HOW TO TEACH IT: "How Should We Teach the Story of Our Country?"


We can't have such discussions now: Long ago and far away, we had a delusional moment.

In fact, it happened over the weekend. We saw this headline in The Atlantic and we dreamed of a better day:

How Should We Teach the Story of Our Country?

At least in theory, that headline was asking an excellent question. It sat atop a brief essay by Kate Cray, an associate editor for the Culture and Family sections at The Atlantic. 

Cray is three years out of college (Yale, class of 2019). Her headline was asking an excellent question—though we'll have to admit that we weren't blown away by the way her short essay began:

CRAY (2/24/23): The past few years have seen an intensifying of the ways politics can intervene in education, including the censorship of books. Lawmakers in Texas have made repeated pushes to restrict the books that kids can access in schools. Leaders in other states across the country have done the same, including in Tennessee, where one local school board infamously banned Maus, a graphic novel that brutally—but honestly—depicts the Holocaust. Under Governor Ron DeSantis, Florida has passed sweeping laws that limit what schools can teach about topics such as gender, sexuality, and race. In January, the state even opposed a whole course, AP African American Studies. (The class’s curriculum has since been revised; Florida has not yet said whether it will actually impose the ban.)

The central issue in many of the recent restrictions is how to teach our country’s history. Although memorizing dates and names can lead students to believe that the subject comprises a series of simple facts about clear-cut events, the truth about the past is much more tangled. Textbooks have long been skewed or have contained errors...

In fact, Cray's short essay was the magazine's weekly submission concerning "The Best in Books." Cray went on to recommend a set of readings which tended to reinforce the view presented in the passage we've posted—a set of readings which tend to comport to the general view of this current topic which obtains within our blue tribe.

Briefly, can we talk? It seemed to us that Cray might have had her thumb on the scale a tiny tad at several points in the passage we have posted. 

For example, is it true that "one local school board infamously banned Maus, a graphic novel that brutally—but honestly—depicts the Holocaust?" Is that a reasonable and fair account of what that one (1) local school board did?

Let's start by setting the loaded term "infamously" to the side. Cray's presentation may otherwise be defended as technically accurate, but technical accuracy is a very low bar for a discussion of this importance.

Our question:

Has Cray offered a reasonably "unbiased" depiction the event in question? Or could that be the type of "skewed" presentation which Cray correctly wants to remove from our history textbooks?

For starters, that one local school board didn't exactly "ban" Maus. Instead, it voted to replace Maus with another book as a required text in its two-month-long, eighth-grade unit ("module") on the Holocaust. 

Such decisions are made all the time. A small number of books become required texts. The ten million other books haven't all been "censored" or "banned."

(To read the minutes of the school board meeting, you can just click here.)

In Cray's view, Maus depicts the Holocaust in a "brutal" manner. If so, should it necessarily be shocking to learn that one (1) school board in one (1) location decided that this "brutal" depiction might be inappropriate for the district's eighth graders?

For ourselves, we aren't familiar with Maus, or with the degree of "brutality" involved in its depictions. We're not sure that we'd be inclined to use that term in describing Maus at all.

But in her list of recommended readings, Cray instantly links to an earlier essay in The Atlantic. Dual headlines included, that essay starts as shown:

Book Bans Are Targeting the History of Oppression
The possibility of a more just future is at stake when young people are denied access to knowledge of the past.

The instinct to ban books in schools seems to come from a desire to protect children from things that the adults doing the banning find upsetting or offensive. These adults often seem unable to see beyond harsh language or gruesome imagery to the books’ educational and artistic value, or to recognize that language and imagery may be integral to showing the harsh, gruesome truths of the books’ subjects. That appears to be what’s happening with Art Spiegelman’s Maus—a Pulitzer Prize–winning graphic-novel series about the author’s father’s experience of the Holocaust that a Tennessee school board recently pulled from an eighth-grade language-arts curriculum, citing the books’ inappropriate language and nudity.

The Maus case is one of the latest in a series of school book bans targeting books that teach the history of oppression...

These Adults Today! The instinct to "ban" books like Maus seems to come from their desire to protect children from things that the adults find upsetting or offensive. 

Also, when Maus was "banned," it was one of the latest in a series of such bans "targeting books that teach the history of oppression!" 

Surprising! Even as that local school district maintained a two-month unit on the Holocaust, followed by a two-month unit of the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, it was conspiring to keep its students in the dark about such acts of oppression!

Surprising! But our tribe seems to need such dramatic claims the way plants need the light.

The last assertion in that passage can perhaps be defended as technically accurate. But should readers have been told that the local school district in question teaches a two-month unit about the Holocaust in eighth grade? That the board voted to replace Maus with a different book which teaches the history of the Holocaust?

Cray's original headline was asking an excellent question. On the other hand, it seemed to us that her short essay came to us, live and direct, from the realm of blue tribe script. 

Within that realm, we're always right. Also, the Others are always quite plainly wrong, in familiar stereotypical ways wherever possible.

Foolishly, we had imagined that we might spend this week discussing some of the questions which might arise in the course of devising a high school American history course. Such questions come especially thick and fast when we're devising the way to teach our brutal history concerning matters of race.

Our thoughts especially turned that way as we read Hannah Dreier's front-page report in Sunday's New York Times. More than a hundred years later, Dreier was rewriting The Jungle, a famous novel which described one part of our nation's exploitive past.

We were foolish to think that we could conduct some such discussion. Very frankly, and as we've noted, it's all anthropology now!

Our discourse has descended into dueling talking points from dueling political tribes. The conduct is quite often crazy among the red tribe, but it's also quite bad Over Here.

Last night, we watched Tucker Carlson stage his latest astonishing rant. No sane society can conduct leisurely discussions of the philosophy of history while such disordered behavior is taking place, night after night after night after night, with little effort being made to comment or intervene.

We also watched to see if our own blue tribe would discuss the brutal conduct which Dreier described in the Times. Needless to say, we saw no such discussion take place. 

Simply put, we don't care about matters like that. On balance, our tribunes care about this comfort food:

Trump Trump Trump Trump Trump Trump Jail!

and about little else.

(Stephanie had time for the Murdaugh trial. She didn't have time for 12-year-olds working the midnight shift.)

Long ago, we told you that it's too late to expect some sort of solution to our current societal problem. Too much money is being made, by too many people, as the soundbite wars roll on.

It's all over now but the anthropology! It's all over but the explanation of how it all ended this way, with one tribe substantially sunk in The Crazy and our own tribe clinging to memorized denigrations of what the Others just have to be like.

We still plan to take a look at Maureen Dowd's column from last Sunday. In our view, it involves a familiar picture to which our tribe religiously clings, much as a group of drowning people might cling to a flimsy raft.

Cray was asking a very good question in the headline we've posted. It sent us drifting back in time to the days, long ago, when we were given The Jungle as a high school reading assignment.

Cray was asking a very good question! But one of our tribes has gone insane, and our own deeply parochial, landlocked tribe is clinging to treasured script from the deep dark historical past.

Tomorrow: What Tucker Carlson said this time? And how about Morning Joe?


  1. Stanford U discriminates against whites.

    1. This is not Drum's conclusion.

      Actually, Drum is suggesting that the figures do not support that view when you consider that Stanford draws from the California population, which is as much Hispanic as white at this point in time.

    2. Drum says, “Hochman was right.”

    3. Yes, but in the comments people are suggesting that Drum didn't make the right adjustments to the figures he was manipulating. I don't see how he can talk about the whole enrollment without mentioning gender at all. Female students are not typically STEM students, so if Stanford is giving preference to STEM, but prefers to maintain parity in the male/female ratio (as they all do) they may be admitting more Asian women. We don't know because Drum didn't analyze gender at all.

    4. Drum says Hochman was right, but he also leaves the door open in terms of massaging the data.

    5. Stanford University, officially Leland Stanford Junior University, is a private research university in Stanford, California.

  2. Of all the horrors of World War II, the internment of Japanese Americans is one of the least significant.

    1. Not to the Japanese Americans. Part of the problem with the internment is not just that people were put into camps, but that their property (houses, businesses, personal property) was stolen depriving them of income once they were released. But there is no "worst atrocity" contest involved. It shouldn't have happened.

    2. Kids shouldn’t study that for two stinking months. One day is enough.

    3. "Even as that local school district maintained a two-month unit on the Holocaust, followed by a two-month unit of the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, it was conspiring to keep its students in the dark about such acts of oppression!"

      Somerby says this but he doesn't link to any proof that the TN School District that banned Maus was spending two months on the Japanese internment. I wouldn't trust him without a link. I suspect they were discussing other things as well, such as the internment of German Americans (which did happen), the role of the Japanese in WWII, Nisei culture in America and their ongoing struggle to combat racism against Asians. There are several good books that could be read by high school students concerning the internment, and were serving congress members who were themselves interned, and now we have Judy Chu accused of disloyalty in Congress because she is Chinese. So there would be plenty to talk about.

      But I suspect that the school was not actually devoting two months to the topic. I've fact-checked Somerby on this stuff before and he is not the most reliable person. This is too trivial to spend time tracking down, in my opinion. This sounds like an invented Republican atrocity story, of the type that the right wing just loves to circulate to fuel outrage.

    4. Here is an excerpt from a TN community college study guide:

      "Ask students to collect and consider examples in which the US government used eminent domain or other powers to force people from their homes—for example, the creation of the Tennessee Valley Authority or Japanese Internment. What sorts of factors are involved in various cases? How do these compare and contrast to factors involved in Cherokee removal? How do the power imbalances involved in the Cherokee removal continue to operate?"

      This suggests some of the content that might be discussed during those two months. Both the Cherokee removal and the TVA were major controversies and events affecting TN directly. The larger topic of the government's right to remove people from their land is certainly of ongoing interest, especially to conservatives and states' rights enthusiasts.

      "Incarceration of Japanese Americans also intersected with other forms of discrimination and expropriation in U.S. history. People incarcerated under EO 9066 – who also included Native Alaskans – were confined to camps on occupied Indigenous land."

  3. The Soviet Union liberated Auschwitz.

    1. Yes, the Germans abandoned the camp ahead of the Red Army's arrival, leaving emaciated and sick inmates to die. The Germans marched the majority of the inmates, those who could still walk, back to Germany ahead of the advancing Russians.

    2. Socialists have been beating the Nazis for decades. That's why I'm not worried about the GOP, long term.

  4. Cray makes supercomputers.

  5. Steve M. at No More Mister Nice Blog explains why some former Democrats have become right wingers:

    "A couple of weeks ago I wrote a post about George Santos, Tara Reade and others who struggled in life until they discovered wingnuttery or (in Reade's case) Democrat-bashing, which they then made an organizing principle of their lives. This clearly happens to successful people as well -- in addition to Adams, Musk, and Trump, there's also Kanye West. Maybe we should also include Naomi Wolf, James Woods, and Matt Taibbi, whose careers had faded, and who then found purpose and meaning in right-wing crackpottery.

    If you've had some success in life and you're an attention addict, the right provides many narratives that are compelling and easy to follow (even if they're batshit crazy), plus an audience full of eager fanboys and fangirls. Endorse these right-wing ideas and the fans will come flocking. It's an easy way to sustain the high you get from adulation, especially if it's been hard to come by recently.(That's certainly what happened to Trump, the faded real-estate mogul and reality-TV star, when he discovered Fox News and became a regular on the channel.)

    Also, right-wing ideology is inherently an ego boost. Nothing is your fault! Everything bad is the fault of evil liberals! Egomaniacs like Musk, Trump, West, and even Wolf clearly need to be reassured that they're not failures. The right-wing message is very comforting to them."

    I believe this applies to Somerby too. Being a stand-up comedian suggests some narcissism. Being at the end of a modest but declining career in comedy may have heightened the appeal of right-wing ideology, as it did for Dennis Miller, Norm MacDonald, Rob Schneider and others.

    1. I don’t know if you’re right, but at least you’ve tried to explain what happened to Somerby.

    2. @11:45 said Musk made Democrat-bashing an organizing principle of his life. How ridiculous! First of all, Musk HAS a life outside of politics. Very much of a life. He runs several amazing, revolutionary companies that he established.

      Second, Democrats bashed Musk (a lifetime Democrat!) before he ever bashed them. His sin was providing free speech, even for conservatives. When I was a liberal, liberals strongly supported free speech.

    3. David, Steve M. didn't say that Musk based Democrats even while brushing his teeth. What don't you understand about "organizing principle"? Are you unaware that stockholders in Tesla are upset by the neglect Musk has shown toward that company?

    4. correction: "based" = bashed

    5. I'm all for rich people throwing $44 Billion into worthless bonfires. It's better for society than using it to influence elections.

    6. David is correct about something, finally.
      I fact checked it.
      Twitter really was keeping white supremacists and child pornographers off their platform, until Musk bought the company and allowed conservatives to return.

  6. Somerby writes: 'A small number of books become required texts. The ten million other books haven't all been "censored" or "banned." '

    An important distinction. And one that would set the stage for a more nuanced and fruitful discussion.

    But the current reactionary climate isn't amenable to those sorts of discussions. Any criticism of a thing means you are not only against that thing but it defines who you are and your political stances on everything.

    People want to put other people into buckets. And there's pretty much only two available. Square peg; get in that round hole.

    1. In fact, Maus had been selected and was removed from use. That is a different situation.

      Somerby emphasizes that Maus was brutal, but the use of mice and the comic format both soften the impact of the actual German brutality. The same is true of acts of brutality in Disney cartoons, such as the scene where Bambi's mother is shot and killed. Some film critiics argue that the extreme brutality of today's action-adventure films is softened by the cartoonish aspects of special effects and comic book superheroes.

      It is shocking to children to learn about the evil of the world, but that is offset by their sense of security and faith that their parents and adults around them will protect them from harm. Teachers tend to stress that when talking about upsetting things with children. That's why it is better to encounter such info in a classroom than alone.

    2. Depicting Jews as mice is antisemitic.

    3. Thank you for your well-reasoned comments. You make some good points here, and I can't help but agree with everything you wrote.

      As far as the softening of the violence in today's movies, whether it is via CGI, cartoonishness, or silly superheroes in capes making quippy jokes, what's your opinion on whether that has a worse or better of an impact on kids' growing minds?

      Does the softening make it more palatable in a dangerous way? Or is it truely softened and they don't get drawn to the violence? Maybe that's too large of a thing to generalize, might be soley down to the individual.

    4. Studies of the effects of such things on children show that most children are not affected much by them, but that children who are already having emotional problems or difficulty controlling their impulses are made more violent by watching such stuff. Maus is much less immediate for readers than watching a violent film or video game. My sense from reading studies on this is that seeing known others engage in violence (or being hit by parents or siblings, or being bullied at school) is more enabling of child violence than watching a movie, that softening the images does soften the violence (and the imitation of it). Some of this early research was done by Albert Bandura, who manipulated how the violence was portrayed and measured the resulting imitation by kids using a punching bag after being exposed to it. There are lots of studies of the impact of comic books portraying violence, showing little effect, and later studies of the impact of video games and films on children. In general, at risk kids are affected but not most kids. That means you might not want to use violent materials with special ed kids, but Maus isn't that provoking. Prospective teachers should learn about this in their developmental psych classes in college. It isn't taught in philosophy courses.

    5. The kids who would read Maus at school are playing Fortnite online with their friends. Fortnite involves collecting weapons, then shooting other players with them, either individually or in teams.

    6. Yes, I was familiar with the more recent video game studies but not those earlier ones. The results aren't surprising. Thanks for the reference on the early research, I am interested in reading more about Mr. Bandura's work.


  7. tl;dr

    We don't really care if Maus and similar are removed from the curriculum. They are nothing, commercial shit.

    ...however, the classics like Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, To Kill a Mockingbird, Of Mice and Men, banned by your Nazi (according to Tulsi Gabbard) tribe -- that's a completely different matter.
    ...that's a relatively major liberal-Nazi atrocity, dear Bob. In our humble opinion...

    1. Mao,
      Does this mean you're okay with the Biden's calls for higher taxes on the Establishment Elite?

    2. How was your midday enema today, dear Joe? Did you get your reward candy, as usual? Was it mmm mmm good, dear?

    3. A good represenation of what passes for "intelligent discourse" in this day and age. Are you 12?

    4. Oh, dear. You still sound constipated, dear Joe.

    5. Taking potshots (no pun intended) is easier than reaching out and finding common ground, compromise, reaching a consensus. You're not alone in this. The MSM is leading the charge to the dumbing down of all conversation.

    6. Seriously now, Mao. You see Joe in everyone that's in any way critical of you at this point? Remember the Jefferson Strarship song, Find your way back!

  8. "The McMinn County decision to ban “Maus” was widely interpreted as a rejection of or disregard for Holocaust education. The book, which portrays Jews as mice and Nazis as cats in recounting the author’s father’s imprisonment at Auschwitz, has been used in social studies classes across the country since the early 1990s, when it became the first graphic novel to win a Pulitzer Prize.

    But school board members cited more narrow concerns: several instances of “inappropriate words” — including “bitch” and “goddamn” — and an image of a partially nude woman."

    So, these efforts to ban Maus are obviously arising now, and are not simply a matter of choosing something else, as Somerby speciously suggests. The district first tried to redact the forbidden words, before deciding to ban it altogether. Somerby is suggesting a false explanation, given the facts reported about the School Board's decision.

  9. Tech CEOs and venture capitalists are dangerous.

  10. “For starters, that one local school board didn't exactly "ban" Maus. Instead, it voted to replace Maus with another book as a required text in its two-month-long, eighth-grade unit ("module") on the Holocaust. “

    Ironically (or not), one of the school board members (Rob Shamblin) who voted to “replace” Maus (note: all board members voted the same way) says this, explicitly using the word “ban”, which kind of contradicts Somerby:

    “Rob Shamblin- So if we ban the whole book based on the words, what other books right now that are currently in use are we going to have to ban?”

    Also, no decision was made as to which book ought to replace Maus:

    “Melasawn Knight-I think the whole module would have to be rewritten in some way because it all stems around a graphic novel, and it all stems around different types or writing styles. I think we would have to look somehow at finding another graphic novel of this rigor and trying to find anchor text to pull in with that.
    Steven Brady- Another reason this book was chosen for this module, it’s the only Pulitzer Prize winning graphic novel that’s out there. It’s very highly acclaimed and that’s part of the reason why it was chosen for this project.”

    (Steven Brady and Melasawn Knight are instructional supervisors.)

    Brady said this also:

    “our anchor text is Maus, and we have all these supplemental things that we look at throughout this module that build to that anchor text”


    Steven Brady-

    “We understand some of this language is objectionable. … What we have done in anticipation of any of those concerns, we prepared a parent letter to go home to inform them of this topic we are about to study. We went ahead and took the step to censor that explicit content and we went ahead and made sure that all of our books are stamped “property of MCS” so that if one does come up for some reason, hey look at these words we are teaching in school, no, that’s not one of our books”

    Brady made a lengthy, eloquent defense of Maus.


  11. It’s ironic that the school board of McMinn County, which went 80% for potty-mouthed and notorious womanizer Donald Trump, would be upset about exposing their children to a couple of cuss words in a book with serious and educational intent about a very important topic.

    1. Not really. He was the only.president in over a generation not to bow to the MIC and start a reckless war.

      But I get that it feels good to shit that out of your brain without thinking about it.

    2. I'm no fan of Trump, and certainly not of his demeanor. It's embarrassing. But the point is valid about staying out of foreign conflict. Of course the pandemic made that much easier to accomplish than it would have been had there been no pandemic.

    3. Isolationism and appeasement of foreign enemies have never been winning strategies in our American history.

    4. Straw man / conversation killer

    5. I love how not bombing the shit of countries of brown people is now isolationism.

    6. Trump's a Saint, I tell yas!

    7. 2:16,
      If that excites you, I can't wait until you find out "wokeness" is a reflection viewpoints aren't only straight/ white/ male.

    8. Are you suggesting Trump willingly imposed a Russia First foreign policy? I was under the impression he was blackmailed into it.

    9. And accusation of racism and a Russiagate rehash. You have to laugh.

    10. My favorite part of the Trump Presidency is when he zeroed our the Pentagon budget, instead of increasing it.

    11. Trump assassinated Qassem Soleimani, and the Iranians are swearing revenge.

  12. Deciding what classrooms materials to use isn't exactly deciding "how to teach" our history. So far, I don't think any of the discussion here about teaching history has touched on the actual topic of teaching.

    People who try to "disappear" the history of minorities from the curriculum are teaching something important, by their example, to children in their districts. Kids are learning lessons about the untrustworthiness of adults, the tendency of school administrators to propagandize them, the fear adults have of people of color, the ignorance of the adults around them. These are the same lessons that adults taught students back in the 60s, resulting in the rejection of social myths and a decade of social unrest led by the young.

    Based on polling, today's young people will not be fooled by the omissions from their textbooks, nor by Florida's too-late takeover of the public university. They will go somewhere else. Kids are already skewing Democratic, but this will push them further to the left. The embrace of racism by the right is busily radicalizing America's youth and the conservatives will regret it when those kids are old enough to vote. The kids are watching.

    1. So what looks like a bad thing is really a good thing.

    2. No, but those on the right who are trying to protect youth may actually be pushing them into the arms of liberals. I doubt they would consider that a good thing.

      I am strongly against nihilism. I have mixed feelings about children being disillusioned and losing idealism, because they may also lose hope. We on the left need to help preserve the idea that working toward a better future does produce results. We want the youth vote long term, not just in the next election.

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