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April 20, 2006

Has History Gone Soft?

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

Is history now a subject fit only for wusses? And is school now meant to serve only girls? Steve Sailer (and many readers) notices that these days the AP history exam includes almost no questions about war or battle. (Here, here, here.) They suggest some books and resources to fill in the blanks here.



posted by Michael at April 20, 2006


My sister stunned me yesterday during phone conversation: she casually mentioned the kindergarten that my nephew attends has "no weapons" policy. That means: no toy guns,no reading of the books where people in the story use guns, no talks about guns and shooting permitted among boys. Huh? And THIS in Michigan?

Posted by: Tatyana on April 20, 2006 2:16 PM

We're moving ever closer to a police state; giving up our rights when the basic fact of life is simply that some people are driven to kill, war is man's nature, and if we had to go back in time and technology, a heavy rock will do. Damned few crime are committed with legally purchased weapons; damned few wars were avoided because of a lack of arms. Sticking our children's heads in the sand won't help because ignorance is not bliss. Reading about the devastation of war I would think is much more of a deterrent.

Posted by: susan on April 20, 2006 2:45 PM

Barring something unpleasant such as a nuclear strike against the USA, I suspect the Left view of history will be with us for a generation or so. That's because it could take that long to flush out the faculties of high schools and colleges. The process might be speeded up if school boards and trustees/regents had majorities with the guts to impose changes to redress the balance.

However, we need to remember that learning does not end the day someone leaves school. Many/most people have at least a little intellectual curiosity and anything from a news event to one of those classic History Channel "how to field-strip a Brown Bess musket" shows could spark someone to do some web surfing or amble over to the military history section of a Borders or Barnes & Noble.

Speaking of which, my impression is that there seems to be a steady flow of military history titles. Perhaps that's partly to do with the fact that there is a large military presence in Washington State leading to large amounts of military history shelving space. But the fact remains that the information is there and that there is a market for it.

Posted by: Donald Pittenger on April 20, 2006 3:40 PM

Regarding school policies against weapon-like toys, that extends all the way through high school here in California. I don't think it has anything to do with "the Left," but more to do with a post-Columbine and -9/11 mindset. Metal detectors at school gates, no lockers, etc. Also, the increasingly litigious population has put the kibosh on anything that may result in the slightest scratch.

I will agree that school, particularly at the elementary level, is geared towards girls. It's always been run by women, so I'm not sure what changed. Daycares, in particular, are highly intolerant of little boys and their rambunctious ways. These are usually staffed by women fresh out of college and their early childhood education classes, who have a rather utopian, almost Victorian, view of how little children should behave.

My oldest son once got a detention when he was in 3rd grade for running on the blacktop. Yes, they could run on the grass, just not on the blacktop. I have been meaning to blog about this subjct for awhile now. This post may spur me to do so, finally.

Posted by: the patriarchy on April 20, 2006 3:52 PM

I wonder how my own 4-year-old son will adjust. He is the only person I know who needs a "sword caddy". He has a large collection of toy swords, and adds to it religiously whenever we go anywhere near the dollar store (which, to him, is "the sword store", natch.) None of this was, to my knowledge, encouraged by his mother or I; certainly his older sisters never had the slightest interest in weaponry. Although I would guage his intelligence as high (possibly a biased opinion, but I think not), I do notice that he's already a bit turned off by school. Too girly.

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on April 20, 2006 4:22 PM

School *always* seemed awfully girly to me. (For one thing, what little boy could sit still?) And then we "learned" that it was in fact biased towards boys, and needed to become girlier ...

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on April 20, 2006 4:25 PM

Despite my previous comment, I have to wonder why many people my age and older would think their own schooling was "girly." Is it simply the phyisical act of sitting for long periods of time, or something deeper? Intellectual pursuits are certainly looked upon with suspicion in the US, but are they "girly?" Does subject matter play a role? Yes, of course it does. Dah! I have to go to a meeting now. Ha.

Posted by: the patriarchy on April 20, 2006 4:43 PM

As someone who just graduated from a So-So State University history program, I can vouch that wars & battles are pretty much ignored. Virtually all of my professors were specialists in social, gender, or minority history. My ten week class on the WWI era was all about the war's impact on sexual and racial politics. I can't tell you anything about the major battles or why they were important.

I remember a Robert Kaplan essay in the Atlantic a few years ago urging military history to be a larger part of college curriculums. If the class offerings at my school are any indication, it fell of deaf ears.

Posted by: Bryan on April 20, 2006 5:38 PM

Patriarchy -- I'll only speak for myself, but I meant only that "school" and not "education" was girly. All that emphasis on sitting still ... On doing homework .. Turning it in on time ... Behaving nicely ... Physical energy seen as a kind of illness to be taken care of only in gym class ... It seemed prissy, and like a conspiracy against boys, to be honest. As for actually getting an education, well, that was something different ...

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on April 20, 2006 5:49 PM

Absolutely. As in social situations, so it is in school: the male/female ratio of the crowd (in this case, teachers and administrators) sets the tone in a great many ways.

Posted by: Jonathan on April 20, 2006 11:09 PM

the patriarchy: "Also, the increasingly litigious population has put the kibosh on anything that may result in the slightest scratch."

Hey, don't blame us! The population became litigious only when the law was changed to encourage them to be. The book to read is Liability: The Legal Revolution And Its Consequences by Peter Huber of the Manhattan Institute. It outlines the changes in liability law which make people with deep pockets liable for anything and everything - thus making tort lawyers immensely rich, of course. (You won't be surprised to learn that it started in the 'sixties.) A PDF review is here.

Re: Military History, Glenn Reynolds wrote a piece a while ago arguing that the subject would be saved from oblivion by gamers. It's here.

Posted by: Brian on April 21, 2006 4:56 AM

"My ten week class on the WWI era was all about the war's impact on sexual and racial politics. I can't tell you anything about the major battles or why they were important."

Focusing just on sexual and racial politics may be a bit narrow, but I would think the imapct of a war on society is more important to understand (and more interesting to me, but that is just my preference) then who won what battle and why, unless it is a military history and/or strategy class. Not saying battlefield history should be ignored.

Posted by: the patriarch on April 21, 2006 9:51 AM

Funny. I remember my history classes as almost nothing but a litany of battles and generals and kings and presidents. And this war lasted from 1812 to 1814, and then this war lasted...That and big important historical "documents"--the date of the magna carta was..., etc. "The chronological order of the Presidents. " I can still recite the first six---Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, Qunicy Adams... After that, I forget. This white man fought, wrote, won...such and such...on this date. What I don't remember much of is the touchy-feely interesting detail stuff. If school was "girly", then I think it failed on that level as well!

Posted by: annette on April 21, 2006 11:05 AM

Sadly, all of history, let alone military history, can be reduced to mind-numbing litanies: there is way too much of it for easy human comprehension. However, history which doesn't focus the mind on the notion of power and its relationship with violence or potential violence is a complete waste of time.

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on April 22, 2006 3:47 AM

Am I the only one who's reminded of The Toys Of Peace?

Posted by: Brian on April 22, 2006 5:32 AM

Military history has a very large readership. The military itself consumes a lot of it. The Robert Kaplan article noted above (unfortunately Atlantic subscribers only) correctly points out that the military has an actual need for serious military history. The historical record is all they have as a guide to future action. When the current war in Iraq shifted to a guerilla-type war, the military journals were immediately filled with articles revisiting books on earlier wars which might shed light on what to do to wage this one.

Plus, many people who are consumers of serious books are intereted in it. This is a large market, and the readers (many wargamers, as noted above) keep the interest alive.

It is very, very bad that these important topics are not taught in our public schools. But they are available to anyone who wants to read about them, pretty easily.

Finally, the existing public school regime may yet, I hope, have a major systemic failure and be replaced by something better, perhaps driven by technology, within a reasonable amount of time.

Posted by: Lexington Green on April 24, 2006 12:06 AM

of course it is nonsense to hide that history is mainly about power struggle, violence, atrocities. and a consistent teaching will show the primitiveness and brutality behind "civilization".
to have to cope with cruel and hopeless realities doesn't necessary imply to continue to develop dumb macho attitudes through toy weapons (as if violence through video games and "action" movies was not enough).
michael, there are a lot of boys who can stay still (generalities, wrote someone, are roaming like the brave crusaders in the middle age).
friedrich, perhaps history itself is a waste of time.

Posted by: acrv on April 25, 2006 1:00 PM

updated link

Posted by: acrv on April 26, 2006 12:31 PM

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