Another Reason Why We Need School Libraries
News flash: FDR caused the Great Depression.
This came as a big surprise to me, since I wasn’t around at the time. Actually, now that I think about it, I think this is probably wrong – according to all that I have ever been taught and read about. But wait – history may be changing!
This story ran in yesterday’s Macon Telegraph (a McClatchy newspaper). In brief, it describes a trend in history textbook writing that allegedly slants stories in a conservative direction. For example, Joe McCarthy may be represented as a great patriot defending the country against Communism. Jamestown was a flawed socialist experiment. Theodore Roosevelt was a socialist, too. (It seems that there were socialists everywhere, dating back to before the Mayflower, and curiously predating the birth of Karl Marx.)
My goal is not to complain about a conservative bias, or a liberal one either. Any bias is a problem in materials that are supposedly objective. These proposed rewrites are indeed a problem. If ever printed, they will misinform a half-generation of young people. Think, for example, of the harm done by Disney’s Pocahontas.
Of course, this problem has always existed. History is notoriously difficult to write about. Events must be selected, and it is human nature to promote some events and ignore others, while portraying all that happened according to personal bias. In most cases, there are few eyewitnesses left to complain. A prime example is the way African Americans have been underrepresented in American history descriptions across the board. Another example is the misrepresentation of the story of Native Americans. I believe that all information has bias. The writer’s duty is to minimize it as much as possible. The reader’s duty is to detect the bias (through critical thinking) and read elsewhere for balance.
Textbooks, and the vast commercial interests behind them, create a form of oppression in our schools. Most educators believe them to be critical learning tools. While educators have some limited power to select among the textbooks offered, so often most of the choices are seriously flawed. We won’t mention how expensive these things are, and how they must be replaced far too often.
Bringing balance to the information environment is a key responsibility of the school library. Our duty is to present reasonable voices from multiple viewpoints, in the form of books, digital sources, and other media. Our duty is to explore the uncertainties of history, and to present evidence supporting varying explanations. We do this through selection and through teaching research and critical thinking. The school library program, along with the balanced voices of thoughtful teachers, may be the only remedies for the shortcomings of textbooks.
MaryAnn Fitzgerald – University of Georgia