Eduwonk threw out some pith regarding Bill O’Reilly’s comments on the state of American History education:
“There are a lot of reasons that American kids do not know enough history and civics, but predictably Bill O’Reilly has managed to seize on an issue that is not one of them…”
And what did O’Reilly say to get tag-teamed by MM and the Wonk? According to Media Matters:
During the October 24 edition of his Fox News show, Bill O’Reilly asserted: “[I]t seems to me, and the studies indicate, that most teachers — high school and college in the United States — are left-wingers. That they bring in a anti-American viewpoint to the sense that they don’t preach about the nobility of America, they teach about the deficits. Now, I think you have to teach both.” O’Reilly made his comments during the “Culture War” segment of his show, which he introduced by saying, “[W]ith many public schools teaching diversity, tolerance, and self-esteem rather than history, civics, and geography, lots of American kids know little or nothing about their country, including what they owe their country.” O’Reilly then aired a video clip showing students answering questions such as, “What do you think it means to be an American?” After airing the clip, O’Reilly stated: “We went out random. You know, just, we didn’t do any study — just pulled the kids between 13 and 17 with target audience of my book.”
O’Reilly did not indicate which studies show that most high school teachers “are left-wingers” and “bring in a anti-American viewpoint to the sense that they don’t preach about the nobility of America.” He later said, “[Y]ou don’t have to — you can’t whitewash, OK? But when the balance goes to, it’s a bad country — and there’s no question that’s going on in the university system. I don’t know about high school, but I suspect it is as well.”
I love ya, E, but I suppose even Tiger Woods misses a 2-footer occasionally.
The funny thing here is that a staffer from Media Matters took the time today to e-mail me their condemnation of O’Reilly’s stance – I read it, yawned gently and went back to writing. It’s not that the subject isn’t interesting – it’s fascinating and hugely important. The rub? I’ve read both sides of the argument literally hundreds of times each. I didn’t need one more.
[By the way, I appreciate a great deal Media Matters sending me this - thank you. Although it happened to be something I found fallacious, the more press releases and heads-ups I receive, the better. I look forward to more.]
But when I saw the one-sentence presentation of a forgone conclusion on Eduwonk, I had to leave a comment. I wanted to reproduce the comment here so I could link some of the text.
I’ll say this in advance – what’s below is not a partisan comment in any way. It’s about scholarship.
I’m going to defend Mr. O’Reilly here.
He didn’t say it clearly and he relied on anecdotal evidence, but he could have easily supported his argument. I haven’t read a study that measured the political inclinations only of high school history teachers, but there are reams of data about the professoriate’s leanings.
And here’s an interesting Zogby release about the attitudes toward professorial bias:
We have more than a generation of public school history teachers who were weaned on Howard Zinn et alii – proponents of an individual sort of history. I was checking out an iTunes University class a few weeks ago in which the professor teaching the course [UC Berkeley, female - I've forgotten her name but that should be plenty of info. to find the course] explains very well this relatively recent shift in how we approach history.
The texts support his claim, the data leans in his favor and there’s no shortage of testimony from practitioners of history education to corroborate the both of them.
For better or worse, the everyman’s history is not the stuff of great heroes, strong leaders and a clearly-defined national identity. The ‘people’s historians’ who created this tidal wave and are now riding it are incredibly critical of how Americans should view our past and the particular guilt/pride we should feel in the present.
Compare an old US History text like Ridpath’s “History of the United States” [approx. 1905] to the recent “Out of Many: A History of the American People” – if you can say with a straight face that there isn’t a dramatic shift in how we present our country’s history to high school and college students, your will is far stronger than mine.
Again, this isn’t a partisan stance – this is the reality of a shift in the discipline. If you just can’t stomach hearing it from Bill O’Righty, hop on iTunes and listen to that Berkeley leftie prof say virtually the same thing. The only differences is that she’s not indignant about it – she’s quite comfortable with it.
MediaMatters dropped the ball on this one and Eduwonk appears to have picked up the fumble and jogged a few yards toward his own end zone. Anyone reading the MM piece should have questioned it when MM didn’t provide data to refute O’Reilly’s claims. They just portrayed him as a jerk.
I find it a bit funny that MediaMatters asks readers to “Take Action!” in the right sidebar when they themselves can’t be bothered to hit up Google for some data or even to call an academic source for comment.
The point of all this? O’Reilly’s generally saying the correct thing here. If you hate O’Reilly, fine – have at him. But don’t perpetuate an erroneous conclusion about an academic discipline because you’ve got a gripe with the messenger. It’s petty and irresponsible.
Erroneous? Maybe I should’ve used “fatuous…”
Oh, I hope someone laughed at that last line.