About that history textbook that rewrites the Second Amendment

About that history textbook that rewrites the Second Amendment

History bookIf you are a user of Twitter, you are probably aware that the hashtag #SecondAmendment trends on and off. Recently, the tag trended because of attention drawn to a textbook being used by selected high schools to ready students for an advanced placement history exam.

The book’s title — “U.S. History: Preparing for the Advanced Placement Examination” — appears in the running header at the top of the page in the widely circulated photo at the left.

It is published by Amsco, a relatively small New York producer of educational “ancillaries.” These are texts to be used in conjunction with, and sometimes as a replacement for, the thick tomes that major el-hi publishing cartels crank out.

The book has been generating a good deal of buzz because of the rather unorthodox recasting of thU.S. History Preparing for advanced placement exame Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution to include the phrase “in a state militia.” It is conceivable that the original text — “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed” — could present comprehension difficulties to a high school student, even in an advanced placement course, so paraphrasing is understandable. But the reordering of the ideas in the original, such that the term “state militia” is introduced, changes the meaning.

The Blaze notes charitably that the wording “could certainly be an accidental misinterpretation by the textbook’s author.” But a closer inspection of “United States History: Preparing for the Advanced Placement Examination” suggests otherwise.

The text, which is here in PDF format, contains the following observation in the preface (page xvi):

Definition of historyThe last paragraph, written by the authors, is especially intriguing in that it lumps together the two wholly disparate acts of revising history and rewriting history. One is an act of legitimate scholarship, the other an agenda-driven, feel-good fool’s errand. There is no doubt that history is revised periodically, but only for one of the reasons stated — the discovery of new sources and information. Changes in society have no bearing on the revision of history, and both the notions “changing perspectives of historians” and “the asking of new questions” are too vague and hence meaningless to merit serious commentary.

But the term rewriting history and its end-product — revisionist history — have nothing whatsoever to do with the revising of history or pursuit of history itself. These malicious practices do derive from changes in society and are, thus, to be deplored. History is not a popularity contest, as the authors of this text and other fans of revisionist history would have readers believe.

It is interesting that the one “scholar” they cite, the “influential” John Hope Franklin, was an early advocate of revisionist history. This is evident not only in the quote of him that they include but in a statement he made regarding his epic 1947 work “From Slavery to Freedom”:

My challenge was to weave into the fabric of American history enough of the presence of blacks so that the story of the United States could be told adequately and fairly.

The presumption that American history was inadequate or unfair before Franklin published his addenda to it is preposterous. Even more preposterous are the “refinements” to the teaching of American history that have been forced on American schoolchildren in recent decades in the name of fairness and diversity.

To cite one example, Michael B. Chesson, a professor of history at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, writes in The Textbook Letter of the falsehoods perpetrated by contemporary el-hi publishers of history texts in their treatment of the Underground Railroad. In an analysis of five textbooks, Chesson writes that all tell the same tall tale — “a mess of feel-good myths masquerading as historical information.”

These myths, ranging from imaginary conceptions of the Railroad itself to patently fictitious claims about the exploits of Harriet Tubman, are delivered to students in sentences, paragraphs and illustrations that often are interchangeable from book to book. It seems that all the writers have tried to imitate one mythic model while diligently ignoring real history….

All of these texts give students the false impression that the Underground Railroad was a vast, formal system of escape routes, secret signs and safe houses by which fugitive slaves could travel to destinations where slavery no longer existed — and four of the books contain maps that purport to show this system’s trunk lines and branches. “The American Journey” has two such maps; “Free Nation” and “Pathways” and “Past and Promise” have one map apiece. All the maps are ludicrous. They convey much misinformation, and some of them are so detailed that they resemble diagrams of today’s interstate highway system….

The notion that the Underground Railroad had routes which ran throughout the South, and which were manned by kindly Southern abolitionists, is a fiction. To the extent that the Underground Railroad operated at all, it operated in the free states of the North. It was a hazy, informal alliance of Northern abolitionists, many of them free blacks. It was established to assist fugitive slaves who, by their own efforts and without any help from friendly Southerners, had reached free territory. To the extent that the Underground Railroad had any practical importance, it acquired its significance after the adoption of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 — and by 1850 the population of abolitionists in the South was inconsequentially small. Southern abolitionism had never been strong, and it had practically ceased to exist after 1831, when slaves led by Nat Turner staged a short-lived but bloody rebellion.

Chesson goes on at considerable length and in considerable detail, and the flaws he elucidates would make a true historian’s hair curl. Ditto for the pablum being marketed by Amsco purportedly to help students prepare for the advanced placement history exam.

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Howard Portnoy

Howard Portnoy

Howard Portnoy has written for The Blaze, HotAir, NewsBusters, Weasel Zippers, Conservative Firing Line, RedCounty, and New York’s Daily News. He has one published novel, Hot Rain, (G. P. Putnam’s Sons), and has been a guest on Radio Vice Online with Jim Vicevich, The Alana Burke Show, Smart Life with Dr. Gina, and The George Espenlaub Show.


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