Tag Archives: Twentieth Century

A Dear John Letter to my Textbooks

Dear NYC Social Studies Core Curriculum Textbooks published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt,

This is a difficult letter for me to write…and an even more difficult letter for you to read, so I hope that you are sitting down.

Remember when we first met? I trembled in excitement upon hearing of a textbook option for New York City’s social studies curriculum. Once I had you (or the fourth grade version of you at the time), it was as if a great weight was lifted from me—finally, a concrete guide to instruction.

I was smitten just by looking at your spine…the glow off your glossy cover…the sharp color photos that littered almost every page.

Those first few months were incredible, weren’t they? Every day was something new, something exciting. We were so wild, so adventurous…we could take on the world. To be honest, we were into some really kinky shit, but that was all in the fun.

Each year, another book would await me, and my love affair renewed. The roller-coaster ride we shared made the mundane phone order to the central office in Tweed so—dare I say—exhilarating. The maps, the optional activities, the worksheets and games: at last, I thought, I found the one.

Yet, something changed.

At first, I thought it was just me. After a while, we settled into our routine. Occasionally, you provide a surprise to spice things up—a game on the Internet, or a music selection. That, however, was the exception to the rule. To be fair, that routine suited me fine…for a while.

Then, maybe it was my weakness…but I started to feel restless. The chapters and units weren’t doing it for me anymore. I felt trapped.

It was then that I met someone else…more like some other people, plural.

There were some websites on the Internet. I was leery, at first. But then, they lured me with their siren song of primary source documents, streaming video and interactive games. Once I saw the ever-changing and ever-expanding volumes of media, lesson plans, worksheets and graphic organizers, that old excitement, that feeling of adventure exploded over me again.

I had mentioned that I was attached, that I couldn’t turn my back on my beloved. They, in turn, mentioned some shocking things about you: that you don’t fact-check your information that well, that there are numerous mistakes in historical maps, that terminology and vocabulary are often misstated.

Worst of all, they said that by watering down the content for the sake of “readability”, you were holding me back—and even worse, holding my students hostage to shoddy literature.

I wouldn’t believe it. They were just jealous, after all, I thought. How could they appreciate the passion, the connection we have…besides, if there were flaws, you would have told me, right?

Right?

Well, I did some digging myself. On page 161 of the grade 3 book, this is what you say about the Roman Empire:

“The Roman Empire lasted about 500 years, but then broke apart. It had grown too large for its rulers to control. However, ancient Rome still affects the world with its ideas about government, architecture, and more.”

Fair enough, it is only for 3rd graders, but sometimes you water down way too much. Look at page 163:

“In the mid-1900s, World War II broke out. Many countries fought in this war, including Italy. Italy was on the side that lost.”

Umm, that’s it? No mention of the nightmare of a 21-year fascist dictatorship that preceded it? No mention of the other countries that bear more responsibility for losing—the ones that had more blood on their hands. Those kids can get that…why do you treat them like morons?

If that’s not bad enough, I found outright lies—lies that you should’ve told me about. Why did you keep it a secret that the leaders of the New Netherland colony were incorrectly called “governors” instead of the correct “directors-general”?

Why does a map of North America in the 18th century use flags from another century? I see an 1801 British flag, a 1793 French flag, and a 1981 Spanish flag.

I’m not even going into the problems in the 5th grade book.

Why? Why did you hold me back so many years? Why the lies? The deceit? The lack of clarity and depth of content?

I’m sorry, but our relationship has really run its course. It’s over.

Please, no tears…it’s not entirely your fault. I was too stupid to realize how badly written you were. I didn’t see your limited vision and lack of depth.

Basically, we’ve really grown apart these past few years. I expanded my base of knowledge and resources through the internet, seminars, grants and lectures.

You just can’t grow past your binding.

You were suffocating me, and screwing my students in the process. There’s nowhere else for this to go.

Believe me, it’s better for both of us.

Goodbye, and good luck. Perhaps we’ll see each other again… that odd day that I need to waste a period with busywork in June.

Just don’t wait up for my call. Sorry, babe.

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This Day in History 4/19: The “Shot Heard ‘Round the World”

On April 19, 1775, a group of Massachusetts militiamen converged on the village common of Lexington.  Approaching was a British column heading to Concord to seize the arms and munitions stored there.  As they approached, the British ordered the colonists to disperse.

No one knows for sure who fired, but the next shot would stand out as the “shot heard ’round the world.” It began the American War of Independence, and its effects are still felt throughout the world.

Attached is the School House Rock video for the shots fired at Lexington.  It also gives a succinct synopsis of the war itself.

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Videos for the Classroom: Dating Do’s and Dont’s (1949)

It’s time to shine those penny loafers and Bryllcreme those hairdos.  The Neighborhood is heading for the Fifties!

Nothing explains the intentions, the tensions and the goofiness of the era like the instructional films produced by Coronet.  Starting after World War II, Coronet Films, as many other distributors, created a series of films on morals, hygiene and national values to be shown in classrooms on 8-mm projectors–mostly to kill a Friday afternoon.  Through school-age actors, the films stressed the need for conformity, grooming, and patriotism, often at the expense of anything remotely considered unique or creative.

Today, these films have a mysterious antique silly quality.  Yet one can imagine the gravitas of a school marm in her bat-glasses showing a film on how heavy petting, rock music and consorting with Black people can lead to Communism.  Today’s film is the 1949 classic Dating Do’s and Dont’s, as a young boy ponders which perfectly coiffed Caucasian female of upper-middle class status he will take to the “keen wing-ding” of the night, the big carnival.  The film deftly guides our hero through the “right” choice of girl, how to set up the date, and the activities to follow…

…of course, not ALL the activities.  And our hero would never do that!  That’s only for pot-smoking, rock ‘n’ roll listening, Commie-loving, integration-pushing hipsters who beat on bongos and wear black all the time.

Sit back and enjoy the goofiness.  Of course, have students question the moral underpinnings of these films–though that may label them Communists!   God forbid!

Enjoy

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This Day in History 1/3: “Pappy” Boyington is shot down over the Pacific

Today’s selections have little to do with the event itself, but more about how a personality adapts to the civilian world once the guns grow silent.  Few had a more colorful adaptation than Gregory “Pappy” Boyington.

“Pappy” was probably one of the most effective, and best known, Marine pilots in American history.  His combat career, began, funny enough, when he resigned from the Marine Corps in the summer of 1941 to fly with Claire Chennault‘s American Volunteer Group, the “Flying Tigers“, a daring squadron titularly under the Republic of China Air Force responsible for battling Japanese forces over southern Asia in the second Sino-Japanese War.

Yet his most famous service would begin in August of 1943, when Boyington cobbled together a band of roughneck pilots, mostly pilots not assigned to fighter groups, to become VMF-214, the “Black Sheep Squadron.”  From August 1943 to the original squadron’s disbandment on January 8, 1944, VMF-214 destroyed or damaged 203 enemy aircraft, produced 97 air-to-air kills, destroyed troop transports, supply ships, enemy installations, and produced eight confirmed fighter aces, including Pappy himself, who shot down 28 aircraft in his leadership of the Black Sheep.

Along the way, the squad developed a reputation, somewhat inflated, of a drunken rabble of misfits constantly fighting, brawling and carousing.  Much of this reputation was thanks to Boyington himself, who had a short fuse, a long tolerance for booze and a seething disdain for authority figures (odd considering he was a Marine).

On January 3, 1944, Boyington was shot down in action and picked up as a Japanese submarine.  Spending the next 20 months as a prisoner of war, Pappy was liberated from a camp near Tokyo on August 29, 1945, winning the Congressional Medal of Honor and the Navy Cross.

After the war, Boyington’s hard-driving attitude and hard drinking cost him several jobs and even more divorces.  He ended up spending most of his life doing what he did best: being “Pappy” for public events.

Today we have two videos that show Pappy in two postwar moments.  The first is from the 1957 season of the television game show To Tell the Truth (never mind the wrong date at the beginning of the video.) The second is a 1976 NBC Today Show interview with Boyington and actor Robert Conrad, who played the colorful pilot in the NBC drama Baa Baa Black Sheep (later named Black Sheep Squadron).  The show, which ran from 1976-1978, was loosely based on Boyington’s memoirs.  It enraged many squadmates of Pappy, claiming that most of the show was fiction and glamourized Boyington’s role in the Pacific.

In today’s age of celebrity and image-making, these images serve to show students how media created stars even before TMZ and Access Hollywood.  See if you can get your students to compare other celebrities to Boyington: are there people whose best purpose in life is to simply be a celebrity?

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