Thursday, October 28, 2010

After Dark, by Haruki Murakami--8.5/10

This book was unbelievably refreshing after reading On the Road, which I finished just before starting. On the Road took me two or three weeks to read; After Dark took me less than three hours. (Granted, After Dark is 100 pages shorter, but still--that's an unnecessarily large discrepancy.) Both books were in the Authors I've Never Read category. 


Like I said, I picked up this book immediately after finishing On the Road, and I fell in love with it by the second chapter. I'm not entirely sure how to describe what it was I loved about it, except that it feels so... insightful--not just the words specifically, but just the style of writing. If that makes sense. It's translated from Japanese, first of all, and sometimes translations are awkward but not in this case; even when you can tell that things are phrased a certain way because of the translation, it just makes it that much more elegant and beautiful. The characters are so real and so easy to love and identify with, and the story is so intriguing, and even though I was left with questions because I am not always smart enough to understand abstract ideas, my first thought when I finished was that I wanted to find other things by this author. Luckily for me, he's written a lot--so I will be looking those up as soon as possible. 

On the Road, by Jack Kerouac--4/10

I really struggled to read this book. It needed to be about 100 pages shorter, for one thing. It took me a long time to get started, and the whole experience was kind of a slog through the mud. It's an interesting book, and I even identify with the characters in certain ways, so I kept feeling like if I just gave it more of a chance it would start to click with me. It never did. It is literally 100 percent about a group of people who drive back and forth across the country, get drunk and high, have sex, get divorces, and "dig" jazz music at bars in the middle of the night. I wasn't bothered by any of this; it's just that I didn't feel a lot of connection with any of the characters. They're this wild, frantic group of people, with this mania for life and just experiencing things--which I can understand, but those few things I mentioned are really the only things they bother experiencing. Most of the time they talk in philosophical riddles about things that make no sense, going on and on for pages and basically just boring me to tears. So... not my favorite. I think I will have to give the Beat Generation another try to make sure, but as a first foray into that genre, this was a disappointment.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Inception

We finally saw this movie last night, and we loved it. The action was pretty intense, and I loved the characters. I had mixed feelings about Ellen Page when Juno came out, but I've loved her in everything I've seen since then; Joseph Gordon-Levitt somehow just works in a suit looking like a 1920s reporter; Leonardo diCaprio can't seem to do a bad movie anymore; there was a lovely cameo from Michael Caine, who I love; and I was thrilled to find out that Cillian Murphy was in it too! He is an actor who I never think about until I see that he's in something and then I get really excited because I actually super love him. I wanted to go watch Red Eye and Batman Begins immediately upon leaving the theater (because yes, I love him as a villain, too). Based on our previous movie-buying habits, I predict that Mike and I will want to own this movie when it's out on DVD. All in all, it was an excellent way to spend $1.50 and a Tuesday night. 



Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Morning Edition

Thoughts about things I heard on the news today:


--There was (is) a scandal involving milk in China that contained hormones which made 9 month old baby girls start menstruating. I almost gagged in my horror. (To read that section in the article, scroll down to the part below the second photo.) What an awful, awful thing. This is one reason we are blessed to live where we do, and also why we should pay attention to the things that are getting put in our food. 


--The legalization of recreational marijuana a la Prop 19 in California. I'm not sure why this is a good idea. I understand medical benefits, and I have no problem with doctors being able to prescribe it; but for recreational use? What are the benefits? Mike said something about the tax revenue that will come in from sales, so sure, there's that. But I don't think legalizing marijuana is very safe, and if the issue is safety, then economic benefits don't really cut it as arguments.


--As we all know, I paid virtually no attention to politics before the 2008 campaigns began, so I can't compare a lot of things that are happening now with how they were before. Here is my question: Have presidents always spoken out against whatever the opposing party is? I keep hearing President Obama talking about how Democrats need to vote because the Republicans are going to try and stop legislations and so on, and it just bothers me to hear the president campaigning against members of Congress, etc. I don't really think that's appropriate.


You know, in some ways I get the feeling that the men and women in government, not just in our country but in others as well, are among the most childish people in the world--not in their personalities, but in the way they approach their jobs. I know high school students who are more capable of putting their own personal interests to the side in the interest of working toward something good for everyone, but that seems to be impossible for most politicians. They know what needs to be done to make things work--namely, compromise and cooperation--but they absolutely refuse to do it. Sure, there are exceptions, but the way our system is set up, the exceptions have a very difficult time making waves. Our representatives behave like spoiled children who have entirely too much freedom, take themselves way too seriously, and obstinately fight against anything that isn't what they want, forgetting the fact that they are not in office to represent themselves, and that everyone they represent doesn't necessarily feel the same way they do. It's really pretty pathetic. 


Well, those are my thoughts this morning, including your tangential rant for the day. Now I'm off to research some candidates and find out where voting happens when you're actually in the state. (Are you all voting next week? You should be!)


Cheerio!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Twelve Angry Men, by Reginald Rose--8/10

A few days ago I was going to be doing some intensive cleaning and wanted some audiobooks to listen to. The Wylie library doesn't have a lot of audiobooks, and even fewer that are on my 10/10/10 list, so I grabbed basically everything they had. This ended up being: Fight Club, Water for Elephants, and Twelve Angry Men. I was surprised to see that Twelve Angry Men was only an hour and a half long--I hadn't known that it was originally written as a play--so I put that in first. And I loved it. 


I've been wanting to watch the Henry Fonda movie for years, but somehow had just never gotten to it. The instant I finished listening to the audiobook, I called Mike and asked if that could be what we did that night; so, after I picked him up from work, we rented the movie and watched it. 


I actually liked the audiobook better. Henry Fonda is lovely in the movie--and played the character I knew he would be playing--and I discovered that Jack Warden is in While You Were Sleeping, which was a fun coincidence. Most of the characters were cast and played really well. But I thought the play was done better, and it had a bigger impact on me. (Of course, this may not be a fair assessment since I experienced them both within the space of a few hours, and my impression may have been different if I'd seen the movie first. But what can you do?) Hector Elizondo was the voice of one of the characters in the audiobook, for one thing, and I do love that guy. (Also in the cast: Dan Castellaneta, Jeffrey Donovan, Kevin Kilner, and Richard Kind.)


Anyway, if you don't know, Twelve Angry Men is the story of a jury responsible for deciding the fate of a young Puerto Rican boy who is accused of killing his father. When they first convene, the vote is 11-1 in favor of guilty (and you can guess who the one is). The entire story takes place in the courthouse, and consists of their conversations and arguments regarding the evidence in the case. Personal prejudices come into play very strongly, from many different angles, and the relationships that develop between the jurors are powerful. It's a fantastic story.


If you like legal drama, and even if you don't, this is an excellent choice. Listen to the audiobook if you can, or watch the movie. I'm sure reading the play is good too. Obviously I won't tell you how it ends... But I had goosebumps. 

Sunday, October 24, 2010

This is Halloween

Last night we had a Halloween party. Meredith and Zach, Lori and Christian, Mandy and Ryan, and Bethany came--basically, every non-family friend we have in the entire state of Texas. I wasn't sure how the blending of my college and high school friends would work out, but it was practically seamless, especially since Mandy and Ryan and Bethany spent half the night discussing sports, and Christian was so interested in my giant journals that Mandy and I got to tell some college stories to balance out the high school ones. 


We'd talked about watching The Nightmare Before Christmas (one of my all-time favorite movies), but we were having so much fun playing Pop 5 and 90's Trivial Pursuit that we never got to it. We considered putting it on in the background while we played so we could have the music--because although Mike and I used to own the soundtrack, we have discovered that the CD is no longer in its case and we don't know where it is :( --but then learned that Meredith has never seen the movie. A person's first time watching an amazing movie should not be with it just on in the background, so we decided to reschedule the movie for another night.


The food is kind of a sore spot for me. I made four things: potato and egg casserole, potato soup, cornbread, and lemon cheese bars. The lemon cheese bars I'd never made before, and the cornbread only once; both turned out great. The potato/egg casserole and potato soup I've made at least one billion times each, and both were blah. They were still alright for the people who'd never had the dish before, but I could tell, and I was bummed. This is what I mean when I say that I am a pretty inept cook; my success with making any particular dish seems to be based more on luck than skill. 


In any case, we had a lot of fun, and it was nice for once to be the ones not driving home afterward! I was a fan. Someone mentioned the Muppet Christmas Carol as everyone was leaving, which is when I started planning our next party. (Lori's never even seen it!) I am really excited.


Right now we are over at my parents' house doing--what else--laundry, and Mike is in the backyard playing with Sammy the Lonely Puppy, whose mommy is in Idaho visiting her other baby. In a little bit we will go home, and then my brothers and sister will come over to make dinner, watch She's the Man, and eat all our Halloween candy. It will be good times. And I will not be doing the cooking. :)

Monday, October 18, 2010

10/10/10

I am doing a lot better on my 10/10/10 challenge than I thought I was; however, because of my extreme dilly-dallying in the first two-thirds of the year, my reading has to be a lot more focused in these last few months. No more "extras," for the most part, so if it doesn't fit into the challenge, it has to wait. Here's what I've got:


Recommended
Finished:
Abarat--Clive Barker (Joseph)
The Alchemyst--Michael Scott (Nathalie)
Running with the Demon--Terry Brooks (Mike)
Storm Front--Jim Butcher (Mike)
Wicked--Gregory Maguire (Talia) 
Same Kind of Different as Me--Ron Hall and Denver Moore (Lori) 
The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake--Aimee Bender (Lori) 
Inferior--Piadar O Guilin (Joseph) (8/10)


Coming Up:
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close--Jonathan Safran Foer (Megan)
A Thousand Splendid Suns--Khaled Hosseini (Meredith) (10/10)


Adult Fiction
Finished:
The Gathering Storm--Robert Jordan/Brandon Sanderson
The Lacuna--Barbara Kingsolver
Prodigal Summer--Barbara Kingsolver
Empire--Orson Scott Card
Bridget Jones's Diary--Helen Fielding
Shanghai Girls--Lisa See 
The Alchemist--Paolo Coehlo
Towers of Midnight--Robert Jordan/Brandon Sanderson (8/10)


Coming Up:
Water for Elephants--Sara Gruen
The Elegance of the Hedgehog--Muriel Barbery (10/10)


Nonfiction
Finished:
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle--Barbara Kingsolver
Going Rogue--Sarah Palin
NurtureShock--Po Bronson and Ashely Merryman
Dreams from My Father--Barack Obama
100 People Who Are Screwing Up America--Bernard Goldberg
Fast Food Nation--Eric Schlosser
Female Chauvinist Pigs--Ariel Levy
The Omnivore's Dilemma--Michael Pollan 
Lies My Teacher Told Me--James W. Loewen (9/10)


Authors I've Never Read
Finished:
The Road--Cormac McCarthy
Mrs. Dalloway--Virginia Woolf
The Handmaid's Tale--Margaret Atwood
The Catcher in the Rye--J.D. Salinger 
On the Road--Jack Kerouac
After Dark--Haruki Murakami (6/10)


Coming Up:
Anthem--Ayn Rand
--Norman Mailer
Jeeves and the Tie that Binds--P.G. Wodehouse
Bonfire of the Vanities--Tom Wolfe (10/10)


Foreign
Finished:
Say You're One of Them--Uwem Akpan
Pandora in the Congo--Albert Sanchez Pinol 
The Alchemist--Paolo Coehlo (3/10)


Coming Up:
Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman--Haruki Murakami
Absurdistan--Gary Shteyngart
Empress--Shan Sa
The Rooftops of Tehran
The Inheritance of Loss
How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents
Mendelssohn is on the Roof (10/10)


Award-Winners
Finished:
March--Geraldine Brooks
The Good Earth--Pearl S. Buck
The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie--Alan Bradley
The Bridge of San Luis Rey--Thornton Wilder 
The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things--Carolyn Mackler
Interpreter of Maladies--Jhumpa Lahiri  
Confederacy of Dunces--John Kennedy Toole  (7/10)


Underway:
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay--Michael Chabon


Coming Up:
Madame Bovary--Gustave Flaubert (?)
Atonement? (9/10)


MML
Finished:
The Enchantress of Florence--Salman Rushdie
The Book Borrower--Alice Mattison
The Perks of Being a Wallflower--Stephen Chbosky (3/10)


Coming Up:
Franny and Zooey--J.D. Salinger (4/10)


Books I Own But Haven't Read
Finished:
1984--George Orwell 
Slaughterhouse-Five--Kurt Vonnegut 
Agnes Grey--Anne Bronte (3/10)


Underway:
Jane Eyre--Emily Bronte

Coming Up:

Main Street--Sinclair Lewis
The Three Musketeers--Alexander Dumas
Jude the Obscure--Thomas Hardy
The Bonesetter's Daughter--Amy Tan
The Voyage Out--Virginia Woolf
Dickens? (10/10)


Books Adapted to Movies
Finished:
Cyrano de Bergerac--Edmond Rostand 
Twelve Angry Men--Reginald Rose 
Fight Club--Chuck Palahniuk 
Memoirs of a Geisha--Arthur Golden 
The Handmaid's Tale--Margaret Atwood 
Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason--Helen Fielding 
Slaughterhouse-Five--Kurt Vonnegut (7/10)


Underway:
Jane Eyre--Emily Bronte
V for Vendetta


Coming Up:
The Other Boleyn Girl--Philippa Gregory
Turn of the Screw--Henry James (10/10)


Miscellaneous
Finished:
I Capture the Castle--Dodie Smith
Mockingjay--Suzanne Collins
Inferior--Peandar O Guilin 
ttyl--Lauren Myracle 
The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner--Stephenie Meyer 
America: the Book (the Audiobook)--Jon Stewart
The Bluest Eye--Toni Morrison
East--Edith Pattou
The Boyfriend List--E. Lockhart
Olivia Joules and the Overactive Imagination--Helen Fielding (10/10)

Friday, October 15, 2010

Accident

Well, I got in an accident last night.


Yep. After six years of not even getting pulled over, I totaled my second car! (The first was a suburban when I was 17... in case you don't know.) I'm on a roll with this stuff, I'm telling you.


I was leaving the library on my way to pick up Mike, sitting at a stop sign waiting to turn left onto Stone Rd. On my left there were two cars, an SUV and a sedan, coming toward me in the lane closest to me. I looked to the right and it was clear; I looked back to the left, and the two cars were slowing down and had their blinkers on. I waited to make sure they were actually turning onto my street and not one just past me, and when I saw that they were, I went.


Turns out that whole time there was a third car, hidden behind the SUV. They must have been going at exactly the same speed as the first two cars, because that entire time--a good 45 seconds that I was watching them--that third car was totally invisible to me. 


So, I got T-boned; the car slammed into the driver's side door and basically crunched up that entire side of my car. I couldn't get out on my side, so the EMTs had to slide me out the passenger door on a long board, then transfer me to a stretcher. Mike didn't get there before the ambulance left, which was kind of a bummer, but he met me at the hospital; also, the Wylie cop who was there took my license to look up my information, but never gave it back. I've been calling around today trying to find it, and no luck yet.


I got checked out at the hospital and everything looked fine, so they didn't even do any x-rays (thank goodness! Since it was just the ER and the ambulance I'm hoping that my personal injury insurance will cover it). Mike and I drove back to his office in his work truck, and my parents picked us up. 

So we are car-less right now, and apparently will be getting a new car soon. My mom and the guy who own the impound place say that the car is not salvageable, and definitely not driveable the way it is. That car has been going downhill for a long time, but it's still sad--it's the car my siblings and I all learned to drive in. And with how little I've taken care of it in the six years since it became my car, it's astonishing how faithful it's been. I will miss you, little Corolla with the M&M sticker on it. I hope I can find a car that's just as good to replace you.


It's hard to tell from the picture, but the driver's seat is scrunched up and the door is jammed pretty far in. It was touching my leg.




Thursday, October 14, 2010

Two Posts You Must Read!

This is Lindsay, who discovered my blog a few months ago and has commented a couple times on it. Her post is incredible, and I am praying that you will all read it. 


http://cheaperthantherapy42.blogspot.com/2010/10/taking-it-down-notch.html


Her blog led me to this post by Laura, who I don't know but wish I did. The story she tells in this post is EXACTLY the same as mine, except that I wasn't old enough to vote in the 2000 election, and that I have lost three friends instead of two. The only thing about which I do not agree with her is her second to last paragraph (which, if you read my blog, you know already). This is explained in my comment on her post. 


http://benandlaura.blogspot.com/search/label/May%20Day


I am really excited to know that these two bloggers are out there.

AHAHAHAHA

A Facebook friend posted a poll asking, "If the presidential election were held today, would you vote for Obama?" I voted, and this is what came up:



Then, after I laughed really hard and declined to "like" being conservative, I was taken to Being Conservative's Facebook page. Ah, I see you are familiar with the old pretend-to-be-taking-a-poll-and-when-people-try-to-vote-they-get-routed-to-your-Facebook-page-about-the-glories-of-being-conservative ploy, Being Conservative. Very sneaky.


Finally, on their home page I found this text:


Unlike Obama, President Reagan would stand in strong opposition to the Muslim super center at Ground Zero and we should too. Please click "Like" above and stand with us.


Oh, Facebook. Once again you amuse me greatly. 

Monday, October 11, 2010

Lies My History Class Taught Me—9/10

(This post is based primarily on facts from Lies My Teacher Told Me, by James W. Loewen (first edition); all quotations come from that book.)

I've been distressed lately by how difficult it is to know what is the truth, and what is someone's spin on the truth. This issue is particularly relevant to studying history, which I have been doing; the more I read, the more I begin to wonder if anything I learned in school was true.

When I was in junior high, I remember studying the Holocaust and being told that the Japanese don’t acknowledge that it ever happened. Their textbooks teach something different, some story that they’ve invented to make themselves look good. And I remember being absolutely appalled that a country would do such a thing.

How na├»ve I was! Guess what—America does it too. Since college I have gradually been learning a more truthful history of this country than the one I was taught in school, and I have been shocked at how different it is.

Obviously it isn’t the Holocaust that our country ignores; in fact, it isn’t even as specific as one event (although I suspect that if Japan rewrites the Holocaust, they, too, probably don’t stop there). Starting with Columbus’s “discovery” of America (an already-populated continent that had already been “discovered” by several other people before him), our entire history is full of inconsistencies, distortions, and outright falsehoods that are presented as fact. American history classes do not teach history—they teach patriotism.

Our textbooks create heroes where none existed and ignore the real ones. They omit nearly every wrong ever committed by an American, much less the government. They present a myth of history as a straight line of “progress” in which America was always right—events just happened, never as a result of someone’s actions (or at least not an American’s); they imply that no other path was ever possible besides the one we chose, and that since the founding of this country things have been getting better and better—when in fact there is significant evidence that that isn't true. Textbook authors blatantly espouse the belief that America is the best country in the world, and rewrite our past so that it agrees.

But if we believe that America is a great country, then why must we lie about our history? If we can’t acknowledge our past and maintain the belief that our country is great, then it must not be great at all, and we are just pretending to live in a country which does not exist. If, on the other hand, we believe that our country is great in spite of its mistakes, then it is necessary to acknowledge those mistakes—to stop deluding ourselves and lying to our children. We can’t have it both ways; one of these things has to go.

James Loewen is a textbook author and historian who spent eleven years researching U.S. history textbooks, their publishers and authors, the school boards and textbook adoption boards who control them, and the teachers who teach them. For this book he chose twelve textbooks that are representative of the books used throughout the country (one of them was my junior-year U.S. history book, The American Pageant) and studied them thoroughly. “Textbook authors need not concern themselves unduly with what actually happened in history,” he says, “since publishers use patriotism, rather than scholarship, to sell their books. Publishers market the books as tools for helping students to ‘discover’ our ‘common beliefs’ and ‘appreciate our heritage.’ No publisher tries to sell a textbook with the claim that it is more accurate than its competitors” (285).

No indeed; in fact, accuracy prevents textbooks from being published, since the simple truth is that it is impossible to relate history accurately without offending someone. Each state’s textbook adoption board has regulations that the publishers must adhere to—Texas’s includes one that says textbooks cannot include anything that undermines authority (280). (What an American idea! That sounds just like “government by the people, for the people.”) Since publishers are businessmen—and since school boards, teachers, and the public care more about not being offended than they do about truthful history—we have textbooks and history classes that teach nothing of worth to anyone.

Did you know that two-thirds of seventeen-year-olds can’t place the Civil War within a half-century of when it was fought (300)? (I couldn’t place it within a century until I was in college.) I didn’t know when the Vietnam War was fought until the last few years, and I didn’t know when the Korean War was fought until yesterday, when I asked Mike (who knows because our wars have always interested him).

Did you know that the FBI actively persecuted and tried to sabotage Martin Luther King, Jr. and the civil rights movement? J. Edgar Hoover—with the approval of Attorney General Robert Kennedy—bugged MLK’s hotel rooms and tapped his and other civil rights leaders’ phone lines. “A high FBI official sent a tape recording of King having sex, along with an anonymous note suggesting that King kill himself, to the office of King’s organization.” J. Edgar Hoover called King “the most notorious liar in the country,” and tried to prove that many of the civil rights leaders were communists. For many years during the civil rights movement the FBI (and the government) attacked black and interracial organizations, but none of the twelve textbooks includes any of this information (231).

Did you know that our government tried a ridiculous number of times to assassinate Fidel Castro (224)? (I'm not sure what the actual number is because I saw twenty-four, and then I saw 638. Let's say it was a lot more than none.) It would be no surprise if you didn’t know, since none of the twelve textbooks mentions it.

And did you know that we rigged the 1957 election in Lebanon, which led to civil war the next year (in which our troops then had to fight)? That the CIA was involved in the assassination of Patrice Lumumba of Zaire in 1961 and staged a coup to help bring someone else to power; that we helped overthrow the elected governments of Chile (in 1973) and Guatemala (in 1954); that our troops in Nicaragua arranged the presidency and forced the passage of a treaty that benefited us; that we invaded Haiti, disbanded their legislature, and set up a new one ourselves? Probably not—most of the textbooks don’t mention it. Incidentally, when other countries do these things, we call it “state-sponsored terrorism” (221-226).

Did you know that the government has consistently lied to the American people about what we were and were not doing in these and other countries? 
  • On the same day that we were landing at the Bay of Pigs to try and overthrow Fidel Castro, the secretary of state said, “The American people are entitled to know whether we are intervening in Cuba or intend to do so in the future. The answer is no.” Four American pilots died in that failed invasion (227). 
  • President Eisenhower denied that American planes were flying over Soviet airspace, and was caught in his lie when captured airman Gary Powers admitted the truth on Russian television. “Much later, the public learned that Powers had been just the tip of the iceberg; in the 1950s we had some thirty-one flights downed over the USSR, with 170 men aboard. For decades our government lied to the families of the lost men and never made substantial representation to the USSR to get them back, because the flights were illegal and were supposed to be secret” (227-228)
  • The government kept our bombing of Laos during the Vietnam War a secret until years later (228). 
  • Woodrow Wilson tried to keep secret the fact that we had troops intervening in civil war in Russia in 1918 (228). 
  • “In some ways the Iran-Contra scandal of the Reagan-Bush administrations, a web of secret legal and illegal acts involving the president, vice-president, cabinet members, special operatives... and government officials in Israel, Iran, Brunei, and elsewhere, shows an executive branch more out of control than Nixon’s” (229).
The general public found out about these things, obviously, but textbooks don’t talk about them. Instead they tout the checks and balances of the governmental system to assure us that our country is really run by the people.

How about Helen Keller—did you know that she was a radical socialist activist (20-22)? That Woodrow Wilson actually opposed women’s suffrage, until finally giving in to political pressure (23, photo caption)? That John F. Kennedy tried to stop civil rights marches and sent his VP out of the country because the VP was too pro-civil rights (234)? Yet these presidents are given credit for the social changes that their administrations tried to stop, and Helen Keller—who fought against the inequality of our class system—is sadly, ironically, silenced. Our history hails her for overcoming her physical challenges and learning to speak—and then ignores everything she said.

Did you know that almost everything we were taught about Christopher Columbus’s personal life is either untrue or impossible to verify (39)? That he was personally responsible for the start of the first slave trade across the Atlantic, and that he and his men committed vicious genocide and wiped out entire nations of Indians (60-66)? 
  • “The soldiers mowed down dozens with point-blank volleys, loosed the dogs to rip open limbs and bellies, chased fleeing Indians into the bush to skewer them on sword and pike” (61)
  • Not having found gold yet but needing something to send back to Spain, Columbus began a slave raid on Haiti. Then he set up a tribute system, in which Indians had to pay tribute every three months or have their hands cut off. 
  • When the tribute system failed because what it asked was impossible, he set up a system in which he granted entire Indian villages to a colonist or group of colonists. This situation was so horrible that Indians commonly committed suicide and killed their own children so they wouldn’t have to endure it (62-63).
These facts all come from letters written by Columbus and other members of his expedition, but none are mentioned in American history. (Textbooks rarely include primary documents.) “Christopher Columbus not only opened the door to a New World, but also set an example for us all by showing what monumental feats can be accomplished through perseverance and faith,” President Bush said. “To denigrate Columbus is to denigrate what is worthy in human history and in us all,” said Jeffrey Hart. I sincerely hope that what is worthy in human history is not our ability to violently conquer and enslave peaceful peoples for monetary gain.

And I haven’t even started on the Native Americans! I’m afraid that much of what we learned in school about the early years of our country is complete nonsense. Our history paints a picture of a few primitive, nomadic Indian tribes who just kept getting in the way, of well-meaning Europeans who tried valiantly to include them in their new culture, but were viciously attacked and had no choice but to fight back. This just isn’t true.

For one thing, although a few groups were indeed violent and did attack settlers—and really, can you blame them?—the vast majority of the violence was perpetrated by settlers against Indians, who were themselves helpless against the advanced weaponry of Europe (115-116). Hundreds of thousands of Indians were enslaved, too, in an enormous and far-spread slave trade—but our textbooks don’t talk about this. “Adolf Hitler displayed more knowledge of how we treated Native Americans than American high schoolers who rely on their textbooks. Hitler admired our concentration camps for Indians in the west ‘and often praised to his inner circle the efficiency of America’s extermination—by starvation and uneven combat’ as the model for his extermination of Jews and Gypsies" (126).

It’s true that there were some things to which the Native Americans couldn’t adapt—European illnesses, for instance, which killed off unknown millions of them in devastating plagues. But the tragic inability of Native Americans to merge into European society is a myth.

Frontier life is presented as highly separated—an “us versus them” kind of situation—but this isn’t true. In truth frontier life was incredibly multicultural, with many different Native American tribes, British, French, Mexican, Russian, and other Europeans living together harmoniously. In fact, many Europeans liked Native American culture so much better that they joined it. Europeans had to post guards to keep their men and women from “defecting,” and “the Pilgrims so feared Indianization that they made it a crime for men to wear long hair” (108-109).

“The problem was not Native failure to acculturate. In reality, many European Americans did not really want Indians to acculturate... The Massachusetts legislature in 1789 passed a law prohibiting teaching Native Americans how to read and write ‘under penalty of death.’ The United States claimed to be willing to teach the Indians to farm, but Indians in Ohio [and other states] already were farmers” (129).

Really? Indians refused to settle down and become farmers? It seems that we have already forgotten our good friend Squanto, who taught the Europeans how to farm in America. Unless we think he was the only one, our patriotic stories have just given us the evidence against themselves. The truth is that in many frontier societies, much like in the south after the Civil War, Native Americans were treated as inferior and didn’t have the same rights as settlers. Even when they lived in European American colonies, their homes and land could be taken by colonists who picked fights with them, and they often could not testify in court against whites (130-132).

The information in this post is just the tip of the iceberg; I could go on this way for a long, long time. As much as I’ve written already, I couldn’t include half of what I found in just this book—and as it is a pretty small book (and written fifteen years ago), I  imagine that the amount of what most of us still don’t know is significant.

Even the information that I do know that isn’t in textbooks is significant—how race relations are in some ways worse now than they were just after the Civil War (138-199); how gender issues are still not addressed fairly in schools; how the recent past (the last seventy or so years) gets skimmed over because the fact that the people involved aren’t all dead means the issues are much more controversial, and of course we can’t have controversy in our classes (239-253); how the accomplishments of non-whites are consistently downplayed and even ignored (95; 101-103; 267); how America does indeed have a class system, and the fact that we pretend it doesn’t just perpetrates the plight of the lower classes (because if you believe that your country is a meritocracy and yet you can’t seem to catch a break, it must be because of your own failings) (201-213). Like I said... It goes on and on.

Textbooks aren’t the only problem, though; the entire system of teaching history in our country is warped. Textbook content is determined by the market, which means that nothing meaningful gets in there because it could offend someone. This “content-free” approach could be countered by teachers if they taught against their books—but a survey in 1990 (and again in 1999-2000) showed that only 40 percent of history teachers had a degree in history or something related to it, which means that most teachers probably don’t know how much of their information is wrong (286-287). (Sadly, this explains how all of my history teachers at Wylie High School were basketball coaches, who are required to teach something besides their sport.)

And when the National Assessment for Educational Progress asked the public to help review the guidelines for teaching social studies, guess what the public replied? That “‘references to specific minority groups should be eliminated whenever possible,’ ‘extreme care’ should be used in wording any reference to the FBI, the president, labor unions, and some other organizations, and ‘exercises which show national heroes in an uncomplimentary fashion though factually accurate are offensive’” (292).

A standard American history education teaches archetypes, not facts. Without even going to school, we “know” that Columbus was a great hero—after all, he is one of only two people who get a day named after them in our calendar. So even if teachers do include the facts about the thousands of people Columbus killed or enslaved, we just forget them because they don’t fit with the archetype. This is what I have a problem with—not the fact that we have bad things in our history, but the fact that we pretend we don’t.

It’s not okay to pretend that this country has never done anything wrong when history blatantly tells us otherwise, and to do so does not mean that one is a patriot. Blind allegiance does not make a person a good American. It is possible for good people to do wrong things; is it not also possible, then, for good countries to do wrong things? I think it is—but only if we allow ourselves to learn from them, instead of lying about them.

History textbooks should not be teaching “patriotism”—they should be teaching history. Students do not feel very patriotic when they grow up and learn that they have been lied to. Minorities do not feel patriotic when their classes teach that America is an ideal society, but their personal lives tell them otherwise. And isn’t the state of our country’s politics evidence enough that people are not being prepared for citizenship by our educational system? If in school we are taught to just accept certain information because that's how we were always taught it—even if it turns out that information is wrong—then how can we expect to become educated voters and citizens whose political beliefs are based on actual personal knowledge? 

If we want to believe that America is truly a great country, then we need to own up to our past like adults. Criticizing your country cannot be considered anti-American, since it is exactly that freedom which distinguishes us from other countries. To simply believe what you are taught without question, to teach that authority must be obeyed implicitly, to accept the propaganda that everything the government has done has been for the best, even when it was kept hidden from the people or went strictly against our policies—that is un-American, and I suspect that the Founding Fathers would not approve. 

“History, despite its wrenching pain,
Cannot be unlived, and if faced
With courage, need not be lived again.”

—Maya Angelou