Culture Wars and Terrorism

By Fields, Suzanne | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), November 12, 2001 | Go to article overview

Culture Wars and Terrorism


Fields, Suzanne, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


Byline: Suzanne Fields

Before September 11, one of the major battlefields in the culture wars was over what to teach our children about the world they live in - not only what they learn, but how they learn it.

The controversy was posed in polarities: political correctness vs. tradition; multiculturalism vs. the Great Books written by dead white men ("the DWMs," as they're called in women's studies programs). Arguments raged over types of teaching: touchy-feely exercises vs. old-fashioned book learning, ideology vs. historical narrative, "dumbing down" vs. the discipline of hard work.

Given all this, it was possible to get through college with a respectable degree without ever having read Chaucer, Milton or de Tocqueville, and a lot of young men and women did. They were, however, well acquainted with books by Toni Morrison, Kurt Vonnegut and Karl Marx. Public school textbooks were often the worst examples of modern education, driven by the lowest common denominators, appealing to short attention spans with lots of photographs, big type and acres of white space. One social studies series in California included videotapes scripted as game shows to motivate bored children.

Last year, a report of the American Textbook Council, which monitors such things, described a passage about the Mississippi River designed to interest 10-year-olds. It included a large photograph of a black man singing into a microphone, superimposed on a photograph of barges floating down the river over the following caption: "The Mississippi River forms the western border of the state of Mississippi, birthplace of Charley Pride and other country music singers." The text doesn't mention Mississippi as the birthplace of William Faulkner or Eudora Welty, presumably because they're not popular and they're both white. (At least Miss Welty wasn't a man.)

But why bring this up now? Well, textbook publishers are struggling to include information about September 11 to get them up to date. Many students (as well as most adults) didn't have a clue before September 11 where to find Afghanistan on the map. Students both young and old complain they don't understand how this terrorism happened. When The Washington Post interviewed educators for suggestions on how to prepare young people for the 21st century in an age of terrorism, many emphasized teaching "how the United States is viewed in other countries. …

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