Textbooks as Ideological Weapons

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you wanted to write a book on what ideas shaped the thinking of
the mass of Americans after 1850, the first place to begin would
be textbooks used in public schools. You would probably begin with
the McGuffey advanced readers and about 70 other books in the Eclectic
Education Series. A friend of mine once located 50 titles and put
them on a CD-ROM, but then he decided not to publish it. Except
for McGuffey readers and Joseph Ray’s arithmetic books, they are

It is extremely
difficult to locate textbooks. College libraries rarely collect
them, because they take up space and go out of print every four
years. A handful of educational research libraries keep college-level
textbooks as reference works. Columbia University does. High school
textbooks are even more scarce.

Frances Fitzgerald’s
book, America Revisited, surveys twentieth-century public
school high school textbooks in history and the social sciences.
I know of no other similar attempt. Her book shows how the ideological
wheels came off after 1965, when the New Left and new everything
else began to undermine the accepted truths and platitudes of the
public school textbooks.

She devotes
considerable space to David Saville Muzzey. His was never a household
name. Yet it would not be far from the truth to say that he, more
than anyone else, shaped the thinking of most Americans regarding
the history of America. From the first edition of his textbook in
1911 until the final edition in 1961, Muzzey’s book was the most
widely used American history textbook. In some years, it outsold
all others combined. After his death in 1965, there was a revised
edition, co-authored by Arthur S. Link, one of the premier Establishment
historians, who was the editor of Woodrow Wilson’s papers (Princeton
University Press) and Wilson’s chief hagiographer in the mid-twentieth


Who has ever
heard of Muzzey? Only specialists in public school education. I
remembered him only because I read his textbook in 1958 and recalled
his name. I recently bought copy of the 1922 edition, a transaction
made possible by the Web. It is 800 pages long. Its text is as detailed
as any lower-division college-level American history textbook. To
compare this book — its vocabulary, its absence of pictures, its
high concentration of names and events and statistics per page —
with a high school textbook today is itself educational.

Muzzey was
a graduate of Union Theological Seminary of New York, which was
the most liberal independent seminary in mainline Protestant America
in 1910. He was a leader in Ethical Culture, a self-consciously
agnostic religion, which published his book, Ethics
as a Religion
. He was a professor at Columbia University,
which decades later would absorb the financially ailing Union Seminary.
Nearby, Columbia Teacher’s College was at the cutting edge of progressive
education in the United States.

His book is
typical of public school textbooks around the world after 1850:
an intellectual defense of nationalism. Throughout the West after
the rise of Napoleon, nationalism became the State’s substitute
for organized religion. The public schools universally inculcated
some form of State-deifying nationalism.

Muzzey’s book
begins with a chapter on “The Colonial Background.” It is 54 pages
long. It moves to “The American Revolution,” which is almost 50
pages long. It then becomes a history of America written in terms
of Presidential administrations: “Washington and Adams,” “The Jeffersonian
Policies,” “The New Nationalism,” and “The Reign of Andrew Jackson.”

The book’s
structure was no different in my era. For half a century, Muzzey’s
textbook was the primary tool that taught tens of millions of American
teenagers to view the history of America as the evolution of Presidential
politics. This was the tax-funded substitute for the earlier tradition
of writing history as the reign of kings and the exploits of generals.
The focus was still the same: political power. But, after 1787,
as it had been before 325, political power was seen as redemptive.
Messianic politics steadily replaced kingly politics. It was not
accidental that after the kings finally departed from Continental
Europe in 1917—18, they were soon replaced by Lenin, Stalin,
and Hitler.

The American
Revolution was the premier event in the evolution of messianic politics
within the right wing Enlightenment, while the French Revolution
was the premier event in the evolution of messianic politics within
the left wing Enlightenment.

This is not
how the two events are taught in the textbooks.


To run a quick
litmus test for the ideology any textbook on American history, survey
the accounts of two events: (1) the debates between the Federalists
and anti-Federalists; (2) the Lincoln administration and the outcome
of the war. If the bias is pro-Federalist and pro-Union, then the
textbook is a tool of indoctrination for the centralized nation-state.
It is also an example of what in business is called bait and switch.

Muzzey’s 1922
textbook is typical. First the bait: 1788.

The Constitution
is brief, clear, and simple. Its unique value from the point of
view of political science is the device by which it secured supremacy
of the new federal government without destroying or absorbing
the state governments. (p. 145)

Then the switch:

country was first welded into a true Union in the fierce fires of
that ordeal. The national state replaced the federation of states.
The war was not only the triumph of the North over the South, of
freedom over slavery — it was also the triumph of nationalism over
states’ rights, of Webster over Calhoun (p. 613).

This exposition
in fact reflects the results of what was
the supreme bait and switch in American history: 1787—88
. The
problem with Muzzey’s textbook is not that it defends this bait
and switch process. The problem is that it does not identify bait
and switch as bait and switch.

The Federalists
were successful in their coup dtat, which is what it was, and what
anyone reading Muzzey’s textbook account of the process can reasonably
conclude that it was. But Muzzey refused to label it properly.

His book was
published by a major public school textbook publishing firm, Ginn
& Co. In 1893, Ginn published Political
Science and Comparative Constitutional Law
, vol. 1, Sovereignty
and Liberty, by Columbia University’s Constitutional historian,
John W. Burgess. He had been forthright about the activities of
Madison and the framers in 1787.

The natural
leaders of the American people were at last assembled for the
purpose of deliberating upon the whole question of the American
state. They closed the doors upon the idle curiosity and the crude
criticism of the multitude, adopted the rule of the majority in
their acts, and proceeded to reorganize the American state and
frame for it an entirely new central government. . . . This was
the transcendent result of their labors. It certainly was not
understood by the Confederate Congress, or by the legislatures
of the commonwealths, or by the public generally, that they were
to undertake any such problem. It was generally supposed that
they were there for the purpose simply of improving the machinery
of the Confederate government and increasing somewhat its powers.
There was, also, but one legal way for them to proceed in reorganizing
the American state as the original basis of the constitution which
they were about to propose, viz.; they must send the plan
therefore, as a preliminary proposition, to the Confederate
Congress, procure its adoption by that body and its recommendation
by that body to the legislatures of the commonwealths, and finally
secure its approval by the legislature of every commonwealth.
The new sovereignty, thus legally established, might then be legally
and constitutionally appealed to for the adoption of any plan
of government which the convention might choose to propose. The
convention did not, however, proceed in any such manner. What
they actually did, stripped of all fiction and verbiage, was to
assume constituent powers, ordain a constitution of government
and of liberty, and demand the plebiscite thereon, over
the heads of all existing legally organized powers. Had Julius
or Napoleon committed these acts they would have been pronounced
coup d’etat [sic]. Looked at from the side of the people
exercising the plebiscite, we term the movement revolution.
The convention clothed its acts and assumptions in more moderate
language than I have used, and professed to follow a more legal
course than I have indicated. . . . Of course the mass of the
people were not at all able to analyze the real character of this
procedure. It is probable that many of the members of the convention
itself did not fully comprehend just what they were doing. . .
. Really, however, it deprived the Congress and the legislatures
of all freedom of action by invoking the plebiscite. It
thus placed those bodies under the necessity of affronting the
source of their own existence unless they yielded unconditionally
to the demands of the convention (pp. 104—6).

Textbooks are
less forthright than monographs aimed at scholars, who presumably
are ready for more unpalatable truths.

The Civil War
was the culmination of the coup of 1787—88. It made clear what had
been deliberately obscured by the Federalists in 1787: The Constitution
was a stepping-stone to national political centralization.

The anti-Federalists
had recognized this and warned against it. Patrick Henry was the
most prominent of them. But history books are written by the victors.
The anti-Federalists have been dismissed as either cranks or “men
of little faith” (Adrienne Koch) ever since 1788. Even the deaths
of 600,000 troops (1861—65) did not validate the warnings of the
anti-Federalists in the minds of the spiritual heirs of 1788. The
winners also wrote the post-1865 history textbooks.


a recent article
, I mentioned what should be obvious to every
tuition-paying parent, but in fact is ignored by almost all of them.
The high school American history textbooks and civics textbooks
used in the Christian schools are baptized versions of the public
school textbooks. I wrote: “If you think I’m wrong, see what they
say about the anti-Federalists of 1787, Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt,
World War I, World War II, and the other great crusades of the modern
messianic American State.”

The larger
problem is simple to state: These parents were the targets of a
program of political and religious propaganda that extends back
for at least 150 years. They long ago adopted most of the ideology
of the public school history textbooks. They still sing the old
songs that they were taught as children and then practiced all the
way through college. The victims are blissfully unaware that they
are victims. They do not understand that this process of oppression
began early: where Chapter 2 of Muzzey’s textbook began. He dismissed
the colonial period as an ineffective era, an era of disunity and
regional tyranny from which the Framers delivered America.

But, when push
came to shove, it was Sherman’s march to the sea that really delivered
America, along with the centralized national government that supplied
Sherman with men and equipment. Muzzey wrote in 1922: “Besides creating
a national currency, a national banking-system, a national army,
and national taxes, the war extended and enhanced the power of the
central government in a score of ways (p. 613).” And who had made
this possible? Why, Father Abraham, the redeemer. Volume 1 of this
universally admired high school textbook ended with this poem:

children shall behold his fame,
The kindly-earnest, brave, foreseeing man,
Sagacious, patient, dreading praise not blame,
New birth of our new soil, the first American

New birth,
indeed! Anyone who does not detect the whiff of incense in this
poem suffers from public school-induced hay fever.

Christian parents
today shell out thousands of dollars a year per student to enroll
their children in Christian high schools. But do they read the textbooks?
Are the textbooks only marginally better than Muzzey’s, who wrote
the textbook that millions of public school-educated Christian parents
accepted as the common wisdom of the ages? Do these Christian school
textbooks identify the source of the problem: Washington, Madison,
Hamilton, and the other nationalists — misleadingly called Federalists
— in 1787?

Baptized nationalism
is still nationalism. Baptized statism is still statism. Baptized
humanism is still humanism.


For four decades,
1961—2001, R. J. Rushdoony was the best-known Protestant defender
of Christian education and the de-funding of all tax-supported public
education. There were other defenders of Christian education in
the twentieth century, but none equally committed to the complete
de-funding of public education. The others were defenders of Christian
education as supplementary to public education. His position was
hard-core: Take away the public schools’ money.

His position
was grounded on a concept of responsibility: Parents, not taxpayers,
are responsible for their children’s education. He accepted church-supported
schools, but he thought they were generally a mistake. Parents do
not pay for 100% of their children’s education, so parents must
share responsibility with church members. This leads to division
in the churches over how the money should be spent. His ideal was
either profit-seeking schools along the lines of Fairfax Christian
School in Virginia, or home schooling.

He testified
for the defense in a famous trial
in Texas in 1987
, where his testimony was decisive in the State’s
loss of a lawsuit against home schooling parents. This defeat gained
greater freedom from interference by the State of Texas, whose Attorney
General was active in his opposition to home schoolers.

Schools Are Different!”

Because of
his prominence in the Christian school movement, he was forever
being told face to face by parents who had sent or were sending
their children into the local tax-subsidized public school system
that “our schools are different.” These parents were probably suffering
the pangs of conscience, so they felt compelled to defend themselves
against Rushdoony’s across-the-board condemnation of tax-funded

Because he
had not made a personal investigation of each of these schools,
which supposedly were the institutional equivalent of the immaculate
conception, he could not say, “You’re kidding yourself. Your schools
are no different.” It would then be his word against theirs, and
they were local observers in possession of “the facts.” He had a
much more effective answer.

local schools, like all public schools, are required by law to assign
textbooks that have been approved by a state textbook committee.
These textbooks must meet the standards set by the nation’s educational
Establishment and also the U.S. Supreme Court’s standards imposing
religious neutrality. It doesn’t matter who runs your local schools.
It doesn’t matter if half the teachers belong to the First Baptist
Church. Your children are being taught what to believe through the

This always
ended the discussion. The parents of course still would send their
kids into the “free” schools. But Rushdoony silenced them by showing
that they were terminally nave. They had decided, not based on
religious principle, but on pocketbook considerations. Rushdoony
fully understood this. He was just closing off the apparent escape
hatch of “Our schools are different.” He knew that none of these
defenders of public education had ever sat down and read even one
textbook assigned to their children. So, they could hardly refute
him on this point. None of them ever bothered to try, he told me.


answer to the parents who insisted, “Our public school is different,”
was on target: Read the textbooks.

My answer to
all the parents who have delegated the responsibility over their
children’s education to a local Christian school is the same: Read
the textbooks.

Home school
mothers are forced to read the textbooks — or, better yet, not use
textbooks at all. But even these mothers face a problem: They were
fed a steady diet of public school historiography in their youth,
as were their parents and grandparents. Breaking that teenage addiction,
mother to child, will take several generations.

must begin sometime. I suggest now.

17, 2006

North [send him mail] is the
author of Mises
on Money
. Visit http://www.garynorth.com.
He is also the author of a free 17-volume series, An
Economic Commentary on the Bible

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