Blogs > HNN > What Historians are Up Against

Mar 7, 2005 10:15 pm


What Historians are Up Against



As a Middle Eastern history professor who regularly lectures middle and secondary school teachers an Op/Ed in the Feb. 24 LA Times by Stanford professor Sam Wineburg struck a real nerve. Titled "A History of Flawed Teaching" the article's criticism of the lack of preparation teachers go through before being allowed to teach grade or high school history (only 19% or so were even history majors in college) compared with the significant training required to teach math or science actually rang true.

But then Wineburg decided to link a lack of historical training with "bad habits" and a "tendency to disparage facts" that would seem to be the exclusive preserve of a radical sect of ultra-leftist teachers. Of course; If kids aren't learning, it's the fault of liberals! Why didn't I think of that?

Perhaps because it's about as accurate as the White House's Social Security numbers. Indeed, the teachers I've met have no desire to teach students what they personally view as the truth. Rather, most complain that the state curriculum leaves them little more than a few hours to cover the entire modern history of the Middle East and Islam. And even that is too much for many parents, who can be counted on to call them in a rant for daring to discuss Islam as a genuine religion.

And as for what Wineburg calls the "dominant discourse" from which they're trying to "unshackle" unsuspecting students, that would likely be the corporate media-sponsored text books and curricula materials that, in the case of Iraqi history (to take one pertinent example), completely avoid discussing British imperialism or US sponsored coups and violence in the country, both of which were crucial to bringing Saddam Hussein to power. (For a detailed discussion of this issue, see my "What Are Children are Not Learning About Iraq at School," in Tikkun magazine (the link to the article is currently down because they're redoing the site; i'll put it up when it's working again).

Professor Wineburg should know better than to irresponsibly charge a mythical liberal cabal with "reeducating" America's children; that job is already taken by President Bush and his corporate-cum-fundamentalist allies who are stifling honest discussion of the history of American foreign policy around the world at every level of civic discourse; that is when they're not busy demanding equal time for creationism and abstinence training in the classroom.

But it gets even worse. The Feb. 22 issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education reports that the New York City Department of Education will prohibit Columbia Professor Rashid Khalidi from appearing in an occasional training program for secondary-school teachers, because of his criticism of Israel. This occurred after the NY tabloid rag The Sun (for which Daniel Pipes, whose HNN blog is listed next to mine, is a columnist), complained about his involvement in the program, which led Joel I. Klein, the city's schools chancellor, to announce that the professor would no longer be allowed to participate.

Listen to his statement: "Considering his past statements, Rashid Khalidi should not have been included in a program that provided professional development for DOE teachers, and he won't be participating in the future."

Never mind that Khalidi has participated in two training sessions that generated absolutely no controversy. Never mind that The Sun's accusation that he is "anti-Israel" just because he argues, correctly, that Israel's "35-year-old occupation which has instituted systematic racist policies against 3 million people" (if there's an editorial board member of The Sun who can prove this statement wrong, please do so--although I'll say here i prefer the term"discriminatory" to"racist" since we're not actually talking about race; even though Zionist leaders did use that term broadly in a manner that today would more accurately be connoted by the word"ethnicity" or"religion"). No, teachers are not mature or educated enough to judge for themselves whether a speaker is honest and helpful or spouting propaganda; that's the job of a political appointee to determine!

But let's look a bit further into The Sun's criticism of Khalidi. The paper claims that

"In his 2004 book 'Resurrecting Empire,' Mr. Khalidi made numerous significant factual errors… Among them was attributing the Iraq war to the influence of 'Perle, Feith, Wurmser, and others,' which he described as 'part of a group that often seems to have virtually exclusive access to the top decision-makers in the Bush administration.'"

Yes, and… where's the factual error here? Please tell me where the factual error is here. Somehow, according to The Sun, the book's publisher said it would "correct some" of Khalidi's errors in the book's future printings. The Sun seems upset that "the idea that the Bush administration is dominated by a group loyal to an Israeli politician is a recurring theme for Mr. Khalidi. In a May 22, 2003, article in the Nation, he referred to 'the Sharonistas who dominate the Bush Administration.'"

Again, what's the problem here? Is The Sun suggesting that the main players in the Bush Administration don't share a strong affinity with and support the policies of the Sharon Government? If they think that they should fire their Washington reporters and start reading some more reliable newspapers. It is a fact that Bush has long admired Sharon's "get tough" policy on terrorism and unwillingness to compromise his basic political views for immediate political gain. It is also a fact that leading American neocons—yes, some of them Jewish, but not all—are extremely closely aligned to the Israeli Likud Party, to the point of writing extensive policy monographs for Likud leaders. What is Khalidi saying that is factually wrong?

Perhaps it's that he apparently claimed on CNN, inaccurately, that the Israeli occupation was about to become the longest in modern history when, as The Sun points out, China's of Tibet, among a few select others, is longer. If he did claim this, then he's wrong, although i'm not sure how getting a fact wrong in a TV interview warrants losing tenure. But The Sun gets it wrong too, as the longest occupation in "modern" history (which is generally felt to begin somewhere in the 18th century) would more likely be the European occupation of the Americas—but of course a patriotic paper like The Sun won't mention that…

I'm sure Board of Ed Chancellor Klein's knowledge of Middle Eastern history is equal to or even surpasses Khalidi's. Come to think of it, he should probably resign his job and take over as head of Columbia's Middle East Institute. That way he could be sure that New York's school children who manage to make it into Columbia will be protected from Khalidi's brand of left wing post modern reeducation all the way through grad school.

And it's not just Board of Ed hacks going after leading scholars, as NY Democratic Congressman Anthony Wiener, was at the forefront of the attacks on Khalidi's colleague Joseph Massad, whose case I've written about in earlier blogs. And the best response the President of the University (the one time Civil Rights Champion Lee Bolinger) to this mess is to say that he would pledge to uphold the university's policy on freedom of expression but that "the principle of academic freedom is not unlimited."

And who exactly is it determining these limits? The NY Sun? Democratic Congressmen-cum-mayoral candidates? If this is how bad things are in NY, what are historians and other teachers and professors up against in Iowa, Kansas or any of the 30 plus states between the coasts?



comments powered by Disqus

More Comments:


Sandor A. Lopescu - 4/16/2005

I assume Mark LeVine has never read the New York Sun, if he would he'd realize that it's an intelligent paper that covers mostly city politics with a right of center editorial policy. They are, in most ways, Liberal in the way PM used to be--adopting causes that smack of injustice. Like all good justice-seekers, they have had a series of articles exposing the harrasment and at times brutalization of Jewish students that takes place in some Columbia University classes. Whether LeVine likes it or not, it's serious enough so that an inquiry in investigating the situation.
That said, it should be emphasized that Khalidi was not dropped for being moderately anti-Israel, but for specifically calling for the murder of Jewish soldiers serving in the IDF. Approximately one in five teachers in The NY city school system are Jewish. Imagine if one of LeVine's colleagues called for the murder, or even the deportation, of all Mexican illegal aliens? Would the Riverside Public Schools be justified in saying no thanks?


Sandor A. Lopescu - 4/16/2005

I assume Mark LeVine has never read the New York Sun, if he would he'd realize that it's an intelligent paper that covers mostly city politics with a right of center editorial policy. They are, in most ways, Liberal in the way PM used to be--adopting causes that smack of injustice. Like all good justice-seekers, they have had a series of articles exposing the harrasment and at times brutalization of Jewish students that takes place in some Columbia University classes. Whether LeVine likes it or not, it's serious enough so that an inquiry in investigating the situation.
That said, it should be emphasized that Khalidi was not dropped for being moderately anti-Israel, but for specifically calling for the murder of Jewish soldiers serving in the IDF. Approximately one in five teachers in The NY city school system are Jewish. Imagine if one of LeVine's colleagues called for the murder, or even the deportation, of all Mexican illegal aliens? Would the Riverside Public Schools be justified in saying no thanks?


Sandor A. Lopescu - 4/16/2005

Adam:

Thank you for taking the time to do, with precision and care, what needed to be done to this very poorly presented argument.


Charles Edward Heisler - 3/6/2005

I could take some commentators much more seriously if they did not undermine themselves with the following kind of unsupported nonsense:

"Professor Wineburg should know better than to irresponsibly charge a mythical liberal cabal with "reeducating" America's children; that job is already taken by President Bush and his corporate-cum-fundamentalist allies who are stifling honest discussion of the history of American foreign policy around the world at every level of civic discourse; that is when they're not busy demanding equal time for creationism and abstinence training in the classroom"

I would warrent that the author cannot make his case for the above statement with any convincing evidence. Hyperbole simply destroys the credibility of so many that grind axes with the Bush Administration. So much of what they aver is no better supported with evidence than those that tout alien abductions.


Marc "Adam Moshe" Bacharach - 3/4/2005

Thank YOU for the compliment, Sandor. I would love to hear the authors response to what I have said, if he is so inclined.


Marc "Adam Moshe" Bacharach - 3/3/2005

After reading the editorial that the author linked to, I have a hard time believing that we both read the same thing here. I found the editorial to be totally innocuous and indeed made many good points.

1) “But then Wineburg decided to link a lack of historical training with "bad habits" and a "tendency to disparage facts" that would seem to be the exclusive preserve of a radical sect of ultra-leftist teachers. Of course; If kids aren't learning, it's the fault of liberals! Why didn't I think of that?”

Actually, based on my reading of the editorial, it is not liberals, liberalism, or any ideology that Wineburg laments, but the lack of history education among history teachers, a situation that he claims lead to “bad habits.” I am not really sure why this is a controversial point. No where does he mention a “radical sect of ultra-leftist teachers.” This is a straw man argument that puts words into the authors mouth only to discredit them.

2) “Indeed, the teachers I've met have no desire to teach students what they personally view as the truth.”

If the teachers you have met have had training and education about history, and know their subject well, then they would not be included in the people Wineburg is talking about. Again, he is complaining only about teachers who are not qualified to teach, based on their educational background.

3) “Professor Wineburg should know better than to irresponsibly charge a mythical liberal cabal with "reeducating" America's children; that job is already taken by President Bush and his corporate-cum-fundamentalist allies who are stifling honest discussion of the history of American foreign policy around the world at every level of civic discourse; that is when they're not busy demanding equal time for creationism and abstinence training in the classroom.”

Again, and I can’t stress this enough, Wineburg never made the argument that this author is ascribing him with. The article was addressing inexperienced history teachers who use the classroom as their own philosophy pulpit out of lack of real knowledge. The authors attempt to pit the article as some wild conspiracy theory is wrong and unfair to Wineburg. As for the comment about Bush, come on, was it really necessary? What does a petty and childish attack on Bush have to do with this article. I am no Bush supporter and perhaps in another context might agree with your analysis, but by including the comment in this commentary, the author only discredits himself and the article.

Now on to the other, though totally unrelated, issue you bring up:

4) The author cites the following: “In his 2004 book 'Resurrecting Empire,' Mr. Khalidi made numerous significant factual errors… Among them was attributing the Iraq war to the influence of 'Perle, Feith, Wurmser, and others,' which he described as 'part of a group that often seems to have virtually exclusive access to the top decision-makers in the Bush administration.'"
You then ask, “Yes, and… where's the factual error here? Please tell me where the factual error is here.”

I don’t know if it is factually wrong, but it certainly is not factually correct, based on the evidence. Is there any evidence to indicate that “'Perle, Feith, Wurmser, and others” was responsible for the Iraq war? I also do not believe the extraordinary claim that these people had “virtually exclusive access to the top decision-makers.” It is an opinion, and an invalid one in my opinion, NOT a fact.

5) “The Sun seems upset that "the idea that the Bush administration is dominated by a group loyal to an Israeli politician is a recurring theme for Mr. Khalidi. In a May 22, 2003, article in the Nation, he referred to 'the Sharonistas who dominate the Bush Administration.'"
The author asks again: “what's the problem here? Is The Sun suggesting that the main players in the Bush Administration don't share a strong affinity with and support the policies of the Sharon Government?”

Not based on your quote. What the Sun is suggesting is that it is a serious claim to insinuate that a group of prominent officials is “loyal” to the leader of a foreign government. Remember that scene from “A Few Good Men” where Tom Cruise is told that if he accused a high-ranking General of committing a crime, he could be court-marshaled, just for the accusation? It’s kind of like that (although the fact that the General did turn out to be guilty is something not lost on me when I brought up the example).

6) “It is a fact that Bush has long admired Sharon's "get tough" policy on terrorism and unwillingness to compromise his basic political views for immediate political gain. It is also a fact that leading American neocons—yes, some of them Jewish, but not all—are extremely closely aligned to the Israeli Likud Party, to the point of writing extensive policy monographs for Likud leaders. What is Khalidi saying that is factually wrong?”

Supporting a government’s policies and even collaborating with foreign leaders on mutual interests and policy choices is NOT the same thing as being loyal to them over American interests, which is clearly the implication being made. One is a common practice among government officials, and the other is virtually treason.

7) “Never mind that The Sun's accusation that he is "anti-Israel" just because he argues, correctly, that Israel's "35-year-old occupation which has instituted systematic racist policies against 3 million people"

Although others on this site, including John, already addressed this, and I agree 100%, it bears an additional mention. Is this author suggesting that Khalidi is NOT anti-Israel and that the Sun got it wrong?!? The charge of “systematic racist policies against 3 million people” is NOT a fact, it is an opinion (and one totally unsupported by the facts, I will resist the temptation to turn this into another argument over Israeli policies). The author would be better served to argue that being anti-Israel should not be grounds to discrimination rather than make the outrageous claim that a comment clearly inflammatory towards Israel does not mean that the author of the comment doesn’t like Israel. That is simply foolish, with all due respect.


Richard Henry Morgan - 3/3/2005

The other side of the coin is the views of pseudo-scholars being sought out and included in curricula. Take the Portland Baseline Readers, for instance -- please [implied rimshot]. Or the hiring of Leonard Jeffries, for curricular reform, by State Commissioner Thomas Sobol. Or the exquistely baroque curricular efforts of Molefi Asante.


John H. Lederer - 3/3/2005

'just because he argues, correctly, that Israel's "35-year-old occupation which has instituted systematic racist policies against 3 million people" (if there's an editorial board member of The Sun who can prove this statement wrong, please do so--although I'll say here i prefer the term "discriminatory" to "racist" since we're not actually talking about race; even though Zionist leaders did use that term broadly in a manner that today would more accurately be connoted by the word "ethnicity" or "religion").'
============================
"Racist" is a term with high emotional content. To call policies "racist", assert their absolute validity, and then in a parenthetical say words to the effect of "but of course racist isn't really correct" is a bit breathtaking.

Sort of like validating calling someone a "Nazi", and then in parentheses explaing he really is more sort of a LaFollette progressive.