Although I love to read, high school textbooks have never been on my "must read" list. So, like others who do not have a son or daughter in the public school system, I have not been exposed to the textbooks or other teaching materials the system now uses. But I recently came across a display of new high school textbooks at a local library and leafing through these textbooks was, to put it mildly, an eye-opener. I want to briefly share my impressions as well as present some highlights from one book that intrigued me: Prentice Hall’s 2003 edition of Civics: Participating in Government.
I was first struck by the difference between this Civics textbook and the ones I remembered from my high school days. Those books were no-frills editions, primarily text with few illustrations and those were mostly black and white ones. But this new version offers a burst of color from beginning to end and is replete with charts, diagrams, cartoons and, to my mind, an excess of pictures. The pictures are carefully chosen and arranged throughout the book in such a way as to insure that every race and culture is represented equally.
But equal representation does not apply to males and females. In fact, the coverage is so skewed toward women that I began to wonder if the book had been edited by Gloria Steinem. A section on crime prevention features a picture of a female police officer on horseback, and in another section a female firefighter is shown in full uniform, carrying a fire hose. A discussion of media and government has a picture of Dee Dee Myers, President Clinton’s press secretary, briefing the Washington press corps. Also, throughout the book are segments called: "People make a difference" and each installment focuses on a person or persons who have made special contributions to the American community. Of these 13 segments, nine concern females; one addresses the activities of an Hispanic male, another an African-American male, and the subject of two are white males.
One of the segments featuring white males is about Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, founders of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream company in Burlington, Vermont. They are honored for their "community-oriented" approach to business; i.e. using a portion of their earnings to promote "social justice." The article in the new Civics textbook doesn’t mention any specific causes Ben & Jerry helped and probably for good reasons.
One of Ben & Jerry’s contentious projects involved taking a full page ad in the New York Times in support of the "Free Mumia Jamal" movement. If you don’t recall this event, I’ll refresh your memory. In 1981, Mumia Jamal shot a Philadelphia police officer in the back in front of several witnesses. Then, as the witnesses continued watching, he stood over the fallen officer and emptied his gun into the officer’s face. Mumia bragged that he had shot the "pig" and hoped he was dead. His trial was called a "prosecutor’s dream." In addition to "mountains of evidence and a parade of eyewitnesses" there were ballistic tests proving that the bullets removed from the officer were fired from the pistol taken from Mumia. Nevertheless, Ben & Jerry’s expensive ad claimed that, based on comments by former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark, Mumia did not receive a fair trial.
The new Civics textbook features another set of installments, also 13 in number, called "Beliefs In Action: Respected Americans who have set an example by acting on their beliefs." The people so honored are:
- Barbara Jordan
- James Madison
- Thurgood Marshall
- Madeleine Albright
- Louis Brandeis
- Tony Garza
- Michael Dell
- Carol Browner
- Sandra Day O’Connor
- Judith Kaye
- Carolyn Jefferson-Jenkins
- Colin Powell
- Ginetta Sagan
I won’t comment further on this unusual list except to express my surprise that James Madison made the cut.
I was also surprised that Cynthia McKinney is featured in the book. Below her picture is the inscription; "Representative Cynthia McKinney of Georgia made personal appearances a key part of her successful re-election campaign in 1998." McKinney’s picture is also included with other notables in the book’s introduction. But since McKinney was overwhelmingly voted out of office in 2002 by angry constituents, why would a textbook published in 2003 use her as an example of a successful candidate? As a result of her goofy public statements, she has been called a "loose cannon," "loony McKinney" and also "Jihad Cindy," because of her coziness with wealthy anti-American Arabs. One journalist stated that McKinney’s "donor list reads like a Ramallah phone book."
The section on "Government’s Role in Our Economy" contains the following comments. "The government plays an important role in the American economy. The Constitution gave Congress and the states the power to make "ground rules" for a market economy. As the economy has developed, however, Americans have become increasingly aware that the free enterprise system may not always serve the common good. While it has made the United States one of the wealthiest countries in the world, it has also led to problems that cannot be solved by letting the market system work entirely on its own. These problems have caused Americans to look to government for solutions."
These statements are, at the very least, misleading exaggerations. Have citizens demanded that government increase its regulation of the free market? Or has the government establishment convinced U.S. citizens that its escalating regulations are needed? And has the deluge of government regulations decreased or increased the price of goods and services?
In the section on "American Foreign Policy" we find these comments: "The end of World War II marked the end of the belief that the United States should try to stay out of conflicts between other nations. American leaders saw that our own national security went hand-in-hand with global security. Trouble anywhere in the world could mean trouble for the United States. Therefore, the goal of world peace took center stage in foreign policy."
Ask yourself. Did trouble in Somalia and Afghanistan mean trouble for the United States? Should we sacrifice the lives of our young men and women to correct conditions in Bosnia and Iraq? Did we invade Grenada Island because it was a threat to our nation?
The Prentice Hall textbook also promotes affirmative action with this language: "Over the years, many companies have discriminated against job applicants because of race. In these companies the racial background of employees has not reflected the mixture in the local population. Starting in the late 1960s, as a result of the civil rights movement, the government worked to correct the effects of unfair hiring practices. It required companies to take affirmative action, steps to counteract the effects of past racial discrimination and discrimination against women."
Here the authors accept the specious logic used by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, i.e., if the racial and gender mix of a company’s workforce does not closely match the mix of the local population, de facto discrimination is confirmed.
Finally, no contemporary textbook would be complete without a discussion of the "benefits of diversity." The new Civics textbook states: "As you explore what it means to be a citizen of this nation called the United States, it will be useful to look more closely at the diversity of our backgrounds and learn how that diversity contributes to who we are as a people. Our cultural differences make it clear that Americans have not melted together to form one identity. Instead of giving up our separate cultures, we have retained parts of them and, in the process, have enriched American culture as a whole. Despite our differences, we have survived as a nation for more than two hundred years."
Contrary to what the authors claim, the United States has survived for over two hundred years precisely because we were a "melting pot." Shared values, traditions, mores, speech, and, for the majority, a Judeo-Christian religious ethic, remained relatively constant for our first two centuries. Some aspects of former cultures were retained but for the most part these were customs and observances that werenu2018t detrimental to our overall cohesion. However, the "diversity" the authors are promoting is a radical departure from the past 200 plus years and it hasn’t been around long enough to make any reliable assumptions regarding its effect on American society. At this point it is still an experiment, a fad without a significant following, and it is inappropriate to imply otherwise to impressionable high school students.