THE HISTORY & SOCIAL STUDIES CURRICULUM IN AMERICA'S
SCHOOLS: TEACHING AN APPRECIATION
FOR WESTERN CIVILIZATION
By Thomas G. Tancredo
The proposed resolution, at first, may seem to some as one dealing with a heavy topic, some amorphous idea. One might wonder what are its practical implications, why I would be proposing it, and why would the House consider passing it.
In a way it is ironic that we are desperately attempting to implant concepts of Western Civilization in a place called Iraq, while we, in this country, challenge the relevance of those concepts in our schools, in the textbooks used in the schools, in the mass media, and in other aspects of our culture.
I believe that we are in a war that can be accurately described as a clash of civilizations. There is a great book by an author by the name of Samuel Huntington, a book titled The Clash of Civilizations. I remember reading this book about eight years ago, and thinking that it was interesting. I also remember going back and reading the book again, after the Islamist terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and thinking that it was profound and prophetic.
I believe the United States of America and the entire Western world are involved in a clash of civilizations, or, more accurately, a clash between civilization and barbarism, a clash between Western Civilization and Islamic barbarism. It is a real clash, a real war. It is bloody. There are times when the clash becomes even more violent and times when it subsides, but the clash is real and it will be here for some time. The clash is with radical Islam, which is a reversion to barbarism -- a reversion to barbarisn, if the adherents of Islam ever were less barbaric and more civilized than they are today. It is a clash with people who have said openly and repeatedly that their desire is to come here and kill you and your children, me and my children, to eradicate us Americans from the planet.
There is an interesting diary, published some time ago. It is a diary of a person who became a suicide bomber. In this diary, he talks about why he has to do what he believes he has to do. He says that the ultimate threat to his view of Islam is the West and its concept of a republic, a constitutional democratic republic. He said that this is a threat to the very heart of Islam; a threat to the existence of Islam, as he saw it. Why? Because what the West provides, through constitutional democratic principles and the free enterprise economy, is essentially the good life, speaking in monetary and materialistic terms. The West provides the good life here on earth. People can achieve more and more in monetary ways, in material ways. One can achieve more and more for oneself, advancing oneself and one's self-esteem. And this, said the author of the diary, will turn people away from looking to the afterlife as the ultimate goal or as the ultimate glory.
Certainly there are aspects and tenets of Judeo-Christian Western culture that tell us that the afterlife is what comes next and that it is very important. However, Western Civilization has allowed us many things in the here and now, in the mortal life here on earth.. It has provided a system and a set of ideas and ideals that have served humanity well. Yes, those ideas and ideals are a threat to other ideas and ideals. Therefore, a clash occurs.
How do we fight this war? How do we deal with this clash? Well, of course, it will require, at times, the force of arms, and it will require the commitment of resources. And it will require something else -- a belief in who we are.
We have to know the answer to that question. We have to know who we are. We have to know who we are as Westerners, and we have to know who we are as Americans. We have to understand that the American nation is unique, unique in that it was created on the basis of ideas and ideals. All other nations were formed for other reasons, but our nation started for a brand new reason, a set of ideas and ideals. Those ideas and ideals were held up to the world, and people came from all over the world to embrace them. Uniquely, we said the old concept that people should be ruled absolutely by all-powerful individuals or elite groups is not acceptable; it has not worked out well and it does not accrue to the benefit of most human beings. So Western Civilization, as it has evolved in the U.S.A., Canada, Britain, Australia, New Zealand and other Western nation-states, is based upon a different idea -- the rule of law, rather than the rule of man, with one person or a small group making arbitrary decisions about everything that affects our lives. The concepts of constitutionalism and political representation -- the powers of government limited and restrained by the fundamental law of the constitution and legislation (ordinary law making) carried on by our chosen representatives in a democratically elected assembly -- are concepts that serve the world well.
Western Civilization was based on other ideals and ideas -- the ideal of the individual being superior to the collective and the idea that individual human beings have inalienable rights. These are Western concepts. They show up only in societies that are parts of Western Civilization and in societies with cultures which, though they are non-Western in character and origin, have been greatly influenced, modified, and conditioned by coming in contact with Western culture.
In America today, however, there is a movement, a philosophy, which I call radical multiculturalism. It has taken hold of our society. It is seeping its way into our public schools and on to our college campuses. This philosophy may seem odd or peculiar to most Americans; but it does seem to be taking hold among elites, academics, the media, and certain groups within the political establishment. It is a corrosive movement, and its purveyors are threatening to accomplish in the classrooms what they could not accomplish through elections: (1) to erase the notion of citizenship and (2) to teach young people that there is nothing positive or unique about America and that Western Civilization contributed nothing to world history but imperialism, slavery, and discord.
Let me emphasize something here. I do not for a moment want to tell the children and youth of America, the citizens of America, or the world that we believe that we have never done anything wrong and that Western Civilization is nothing but a set of ideas and principles that have been put into place without any problems. Many of those ideals are not yet reached, by the way. So I am totally and completely supportive of the thought that we have to teach our children and youth the truth about who we are, We must tell them the truth, warts and all. However, I am becoming extremely concerned, as I think many other Americans are, about the fact that we concentrate so much of our effort and time on teaching children and youth in the schools and immigrants coming into this country that there is nothing good about Western Civilization or about the United States of America as a representation of that civilization.
I have here some examples of the things that textbooks, teachers, and professors have been telling our children and youth about America, about the West, all in an attempt to essentially eliminate any concept that there is something good and special about us and who we are, and I will go through them in a minute.
I just want to tell my colleagues about something that happened to me just a short time ago.
I was visiting a high school in my district, and there were probably 200 to 250 students who came into the auditorium to have a discussion with me; and it went on for 60 minutes or so, and at the end, some students were sending up written questions. One of them asked: "What do you think is the most serious problem facing the country?" In response, I said: "Well, I am going to answer that question with a question, if you do not mind, and that is this: How many people in here believe that we live in the greatest nation on the earth, or, as Michael Medved always says, on God's green earth?" Then I looked around. It was fascinating to see what happened out there.
This was a suburban district in Douglas County, Colorado, middle-income to higher-income families in the area, predominantly white. If one looked up suburbs in the dictionary, the definition would probably be a verbal picture of this particular area of Colorado.
When I asked the question how many of you believe that you live in the best country in the world, about two dozen raised their hands, most of them very sheepishly, and the rest just sat there. Some looked uncomfortable.I thought to myself, at the time, that some of them looked like they actually wanted to say yes, but they were afraid to. They looked at the teachers who were lined up on the sides of the walls. They were kind of looking at them like, gee, should I actually say yes, and, more than that, I believe they were thinking, if I say yes, if I say yes I believe I live in the best country in the world, someone might challenge me, probably will challenge me, and, if that happens, will I be able to defend the assertion that I live in the greatest nation on this earth?.
I also asked these high school students: "Do you realize that we are a product of Western Civilization? How many of you would agree that this is something about which you can be proud?" Maybe a dozen hands were raised in response to this particular question. Then I said: "Well, this is what I consider to be one of the biggest problems facing America, what is happening to you and what has happened to you as a result of this multiculturalist philosophy that we push in the schools -- this propagation of and instilling in your minds (1) the idea that all cultures are, at worst, the same and, at best, the other cultures are probably better than ours and (2) the idea that we cannot make positive or objective statements about what is better or best, about which country is better or best, which culture is better or best.
What happened in Douglas, Colorado, is not unique to this typical little suburban school in my congressional district. I could have asked that question in any high school in America and the response would have been similar -- tepid, sheepish support for an answer in the affirmative, with most people saying, I do not know, I do not care, and what does it matter?
I wonder how this could have happened. How is it that people living here in this country, at this time, can look at the rest of the world and not recognize that, every single day, millions of people are struggling to get here, if not to America, at least to Western Europe; that they are struggling to get into a Western society and enjoy the advantages of Western Civilization? And I have to ask, how many people do you know that are struggling to go the other way? Is that not empirical evidence of some sort that what we have is pretty good; that it is worthy of our allegiance, worthy of continuing?
People ask me why I am so involved with the immigration issue; why I speak on that issue so often. Well, there are a whole bunch of reasons, and they deal with jobs and the environment, and the cost, and all that sort of thing. But after all of that is said and done, I worry about about something far more important. I worry about the fact that we are not doing a very good job of creating a cohesive and homogenous society out of all of the disparate parts that make up America. I worry that we are working very hard to divide us, to divide this nation into camps, into Balkanized areas and groups that are based on linguistic, cultural or political differences, while simultaneously trying to erase anything that smacks of an attempt to bring people together around a set of ideas other than the concept of diversity, which is the only thing that multiculturalists will say is worthy of our allegiance.
I worry about what will happen to us in this clash of civilizations, when it is not only the force of arms that is necessary to win the day, but it is also the force of ideas that is essential to victory. For us to be successful as a people, as a civilization, as a country, we have to know who we are, where we came from, and where we are going. We have to believe in who we are, where we came from, and where we are going. And I worry that too few of us know who we are, where we came from or where we are going, and that this, in the long run, will prove to be our undoing.
So that is why I talk about immigration, and that is why I talk about issues like this, what is being taught in the schools to America's children and youth. That is why I worry about the fact that, in the textbook titled Across the Centuries, which is used for seventh grade history, the book defines the word "jihad" as follows: "To do one's best to resist temptation and overcome evil.''
Now, maybe that is somebody's interpretation of jihad. But, remember, this was not even suggested as someone's idea or opinion. The defitition is presented as an objective, proven fact, a statement not subject to debate, not susceptible to challenge. Imagine that! We have here a seventh grade history textbook definition of "jihad" -- "To do one's best to resist temptation and overcome evil.''
I guess we would not want to tell children, would we, that the word "jihad" implies something quite different? In reality, the word "jihad" means a call to arms. It is a call to arms to those people who believe we should be annihilated, and everything we believe in should be wiped out because it is a threat to fundamentalist Islam. Well, we need to say it, because it is true. We may not like it, we may feel uncomfortable by telling children and youth the truth, but it is imperative that we do so. The seventh grade textbook definition I cited is not the only definition of "jihad," and it is by no means the correct definition.
In 2002, the "New Guidelines for Teaching History" in the New Jersey public schools failed to even mention America's Founding Fathers, the Pilgrims, or the Mayflower. How do you teach the history of the United States, I might ask, without mentioning the Founding Fathers, the Pilgrims, or the Mayflower?
Maybe it is a good thing that the book did not, because in many textbooks, and certainly out of the mouths of many teachers, the mentioning of these people would be in derogatory terms. The Founding Fathers, all white men, who were slave owners, who came here to pillage and rape and whatever. Columbus came here to destroy paradise. I have seen all of that garbage in textbooks.
So maybe it was better that they did not mention it. Do you not think that at least some reference to the ideas and ideals upon which this nation was founded should have been made. Do you not think that some reference should have been made to the fact that people struggled and died to bring those ideals into fruition? Do you not think that was worthy of mentioning?
In a Prentice Hall textbook used by students in Palm Beach County, Florida, high schools, titled A World Conflict, the first five pages of the World War II chapter focused almost entirely on topics such as gender roles in the armed forces, racial segregation in the war, internment camps, and women and the war effort.
Do you think I make this stuff up? You can go and look, if you do not believe me, find out for yourselves that this trash is, in fact, being taught to our children and youth. This kind of pernicious, anti-American propaganda is in the textbooks used by the schools in this nation.
A Washington State teacher substituted the word "Winter'' for the word ``Christmas'' in a carol to be sung at school programs so as not to appear to be favoring one faith over the other. The lyrics in Dale Wood's carol "From an Irish Cabin" were changed to read "the harsh wind blows down from the mountains and blows a white Winter to me.'' Not "Christmas.''
I was in an elementary school in my congressional district, again a typical public school in this country, and it was right before Christmas. I was talking to a lot of pupils, probably fifth and sixth graders. As I left the room, I said: "Merry Christmas!" There was this kind of an uneasy response, and some kids said okay. And as I was walking out, the lady who had invited me to come and speak said: "You know, the principal does not like us using the word 'Christmas' here." In response, I pointed to a Christmas tree in the hallway and said: "What is that?" And she said, that is a seasonal tree. And I said: "Are you telling me that we cannot use 'Christmas''? And she said: "No, the teachers do not."
So I went back and, as all the kids were coming out, I said, "Merry Christmas," and they all said, "Merry Christmas."
This imposition of a ban on using the word "Christmas" is happening, of course, in schools all over the United States. I bet, if people go to their own schools and check these things out, they will see what I am saying is not just unique to my little suburban district in Colorado.
In a school district in New Mexico, the introduction to a textbook, titled 500 Years of Chicano History in Pictures, states that the book was written "In response to the bicentennial celebration of the 1776 American Revolution and its lies. The textbook's stated purpose is to "celebrate our resistance to being colonized and absorbed by racist empire builders.'' The book describes defenders of the Alamo as "slave owners, land speculators, and Indian killers,'' Dave Crockett as a cannibal, and the 1857 "War on Mexico'' as an unprovoked U.S. invasion of Mexico. The chapter headings include, "Death to the Invader," "U.S. Conquest and Betrayal," "We Are Now a U.S. Colony," "In Occupied America," and "They Stole the Land."
Now, again, I certainly do not say that mistakes were not made, that Manifest Destiny, as an idea and an ideal, did not have inherent in it problems for other peoples. I certainly believe that is true, and I believe we should teach our children about those problems. However, can anyone in his right mind call 500 Years of Chicano History in Pictures an objective history text?
I am going to repeat it. This book, it said, was written "in response to the bicentennial celebration of the 1776 American Revolution and its lies.'' Its stated purpose is to "celebrate our resistance to being colonized and absorbed by a racist empire builder.''
Children and youth are often taught only the most negative things about the United States and Western civilization. If these efforts go unchecked, children will lose any real connection to the goals, aspirations, and ideals of America and the West, the ideals exemplified in the United States Constitution and articulated by the people who founded the country over 200 years ago. If we fail to instill these values in our children, we risk losing our national identity.
It is not surprising to me that a brand new phenomenon is developing in the United States with regard to the immigrant community. Since about 1947, the United States has allowed people to claim a dual citizenship. Most of this happened in 1947, as a result of the creation of the State of Israel, and for the purpose of providing Israelis here in the U.S.A. with the opportunity to travel back and forth and to state their allegiance to Israel by accepting a dual citizenship. But we never had very many people, to tell you the truth, that actually accepted that offer. Those accepting the offer numbered in the hundreds of thousands, at the most, at any given time in America.
Today, estimates are that there are between 5 and 10 million people in this country who claim a dual citizenship, mostly with Mexico. This development occurred after Mexico allowed Mexican nationals to keep their citizenship once they came to the United States. This happened a couple of years ago, and the number claiming dual citizenship with Mexico skyrocketed.
When we tell people that they should keep their political associations, their political allegiances, to other countries, that they should keep their language of origin, that they should not actually blend into this American mosaic, should we be surprised by the fact that they do not?
McDougal's The Americas, another textbook, states that the Reagan-Bush Conservative agenda limits advances in civil rights for minorities and that the Conservatives' bid to dismantle the Great Society's social programs could be compared to abandoning the nation. Again, these assertions are represented as statements of fact by a textbook, not somebody's opinion,
The book goes on to include text stating that Communism had potentially totalitarian underpinnings, and contrasts Taiwan President Chiang Kai-Shek's repressive rule with Communist Chinese dictator Mao Tse-tung's benevolence toward peasants in the early 1940s.
Now, if we did not know anything else and read this, why would we not believe it to be true? If the textbooks and teachers failed to mention the deaths of about 65 million Chinese after Mao Tse-tung came to power in 1949 or Taiwan's peaceful transformation into a thriving, pluralistic multiparty democracy, no one would know this. We would never understand it. We would never truly understand world history. Would we be lying to tell children this was the case? Would it be chauvinistic of us to suggest that it was not just the possibility of some totalitarian underpinnings, but a totalitarian regime, and that Communism could only survive by means of the terror it inflicted upon the peoples it ruled.
Is it not acceptable for us to tell the truth? That is what I wonder. Why are we so fearful about telling children and youth about who we really are, telling them about all of the warts, as well as about all of the good things.
Here is a study by Philip Sadler, Director of Science Education at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, a study which shows that students who had taken high school physics classes which used textbooks did substantially worse than high school classes which used no textbooks at all. I would suggest that, if these other textbooks, these history textbooks, are an example of what we are doing in the schools, it would be better to not use them at all.
The resolution that I am asking this Congress to pass --the resolution stating that all children graduating from our schools should be able to articulate an appreciation for Western civilization -- has already been attacked by the National Education Association. And not just the NEA. We have had all kinds of people corresponding with us, saying that the proposed resolution is, in fact, a bad idea. Now, please, let us really think about this for a second. They are saying it is a bad idea to teach children and youth facts so that they can articulate an appreciation for Western Civilization. Well, is that not the definition of what would be a good history education, a good civics education? Should children not be able to articulate the principles upon which Western Civilization and the American Republic are based?
We can argue whether those principles are right or wrong, but we should be able to have children who can articulate them, understand who we are, where we come from and where we are going.
I know that this is a stretch for a lot of people. It is hard for a lot of people to get their hands on this issue because it is not an issue that you can condense into a bumper sticker. But I encourage people to think through this and think about the possibility that it is important for us and for our civilization to actually transmit these goals and ideas to the next generation. We cannot continue to teach only the negative . Doing so contributes to the Balkanization of the United States of America into subgroups, subcategories, and hyphenated Americans.
In Numbers U.S.A., an organization that does a lot of great work, talks about the fact that, if America continues to develop as it is now developing, in terms of population growth and the source of that population growth -- 90 percent of the population growth caused by immigration, mostly from Mexico, Latin America, and Third World countries -- by the year 2100, two-thirds of the people here in the United States will be descendants of people not yet here at the present time. Think about that. In 96 years, two-thirds of the people living in this country will be descendants of people not yet here. Think about that and then think about what we are teaching them, the folks that are coming in and the folks that are here, about who we are. How can we expect this nation, in 2100, to be steeped in the same goals, principles, and ideas to which we now adhere and to which previous generations of Americans adhered? How can we expect the American nation to even exist in 2100?
I hope that those of us who are supporting the proposed resolution will be joined by hundreds of thousands of Americans all over the country, Americans who will be willing to say that it is important for our schools, our nation, and our civilization that we teach children to appreciate the value of Western Civilization.
There is something we all can do about what is being taught in the schools about our nation, culture, and civilization.. I am going to do what I can do here in the U.S. Congress. Many of our states will do what they can in their respective state legislatures. And then it is up to the people of this country to take this on and move it forward. Our sucess or failure in this endeavor will determine whether, in the years to come, we are a nation at all.
A Practical Guide to Homeschooling
Political Culture, Patriotism, & American National Identity
Thomas G. Tancredo is a Republican member of the U.S. House of Representatives, representing the Sixth Congressional District
of Colorado. Congressman Tancredo presented the foregoing statement, on March 2, 2004, as a speech from the floor of the
House of Representatives.
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