Applied history

July 31, 2006

Here’s a profession where history reading is a critical skill:

Robert Young writes down the measurements recorded by state-of-the-art digital equipment held by survey party chief Barry Brown.

Photo by J. G. Domke, special to Ft. Worth Star-Telegram.

Caption: Robert Young writes down the measurements recorded by state-of-the-art digital equipment held by survey party chief Barry Brown.

See excerpts of the story, about George Washington’s profession, below the fold.

Read the rest of this entry »

James Madison, go-to guy

July 31, 2006

School starts soon. History classes will study the founding of the United States. And especially under the topical restrictions imposed by standardized testing, many kids will get a short-form version of history that leaves out some of the most interesting stuff.

James Madison gets short shrift in the current canon, in my opinion. Madison was the fourth president, sure, and many textbooks note his role in the convention at Philadelphia that wrote the Constitution in 1787. But I think Madison’s larger career, especially his advocacy for freedom from 1776 to his death, is overlooked. Madison was the “essential man” in the founding of the nation, in many ways. He was able to collaborate with people as few others in order to get things done, including his work with George Mason on the Virginia Bill of Rights, with George Washington on the Constitution and national government structure, Thomas Jefferson on the structure and preservation of freedom, Alexander Hamilton on the Constitution and national bank, and James Monroe on continuing the American Revolution.

We need to look harder at the methods and philosophy, and life, of James Madison. This is an opinion I’ve held for a long time. Below the fold I reproduce a “sermon” I delivered to the North Texas Church of Freethought in November 2001. Read the rest of this entry »

Protecting civil rights, still

July 30, 2006

Journalist Diane Solis wrote in the Dallas Morning News today (free subscription may be required — and its dated, so hurry) about a continuing need for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), one of the most maligned federal agencies. When I staffed the Senate Labor Committee the commission was subject to a long-term investigation of its activities.

EEOC in litigated 400 cases in 2005, but it handled 75,000 complaints. Among the incidents Solis writes about:

In May, a judge ruled that 52 Indian nationals were held in lockdown by an armed guard, subjected to food rationing and paid well below the minimum wage at the John Pickle Co. in Oklahoma. The award: $1.24 million.

In March, a court heard the case of a black man who was harassed by fellow workers and restrained as they tightened a noose around his neck at Commercial Coating Service Inc. in Texas. The award: $1 million.

The long fight for civil rights continues, too.

Bartonizing Jefferson

July 30, 2006

Dictionaries of the future will feature “bartonizing,” after Texas mathematics teacher David Barton, with a reference to “bowdlerization.” Ed Brayton at Dispatches from the Culture Wars details a recent flurry of correcting a Barton misapprehension of history about one of Thomas Jefferson’s studies of the gospels, which resulted in a book called The Jefferson Bible.

The issue is a strange claim by Barton, repeated by Dr. D. James Kennedy at Coral Gables Ministries, that Jefferson wrote the thing in an attempt to convert Indians to Christianity. Students of Jefferson immediately recognize that claim as contrary to Jefferson’s character on several fronts.

The discussion is enlightened and enlightening; I noted the similar claim that Jefferson built a church and hired a priest for the Kaskaskias (in Illinois), with federal funds, is similarly in error. The fight against revisionist history — revising history to add errors — continues.

(One current edition of the Jefferson Bible on sale at Monticello features a forward by Rev. F. Forrester Church, minister at senior minister of the Unitarian Church of All Souls in New York City; that must frost Kennedy and Barton.)

Mississippi teacher pay raise

July 29, 2006

Mississippi proposes to raise teacher pay 3%. The Jackson Clarion-Ledger editorially supports the pay raise, but notes that Mississippi has spent so long talking about teacher pay raises that the rest of the nation has moved on — a pay raise will keep Mississippi out of last place among the states in teacher pay, but just barely. Mississippians had hoped to raise their ranking.

But salaries are a moving target; the benchmark was the average in place in 2001, not 2006, and certainly not 2007 and beyond. While Mississippi was giving incremental raises, so were other states in the Southern Regional Education Board area – some larger than Mississippi’s – so, the funding gap remains.

Five years ago, Mississippi’s average teacher salary was $31,954. For 2006-07, without a new raise this year, the average salary will be $41,413. But, among SREB states, the average for 2004-05 (the latest figure available) is $42,333. The national average salary was $47,808.

As a result, state Board of Education vice chairman Bill Jones has noted: “We’ve been talking about meeting that goal of the Southeastern average for 25 years. And we’re 47th. We’re only $150 away from being 50th.”

Woe be to any state that slips below Mississippi. The Clarion-Ledger closes with this:

Mississippi not only must catch up, it also must keep up with competitive teacher salaries in the region. Otherwise, the state will continue to fall behind.

Salary levels should not be a one-shot deal that comes around at election time.

The newspaper is right, at least if one assumes Mississippians want a solid economy, good jobs, and they love their children. Those are fair assumptions.

Especially interesting: The Clarion-Ledger’s on-line forum on teacher pay, and opinion editor Sid Salter’s blog, in which he supports teacher pay increases, but goes further to urge increases for all government employees in Mississippi. (There are no comments at the blog — if you teach, or know a teacher, why don’t you pipe in?)

Textbook plagiarism

July 29, 2006

Ouch! One of the major textbook publishers has a minor embarrassment over a case of self-plagiarism. According to the once-formidable, now reduced United Press International:

Textbook similarities an ‘aberration’

UPPER SADDLE RIVER, N.J., July 13 (UPI) — The makers of two textbooks published by Pearson Prentice Hall of Upper Saddle River, N.J., have said near-identical passages in the books are accidental.

A spokeswoman for the company, Wendy Spiegel, said the similarities between “A History of the United States” and “America: Pathways to the Present” are “absolutely an aberration,” The New York Times reported Thursday.

Spiegel said the relevant passages, dealing with the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the war in Afghanistan, and the Iraq War, were added hurriedly by editors and outside writers after the events occurred.

No serious issue, except that the addition of the passages smokes out another problem with history texts: Sometimes what the book contains is not material the authors listed on the cover wrote, or even approve of.

“They were not my words,” said “Pathways” co-author Allan Winkler, a historian at Miami University of Ohio. “It’s embarrassing. It’s inexcusable.”

Former Librarian of Congress Daniel Boorstin is the chief author listed for A History of the United States.

Worse for the publisher: The problems were caught by a major critic of the teaching of history in public schools.

The similarities were discovered by James Loewen, author of “Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong,” while researching an update of his book.

Flag ceremony update

July 29, 2006

Earlier I wrote about a flag-folding ceremony that is making the internet rounds. I noted that much of the claimed mythology is, um, ahistoric.

There is no particular meaning attached to folding the flag. Comments noted that the ceremony making the internet rounds is posted at the website of the American Legion. I wrote to the Legion’s public relations department, but have heard nothing back. Generally, the information on flag etiquette at that site is solid. Only the flag-folding ceremony material is not top-notch. I would be happy were the Legion to add a note that the ceremony is a sample ceremony. Several sites mention that the ceremony comes “from the U.S. Air Force Academy.” One site even had a link, but the link was dead. I did find a few sources that explained further. The Air Force Academy web site may have featured a flag-folding ceremony at one point, perhaps even the one being passed around. One of the more popular ceremonies featured had been written by one of the chaplains at USAFA. As happens in the military, someone got concerned about the accuracy of the claims, and the ceremony was pulled. However, Air Force color guards had used the ceremony, and there was demand for something to say during the folding of the U.S. flag, at some ceremonies.

Below the fold, at some length, I reprint the “official” story.

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