's states rights. i am going to ask the students, well, states rights do what? is states rights really a principle by which people take up guns and die and kill other people? >> no. terrorists. >> states rights for what? >> that was a means to an end because whether it came to the fugitive slave act northern states, people in northern states refusing to hand back black people so they could be
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enslaved and again the slaveholders didn't respect their state rights. another poll here about the holocaust along the same lines, the reason why i introduced the poll about slavery show again knowledge is superficial. most adults know what the holocaust was. this is a pew research. know what the holocaust was and approximately whether it happened, but fewer than half can correctly answer multiple choice questions about the number of jews who were murdered or the way adolf hitler came to power. these are just multiple choice questions. the point is based on these polls, based on what we have been discussing, we need do a better job educating everyone about history, not just students. i will put myself in the list as well. >> and it's hard. look -- >> and then in this climate, it's difficult to -- >> it is. let's stick for a second the holocaust in american history. most americans are not aware of
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what is basically communicated very straightforwardly in current exhibit at the u.s. holocaust museum, which is that most americans in the 1930s thought that americans knew that the nazis were doing. that's well documented it in the 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 showed they were 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 polls are facts. the materials that are on exhibit at the holocaust museum
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are presented in a very straightforward way. these things should make us uncomfortable and that's part of what's going on -- you are a mets fan. >> i did admit that here on the public. >> so the founding manager of the mets, one of my heroes, casey stengel. turns out casey stengel was a virulent racist. >> i didn't know that. >> i didn't either. so now i have to step back. >> this is uncomfortable for me. this is a childhood hero. then i start reading -- most of my chiel hood heroes, baseball players in the 1960s. not very admirable. >> ty cobb. >> he is worse. >> one of the greatest players of all time. >> not very administerable is an understatement for ty cobb. what do do you? do you say these are deyenss from -- well, no. because the case of cobb, cobb
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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 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 the word before, civil, how historians debate things most of the time in a civil manner. certainly on my podcast, there is no arguing. but there is a lack of civility in this controversy roiling our country. as i mentioned before, we have all seen news clips of parents at school board meetings who i don't want to -- i don't want to overgeneralize here and say they are all, you know, pitchforks and whatever that saying is. but there is a lot of anger out
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there. some people are being threatened. it's a sensitive subject. i don't want anyone to believe i am painting all parents with a broad brush or that all of their concerns aren't worth considering, but there has been a lot of civility about this. so we'll close on this point. from "the atlantic," a great essay by george hacker, can siskts save america? 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 that? >> oh, i think our testing data shows that mathematics education is failing young people. i think we know from some of the conversations about mask-wearing that there must be something about our science education that's failing americans. >> definitely. >> we have a different kind of
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crisis here. what's failing -- and it's true. i mean, lack of civic knowledge is a problem. to question about that. >> attack on expertise. >> it's an attack on expertise. that's right. and that's very different -- civic education is about 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 is 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 funding documents in a historical context and say, these are 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?
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and it's -- >> it's complicated. >> it's complicated. and how did that affect the documents that they wrote? >> makes it more interesting when it's complicated. >> and kids are more interested then in it. teenagers don't want it fed to them. and quiet, frankly, we know it doesn't work. the historical precedent for what you have been describing here is mccarthyism in the 1950s. we have 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 -- if your -- if your kids' teacher is using any of the following 10 or 20 phrases, they are teaching crt. that's almost word for word, if your kids teachers are using the following words they must be a communist. this was all over the united states in the '50s and '60s.
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i am 69 years old. that means that i am roughly the same age as a lot of the people who were in school a little older than me, that's not a lot of communists out there. if the teachers were indoctrinating the students -- >> history and political science professors used to joke with me. we are trying to undermine and subvert american society, we are doing a pretty bad job. james grossman of the american historical association, thank you for this great conversation. hope we got people thinking today. >> i hope so, too, because that is 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 are on an episode recently. people can look that one up. charlottesville says goodbye to the confederacy. from the washington times, i want to thank everyone watching
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in conversation. i'm martin de caro and have a great day. american history tv saturdays on c-span2 exploring the people and events that tell the american story. at 2:00 p.m. on the presidency.
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people and events that shaped the american story. find us, c-span history. i am michael petrilli and i'm president of the thomas b. fordham institute and i'm excited to welcome you to what is to be a lively debate this morning about the "educating for american democracy" roadmap. for those who don't know, the thomas b. fordham institute is a national education think tank. we work in the great state of ohio where we are in education reform advocacy group in columbus. we also oversee about a dozen charter schools.


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