Let’s talk about Textbooks!


Welcome to the first post from the Binckesblog. Let’s get right to it, shall we?

I want to start with a bang, so let’s talk about textbooks. To be more specific, let’s talk about third grade social studies textbooks. Personally, I don’t remember what my third grade social studies textbook looked like. I’m not sure anyone can remember their book from that long ago, simply because those books were a) so amazingly broad and vague that they never made a point, and b) targeted at an audience just entering the world of American civics (I think*).

Imagine my surprise when I found out that some parents in Frederick, Maryland, actually cared about these books so much that they’ve demanded the school board ban them. The book, “Social Studies Alive!: Our Community and Beyond,” is allegedly some sort of liberal plot to destroy America by planting false ideas, such as this highlighted passage (at the 14-second mark of this clip) about health care, into our kids’ minds:

In some countries, child care is a public service. For example, in Denmark and Vietnam (double emphasis) child care is free or costs very little. This makes it easier for parents to work.

Do you think child care should be a public service in your community?

How dare they mention Vietnam! Don’t they realize that we went into that country, blew most of it up, then later abruptly changed our minds so that we would never have to read about it… in the context of them possibly doing something better than us?**

This is the mind of reactionary conservatives. I’ve spoken to them. And, in the case of the Texas textbooks, they immediately conflated a positive statement with a perceived normative. Their outrageous decision to remove references to Thomas Jefferson from the curriculum follows a path of tortured logic. Quoting liberally from myself:

“They talk about the Founding Fathers like they were all Christians,” [a Democratic Texas school board member] said. “There were a couple that may have believed what she [Leo] believed, they weren’t necessarily of her religion, so I think she may have realized that with Thomas Jefferson, and deleted him, though she may have given another reason for him in doing it.”

In that case, the positive statement is that Jefferson was a deist. The perceived normative is that Christianity (and religion) does not matter. The positive statement is now some vague unintended slight against Christianity. In the case of SSA!, the positive statement is that Denmark and Vietnam have comprehensive health care, while the perceived normative is that we should have a similar system***. And so, the parents try and make their arguments through an academic standpoint, by claiming: “It’s light on content, heavy on pretty pictures and heavy on social engineering.”

It’s a third grade textbook! Of course it’s going to be light on content. It’s pretty difficult for a third grader to understand the complex intricacies of health policy. Maybe in the fifth grade, they can discuss the optimal level of taxation.

The questions over content mask the “social engineering” point. As another parent put it, “It’s like a field guide for a community organizer.” Once again, the fear is that the textbooks allow the school system to give kids ideas that completely don’t mesh with the brainwashing that the parents think is their sole domain. But don’t let me tell you that; let’s have a parent say it herself: “I just feel like these are values that they should be learning at home.”

I do want to touch on one final subject. When researching the textbook, I came across this handy Amazon review from user Smart Guy “Smart Guy” (known hereafter as SG”SG”), who may have made me change my mind:

This book should be BANNED from every school.

It demonizes the USA and raise Vietnam and other commie countries as examples of good government and ‘caring’! Our kids are being destroyed by the idiot liberals.

This book as as full of lies as the “movies” made by Al Gore and Michael Moore!

With an argument like that, it’s a shock that this book is still being used!****

*Don’t get me wrong; I remember my third grade teacher quite well. Her name was Ms. Geier, and she was a wonderful woman. I just can’t remember much about what I actually learned in the class. Perhaps that’s how it’s supposed to be: fourth grade builds upon the third; fifth builds upon the fourth and so on. Then we get to sixth grade, and it all starts over again. Eventually, we learn the whole picture, and are ready to become citizens. I asked my mother what I learned in third grade social studies lessons. She couldn’t remember either.

** This is entirely in their minds. Their highlighting of this passage, for example, coupled with one parent’s quote that this textbook represents a “liberal… activist agenda,” suggests that the fact we don’t have this type of health care is something to be ashamed of. At least it does to me. Make your own interpretation of why it’s so controversial to mention Vietnam’s health care system.

*** I will grant the parents this: The question is an oddly-worded one. In asking the question, they think that a point for third-grade debate has only one answer.

**** For some fun, I decided to look over SG”SG”‘s Amazon reviews. Turns out the guy is price sensitive, rather bipolar (it either sucks or is great, and most are one or four stars) and has an odd fixation with lawn trimmers.

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