History Books are Not Meant To Make You Feel Comfortable

Florida and The “Don’t Make Me Feel Guilty Act”

The selling and buying of textbooks is a big business and in Florida they are actively controlling  textbooks often concerning the instruction of  issues of race and social protest.  Florida and Governor Ron DeSantis have been much in the news for various censorship bills. Some of the language in the Florida bill CS/HB 7— Individual Freedom  is rather strange. It  attempts to make it so kids are not made to feel guilty through association. I am not sure whether there are specific incidents of teachers traumatizing kids with guilt through association but maybe that is a Florida thing.

Required Instruction

  • A person, by virtue of his or her race or sex, does not bear responsibility for actions committed in the past by other members of the same race or sex.
  • A person should not be instructed that he or she must feel guilt, anguish, or other forms of psychological distress for actions, in which he or she played no part, committed in the past by other members of the same race or sex.

From the Florida Bill CS/HB 7

In Florida, history is evidently not about truth or even the pursuit of truth, but of making sure that certain people feel comfortable.

We’re #1 and Never Question American Exceptionalism

At the core of this sort of legislation is the notion of American exceptionalism. History has always been written and controlled by those in power and the “victors. ”  The bills in Florida are just one more explicit example of this phenomenon.

The history of the United States that was taught to me  in the 1970s left out a lot of important stuff that I learned about only much later in life. (Juneteenth and the Tulsa massacre are just a few examples). Often, the teaching of U.S. history tended to focus on the  the 18th century and the founding of the nation. George Washington and his cherry tree. Benjamin Franklin and his kite and pragmatic habits and little of the fact that he was a vegetarian. The beef industry maybe cut that part out..  The notion that the pilgrims and the Indians had Thanksgiving together and ate turkeys and pumpkin pie.  The exceptionalism of democracy itself. The Declaration of Independence and a little of the Bill of Rights until even that started to become uncomfortable.

By the time you finished high school you maybe learned a few details about the  World War II but that was mostly to the hum of a film projector playing newsreels of the time – the “Battle of the Bulge” or maybe D-Day. Your history teacher, an audio visual enthusiast, was  glad to have the hour of World War II propaganda films so he could grade papers in the dark.  The United States saved the world from fascism but what was fascism but some guy with a strange mustache in a large wool coat screaming into a mic and solders saluting with straight arms. Ten minutes on the holocaust. We did not read anything about the Korean  or Vietnam wars. Cuba was pure evil. The working of the CIA and the assignations of leaders of various democratically elected leaders around the world was never on the syllabus. Current events were discussed occasionally but always in the context of American exceptionalism. Martin Luther King was but a dream. Books that were banned were more often fiction – Huck Finn, Brave New World, Vonnegut and Henry Miller if they somehow made it to the library stacks. Insulting language and often far to sexy. As is always is the case, censorship had the opposite effect of garnering interest for the forbidden texts.

What I find odd about the whole Florida case and the culling of history textbooks is why would Florida even buy new history textbooks? Are the old history books worn out? If they want to live in the fantasy of the US history as taught in 1965 where America can do no wrong, just use one from a bygone time. Every student knows that the real history is often between the lines.  I was often bored to a stupor by the typical history book with the end-of-chapter questions and the summaries meant to fill my brain with often trivial facts. It would be far better to simple use the old history books and teach them in context.  See how the American exceptionalism that was promoted is often far more complex than first meets the eye. Fill in the missing pieces with real books that go into detail about all the things that really happened. Read original works from authors of the time.

What is obviously lacking in all of this discussion is the fact what is often not taught is critical thinking and skepticism, two skills that are essential in life. History can perhaps make people  feel uncomfortable with the truths of the past but kids, please do not take it personally as it is events beyond your control.

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