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

Navy caption: SAN DIEGO (April 2, 2007) - Aviation Support Equipment Technician 3rd Class Danny Ly, Storekeeper Seaman Joe Jackson and Electronics Technician Timothy Swartz fold the American flag on the flight deck aboard nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Nimitz (CVN 68). Nimitz Carrier Strike Group (CSG), embarked Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 11 and Destroyer Squadron Group (DESRON) 23 are deploying to support operations in U.S. Central Command area of responsibility. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jeremiah Sholtis (RELEASED) - Wikimedia image

Navy caption: SAN DIEGO (April 2, 2007) – Aviation Support Equipment Technician 3rd Class Danny Ly, Storekeeper Seaman Joe Jackson and Electronics Technician Timothy Swartz fold the American flag on the flight deck aboard nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Nimitz (CVN 68). Nimitz Carrier Strike Group (CSG), embarked Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 11 and Destroyer Squadron Group (DESRON) 23 are deploying to support operations in U.S. Central Command area of responsibility. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jeremiah Sholtis (RELEASED) – Wikimedia image

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

Bad quotes, Coulter, etc. 2

July 28, 2006

I noted a few of the academic offenses of Ann Coulter earlier.  James Downard at Talk Reason has a three-part series fisking Coulter’s recent rants against science, especially Darwinian theories.  Here is the third installment, worth a read if you’re interested in what the facts are, and just how far off the rails Coulter’s account goes.

Dismal job market for historians

July 28, 2006

Jason Kuznicki writes about the dismal job market for historians at Positive Liberty.

In contrast to the troubles that afflict elementary and secondary education, Kuznicki writes:

I’m conversant in economics, so I even know the method to the madness: State subsidies for higher education tend to produce an oversupply of educated people. A state can hardly fail to misallocate resources, and, in all likelihood, we have too many universities, too many graduates, and too many PhDs in the fields the politicians think are important — like history.

“Oversupply of educated people.” The kids in my history and economics courses, with whom we struggled to keep them in school for one more semester to get a high school diploma, will not read that, I hope. Nor will their successors.

Public education: underreported war

July 28, 2006

Super teacher Paul White blogs at Arianna Huffington’s site. In a post titled “Public Education: America’s Most Under-Reported War,” he argues for radical change in the school system.

Sample comment:

While the War in Iraq will progressively require less financial support, no amount of funding for public schools will ever be enough until its inept leadership changes. Local school districts should actually be given less money and not more, until they agree to hire competent financial professionals to handle their budgets, and stop funneling all their funding increases into unwarranted administrative bloat. The only school budget item which does justify an increase – teachers’ pay – is the one area where school leaders refuse to spend a dime. This counterproductive action both drives out good teachers and prevents strong candidates from entering the profession.

“War” is an over-used metaphor, certainly — White’s background, teaching in some of the most difficult situations, gives him license to use it. The comparison between our nation’s efforts to secure legitimate peace in Iraq and our efforts to improve schools is a stretch.

But consider my view: Schools make the nation.

(Please continue below the fold) Read the rest of this entry »

Boston 1775

July 27, 2006

I added a link to a lively blog, to the blogroll (Faucets of information) on the side: Boston 1775. The blog’s author, J. L. Bell, tends to provide the interesting details that tip the scale towards understanding, especially on the motivations of the people of Boston at in the key year of 1775.

To the great benefit of his readers he strays a bit outside of 1775 on occasion. Bell is an active, practicing historian, something a lot of high school kids never see.  1775 was a key year, with the British occupying Boston and the American rebel forces laying siege to the city — all before the Declaration of Independence.

Take a look. Especially see his recent post, Marginalizing rhetoric, in which he explores what makes people regard Sam Adams as a “radical” when he was actually a very conservative man; and George Washington’s signing statements, in which he explores the views of our first president on an issue that vexes many today.

Good historians make history come alive in our minds. Bell does that well, and you would do well to check out his site. I plan to check it out frequently.

Utah support grows for higher pay for teachers

July 26, 2006

Earlier I noted what appears to be support from Utah State Board of Education member Tim Beagley for increasing teacher pay. Here’s an editorial from, a feature of Brigham Young University, which tends to support the idea. When the conservative end of Utah politics pushes for more money for teachers, can teacher pay raises be far behind? It’s a situation worth watching.

Utah once led the nation in education attainment, and that lead made it an interesting candidate for a tech boom. Rapid growth in the state in the past 15 years led to entirely new problems, including a slow erosion of the strength of the public schools. Utah stumbled. Watching attempts to recover will be interesting. The demographics of the state in the past made Utah examples inapplicable to other states or cities to some policy makers, but the growth made Utah more diverse. It’s worth watching to see if we can learn from Utah’s experience and experiments.

A technology-literate state school board — I also discovered that another member of the Utah board has been blogging for much longer than Mr. Beagley: Tom Gregory has a blog, The board has 15 members. I wonder whether other states have a higher percentage of members who have taken to blogging — do you know of any in your state?

Update: Gregory responded at his blog, noting that only two of the Utah board are bloggers, that he knows of. The idea of public officials actually using the internet to discuss policy, seriously, is a bracing idea.

Update July 27:  Shut Up and Teach, a blog about education and policy in Arizona, points to a news story in the Tucson Daily Star that average teacher salary in the U.S. fell in the past year, while average superintendent salary rose.  Acerbic comments accompany the story.

Cleaning up around the edges

July 26, 2006

Several functions of WordPress did not function for me — on a hunch, I switched from Internet Express to my Mozilla browser, and most of the functions magically popped up. I’ve been cleaning up the categories of posts and tweaking a few other things to make the site easier for readers. Nothing should be deleted, but let me know if something either disappears or stops working. And I’ll be using Mozilla here a lot more.

Mayflower catechism, no.

July 26, 2006

Dispatches from the Culture Wars features a set of comments on an interview right-right-wing pundit John Lofton did with Roy Moore, the former chief justice of Alabama’s Supreme Court who lost his job when he illegally tried to force his religion on the court and on Alabama. This year Moore ran for governor of Alabama, losing in the primary election.

Mayflower Compact. It's a contract between people.  God is a witness, but not a party.

Mayflower Compact. It’s a contract between people. God is a witness, but not a party.

One of the grandest canards in current thought about U.S. history is that the Mayflower Compact set up a theocracy in Massachusetts. Lofton and Moore banter about it as if it were well established fact — or as if, as I suspect, neither of them has looked at the thing in a long time, and that neither of them has ever diagrammed the operative sentence in the thing.

The Mayflower Compact was an agreement between the people in two religiously disparate groups, that among them they would fairly establish a governing body to fairly make laws, and that they would abide by those laws. Quite the opposite of a theocracy, this was the first time Europeans set up in the New World a government by consent of the governed. That is something quite different from a theocracy. Read the rest of this entry »

Improve learning — speak informally

July 26, 2006

Hey, it’s a history blog, so I can refer back to stuff we missed, right?

Especially for teachers, go read this entry in Creating Passionate Users.

The author is a techie, but she’s talking about writing clearly (are you listening Texas teachers whose kids have to write well to get promoted?). She’s also discussing simple presentations, the type any business person does, the kind teachers and professors do all the time. And she has research to back her claims, that informal language improves student learning significantly. Not slang, not slouchy language — just not the formal, stilted stuff found in most textbooks.

Arrgghh! Textbooks! A subject for another rant, another day.

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