Wednesday, April 23, 2014

“Propaganda Time” — The President in the Textbooks

Mary Grabar, an English instructor, limns the political hagiography that masquerades as information that should be used to encourage critical thinking:

Freshman composition class at many colleges is propaganda time, with textbooks conferring early sainthood on President Obama and lavishing attention on writers of the far left—Howard Zinn, Christopher Hedges, Peter Singer and Barbara Ehrenreich, for instance—but rarely on moderates, let alone anyone right of center. Democrats do very well in these books, but Abraham Lincoln—when included—is generally the most recent Republican featured. — Mary Grabar, “The Terrible Textbooks of Freshman Comp”, Minding the Campus, March 9, 2012.

Looking into other textbooks, she discovers “the widespread promotion of Obama, thinly disguised by claims about his rhetorical skills. … Other than one or two columns by a token conservative, like David Brooks, the rich array of conservative writing was ignored.”

Inconvenient facts are also ignored or glossed over if they reflect badly on the president:

[In his famous Cairo declamation] Obama’s historical inaccuracies in the speech go unchallenged, like attributing the invention of printing to Muslims (it was the Chinese) or crediting Morocco with being the first to recognize the United States ( No—Russia, France, Spain and the Netherlands did it earlier). And again, there is no mention of criticisms of the speech, many of them well-founded. — Ibid.

Not only do they provide positive spin for the present administration, some of the texts are also guilty of sins of omission:

There is not only lack of balance in terms of political representation, but also in sources of the essays. While the anthology does contain a smattering of classics from Emerson, Thoreau, Orwell, and the like, modern selections make up the bulk of the volume. Most come from general interest publications, but it seems the editors never heard of NATIONAL REVIEW, the WEEKLY STANDARD, the AMERICAN SPECTATOR, or NEW CRITERION. Yet, THE NEW YORKER, the NEW YORK TIMES, the NEW YORK TIMES MAGAZINE, the NEW YORK REVIEW OF BOOKS, and HARPER’S offer numerous excerpts each. A number also come from AMERICAN SCHOLAR and GEORGIA REVIEW. There are multiple offerings by the likes of Anna Quindlen, Barbara Ehrenreich, and Joan Didion. The “Ethics” section contains an offering by Peter Singer, by an abortion clinic nurse, and from several animal rights advocates, but nothing from a traditional Judeo-Christian perspective. — Ibid.

Summing up her reactions to these biased texts, Grabar concludes:

The fact that this textbook [AMERICA NOW] is aimed at the student with a low reading level, one who would be least likely to know this information on his own, suggests a goal that has very little to do with education. Nor do the other volumes for that matter. They want to tell students what to think, not how to write. — Ibid.

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