La tierra de las oportunidades
En el libro se relata «Las patrañas históricas» que descubrió James Loewen, cuando leyó y analizó el contenido de 18 de los principales libros de texto historia que se utilizan en las escuelas de Estados Unidos
Historiador y sociólogo Estadounidense, dedicó mas de 1 año, a analizar libros de texto que se utilizaban en las escuelas de U.S, encontrando graves errores.
Patrañas que me contó mi profe (Loewen)
Última actualización el 2021-05-20 / Enlaces de afiliados / Imágenes de la API para Afiliados
Lies My Teacher Told Me:
Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong
Última actualización el 2021-07-20 / Enlaces de afiliados / Imágenes de la API para Afiliados
The land of opportunity
Labor is prior to, and independent of, capital. Capital
is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if
labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of
capital, and deserves much the higher consideration.
I had once believed that we were all masters of our fate
—that we could mold our lives into any form we
pleased. . . . I had overcome deafness and blindness
sufficiently to be happy, and I supposed that anyone
could come out victorious if he threw himself valiantly
into life’s struggle. But as I went more and more about
the country I learned that I had spoken with assurance
on a subject I knew little about. . . . I learned that the
power to rise in the world is not within the reach of
Ten men in our country could buy the whole world and
ten million can’t buy enough to eat.
—WILL ROGERS, 1931
The history of a nation is, unfortunately, too easily
written as the history of its dominant class.
Ignorant of the class structure
Middle-class students, especially, know little about how the American class structure works, however, and nothing at all about how it has changed over time. These students do not leave high school merely ignorant of the workings of the class structure; they come out as terrible sociologists. “Why are people poor?” I have asked first-year college students. Or, if their own class position is one of relative privilege, “Why is your family well-off ?” The answers I’ve received, to characterize them charitably, are half-formed and naïve. The students blame the poor for not being successful.
Opportunity is not equal in America
They have no understanding of the ways that opportunity is not equal in America and no notion that social structure pushes people around, influencing the ideas they hold and the lives they fashion. High school history textbooks can take some of the credit for this state of affairs.
No book mentions any of the major strikes
No book mentions any of the major strikes that labor lost in the late twentieth century, such as the 1985 Hormel meatpackers’ strike in Austin, Minnesota, or the 1991 Caterpillar strike in Decatur, Illinois—defeats that signify labor’s diminished power today.
Nor do most textbooks describe any continuing issues facing labor, such as the growth of multinational corporations and their exporting of jobs overseas. With such omissions, textbook
authors can construe labor history as something that happened long ago, like slavery, and that, like slavery, was corrected long ago. It logically follows that unions now appear anachronistic. The idea that they might be necessary for workers to have a voice in the workplace goes unstated.
Photograph of a sweatshop
This photograph of a sweatshop in New York’s Chinatown, taken in the early 1990s, illustrates that the working class still works, in America, sometimes under conditions not so different from a century ago, and often in the same locations.
These books’ poor treatment of labor history is magnificent compared to their treatment of social class. Nothing that textbooks discuss—not even strikes—is ever anchored in any analysis of social class.
Social class, social stratification
Half of the eighteen high school American history textbooks I examined contain no index listing at all for social class, social stratification, class structure, income distribution, inequality, or any conceivably related topic. Not one book lists upper class or lower class. Three list middle class, but only to assure students that America is a middle-class country. “Except for slaves, most of the colonists were members of the ‘middling ranks,’ ” says Land of Promise, and nails home the point that we are a middle-class country by asking students to “describe three ‘middle-class’ values that united free Americans of all classes.”
Is increasingly problematic today
Stressing how middle-class we all are is increasingly problematic today, because the proportion of households earning between 75 percent and 125 percent of the median income has fallen steadily since 1967. The Reagan-Bush administrations accelerated this shrinkage of the middle class, and most families who left its ranks fell rather than rose.
As late as 1970, family incomes in the United States were only slightly less equal than in Canada. By 2000, inequality here was much greater than Canada’s; the United States was becoming more like
Mexico, a very stratified society.
The Bush II administration, with its tax cuts aimed openly at the wealthy, continued to increase the gap between the haves and have-nots. This is the kind of historical trend one would think history books would take as appropriate subject matter, but only five of the eighteen books in my sample provide any analysis of social stratification in the United States. Even these fragmentary analyses are set mostly in colonial America.
The stress on upward mobility
Boorstin and Kelley, unusual in actually including social class in its index, lists only social classes in 1790 and social classes in early America. These turn out to be two references to the same paragraph, which tells us that England “was a land of rigid social classes,” while here in America “social classes were much more fluid.” “One great difference between colonial and European society was that the colonists had more social mobility,” echoes The American Tradition. Never mind that the most violent class conflicts in American history—Bacon’s Rebellion and Shays’s Rebellion—took place in and just after colonial times.
Textbooks still say that colonial society was relatively classless and marked by upward mobility.
And things have only gotten rosier since. “By 1815,” The Challenge of Freedom assures us, two classes had withered away and “America was a country of middle class people and of middle class goals.” This book returns repeatedly, every fifty years or so, to the theme of how open opportunity is in America. The stress on upward mobility is striking.
Class inequalities or barriers
There is almost nothing in any of these textbooks about class inequalities or barriers of any kind to social mobility. “What conditions made it possible for poor white immigrants to become richer in the colonies?” Land of Promise asks. “What conditions made/make it difficult?” goes unasked. Boorstin and Kelley close their sole discussion of social class (in 1790, described above) with the happy sentence, “As the careers of American Presidents would soon show, here a person might rise by hard work, intelligence, skill, and perhaps a little luck, from the lowest positions to the highest.”
The most important variable in society
If only that were so! Social class is probably the single most important variable in society. From womb to tomb, it correlates with almost all other social characteristics of people that we can measure. Affluent expectant mothers are more likely to get prenatal care, receive current medical advice, and enjoy general health, fitness, and nutrition. Many poor and working-class mothers-tobe first contact the medical profession in the last month, sometimes the last hours, of their pregnancies. Rich babies come out healthier and weighing more than poor babies. The infants go home to very different situations. Poor babies are more likely to have high levels of poisonous lead in their environments and their bodies. Rich babies get more time and verbal interaction with their parents and higher quality day care when not with their parents. When they enter kindergarten, and through the twelve years that follow, rich children benefit from suburban schools that spend two to three times as much money per student as schools in inner cities or impoverished rural areas. Poor children are taught in classes that are often 50 percent larger than the classes of affluent children.
Differences such as these help account for the higher school-dropout rate among poor children.
Even when poor children are fortunate enough to attend the same school as rich children, they encounter teachers who expect only children of affluent families to know the right answers. Social science research shows that teachers are often surprised and even distressed when poor children excel. Teachers and counselors believe they can predict who is “college material.” Since many
working-class children give off the wrong signals, even in first grade, they end up in the “general education” track in high school.
Low income parents
“If you are the child of low income parents, the chances are good that you will receive limited and often careless attention from adults in your high school,” in the words of Theodore Sizer’s bestselling study of American high schools, Horace’s Compromise. “If you are the child of upper-middle-income parents, the chances are good that you will receive substantial and careful attention.”
Researcher Reba Page has provided vivid accounts of how high school American history courses use rote learning to turn off lower-class students.
Thus schools have put into practice Woodrow Wilson’s recommendation: “We want one class of persons to have a liberal education, and we want another class of persons, a very much larger class
of necessity in every society, to forgo the privilege of a liberal education and fit themselves to perform specific difficult manual tasks.”
Social class predicts
All these are among the reasons that social class predicts the rate of college attendance and the type of college chosen more effectively than does any other factor, including intellectual ability, however measured. After college, most affluent children get white-collar jobs, most working-class children get bluecollar jobs, and the class differences continue.
As adults, rich people are more likely to have hired an attorney and to be a member of formal organizations that increase their civic power. Poor people are more likely to watch TV. Because
affluent families can save some money while poor families must spend what they make, wealth differences are ten times larger than income differences.
Therefore most poor and working-class families cannot accumulate the down payment required to buy a house, which in turn shuts them out from our most important tax shelter, the write-off of home mortgage interest. Working-class parents cannot afford to live in elite subdivisions or hire high-quality day care, so the process of educational inequality replicates itself in the next generation.
Finally, affluent Americans also have longer life expectancies than lower- and working-class people, the largest single cause of which is better access to health care.
Echoing the results of Helen Keller’s study of blindness, research has determined that is not distributed randomly about the social structure but is concentrated in the lower class. Social Security then becomes a huge transfer system, using monies contributed by all Americans to pay benefits disproportionately to longer-lived affluent Americans.
How people think about social class
Ultimately, social class determines how people think about social class. When asked if poverty in America is the fault of the poor or the fault of the system, 57 percent of business leaders blamed the poor; just 9 percent blamed the system.
Labor leaders showed sharply reversed choices: only 15 percent said the poor were at fault while 56 percent blamed the system. (Some people replied “don’t know” or chose a middle position.) The largest single difference between our two main political parties lies in how their members think about social class: 55 percent of Republicans blamed the poor for their poverty, while only 13 percent blamed the system for it; 68 percent of Democrats, on the other hand, blamed the system, while only 5 percent blamed the poor.
Few of these statements are news, I know, which is why I have not bothered to document most of them, but the majority of high school students do not know or understand these ideas. Moreover, the processes have changed over time, for the class structure in America today is not the same as it was in 1890, let alone in colonial America.
A study of history and social studies teachers “revealed that they had a much broader knowledge of the economy, both academically and experientially, than they admitted in class.” Teachers “expressed fear that students might find out about the injustices and inadequacies of their economic and political institutions.”
By never blaming the system, American history courses thus present Republican history.
Historically, social class is intertwined with all kinds of events and processes in our past. Our governing system was established by rich men, following theories that emphasized government as a bulwark of the propertied class.
Edward Pessen, who examined the social-class backgrounds of all American presidents through Reagan. Pessen found that more than 40 percent hailed from the upper class, mostly from the upper fringes of that elite group, and another 15 percent originated in families located between the upper and upper-middle classes. More than 25 percent came from a solid upper-middle-class background, leaving just six presidents, or 15 percent, to come from the middle and lowermiddle classes and just one, Andrew Johnson, representing any part of the lower class. One recent president, Bill Clinton, also comes from a working-class background, for a total of two. For good reason, Pessen titled his book The Log Cabin Myth.
Clearly Boorstin and Kelley never read Pessen, or they could not have claimed that the careers of our presidents demonstrate how persons can rise “from the lowest positions to the highest.” In fact, most Americans die in the same social class in which they were born, sociologists have shown, and those who are mobile usually rise or fall just a single social class.
More recently, social class played a major role in determining who fought in the Vietnam War: despite the “universal” draft, sons of the affluent won educational and medical deferments through most of the conflict. The all-volunteer army that fights in Iraq relies even more on lowerclass recruits, who sign up as one way out of poverty. Textbooks and teachers ignore all this.
When my students from nonaffluent backgrounds learn about the class system, they find the experience liberating.
Once they see the social processes that have helped keep their families poor, they can let go of their negative self-image about being poor. If to understand is to pardon, for working-class children to understand how stratification works is to pardon themselves and their families. Knowledge of the social-class system also reduces the tendency of Americans from other social classes to blame the victim for being poor. Pedagogically, stratification provides a gripping learning experience. Students are fascinated to discover how the upper class wields disproportionate power relating to everything from energy bills in Congress to zoning decisions in small towns
400 years of progress
Since history textbooks present the American past as four hundred years of progress and portray our society as a land of opportunity in which folks get what they deserve and deserve what they get, the failures of working-class Americans to transcend their class origin inevitably get laid at their own doorsteps
The biting quip “If you’re so smart, why aren’t you rich?” conveys the injury done to the self-image of the poor when the idea that America is a meritocracy goes unchallenged in school.
Part of the problem is that American history textbooks describe American education itself as meritocratic. A huge body of research confirms that education is dominated by the class structure and operates to replicate that structure in the next generation.
No textbook ever suggests that students might research the history of their own school and the population it serves. The only textbooks that relate education to the class system at all see it as a remedy! Schooling “was a key to upward mobility in postwar America,” in the words of The Challenge of Freedom. It was also key to continued inequality.
To avoid social class
The tendency of teachers and textbooks to avoid social class as if it were a dirty little secret only reinforces the reluctance of working-class families to talk about it.
A professional of working-class origin told me a similar story about being ashamed of her uncle “for being a steelworker.”
A certain defensiveness is built into working-class culture; even its successful acts of working-class resistance, like the Lawrence strike, necessarily presuppose lower status and income, hence connote a certain inferiority. If the larger community is so good, as textbooks tell us it is, then celebrating or even passing on the memory of conflict with it seemssomehow disloyal.
The immigrant story
But when textbooks tell the immigrant story, they emphasize Joseph Pulitzer, Andrew Carnegie, and their ilk—immigrants who made supergood. Several textbooks apply the phrases rags to riches or land of opportunity to the immigrant experience. Such legendary successes were achieved, to be sure, but they were the exceptions, not the rule. Ninety-five percent of the executives and financiers in America around the turn of the century came from upper-class or upper-middle-class backgrounds. Fewer than 3 percent started as poor immigrants or farm children. Throughout the nineteenth century, just 2 percent of American industrialists came from working-class origins. By concentrating on the inspiring exceptions, textbooks present immigrant history as another heartening confirmation of America as the land of unparalleled opportunity.
America has differed from Europe
Again and again, textbooks emphasize how America has differed from Europe in having less class stratification and more economic and social mobility. This is another aspect of the archetype of American exceptionalism: our society has been uniquely fair. It would never occur to historians in, say, France or Australia, to claim that their society was exceptionally equalitarian. Does this treatment of the United States prepare students for reality? It certainly does not accurately describe our country today. Social scientists have on many occasions compared the degree of economic equality in the United States with that in other industrial nations. Depending on the measure used, the United States has ranked sixth of six, seventh of seven, ninth of twelve, thirteenth of thirteen, or
fourteenth of fourteen.
In the United States the richest fifth of the population earns twelve times as much income as the poorest fifth, one of the highest ratios in the industrialized world; in Great Britain the ratio is seven to one, in Japan just four to one.
In 1965 the average chief executive officer in the United States made 26 times what the average worker made. By 2004, the CEO made 431 times an average worker’s pay. Meanwhile, Japanese CEOs continue to make about 26 times as much as their average workers, and it is hard to claim
that the leadership of GM and Ford is that much better than Toyota’s and Honda’s.
Selfemployed is also long gone
The Jeffersonian conceit of a nation of independent farmers and merchants is also long gone: only one working American in thirteen is selfemployed, compared to one in eight in Western Europe.
Thus, not only do we have far fewer independent entrepreneurs compared to two hundred years ago, we have fewer compared to Europe today.
Gap between rich and poor
Clearly the gap between rich and poor, like the distance between blacks and whites, was greater at the end of the Progressive Era in 1920 than at its beginning around 1890.
The story is not all one of increasing stratification, for between the Depression and the end of World War II, income and wealth in America gradually became more equal. Distributions of income then remained reasonably constant until President Reagan took office in 1981, when inequality began to grow.
Still other scholars think that little change has occurred since the Revolution. Lee Soltow, for example, finds “surprising inequality of wealth and income” in America in 1798. At least for Boston, Stephan Thernstrom concludes that inequalities in life chances owing to social class show an eerie continuity.
All this is part of American history. But it is not part of American history as taught in high school.
Level of inequality
To social scientists, the level of inequality is a portentous thing to know about a society. When we rank countries by this variable, we find Scandinavian nations at the top, the most equal, and agricultural societies like Colombia and Zimbabwe near the bottom. The policies of the Reagan and first Bush administrations, which openly favored the rich, abetted a secular trend already in motion, causing inequality to increase measurably between 1981 and 1992. For the United States to move perceptibly toward Colombia in social inequality is a development of no small import.
Surely high school students would be interested to learn that in 1950 physicians made two and a half times what unionized industrial workers made but now make five times as much. Surely they need to understand that top managers of clothing firms, who used to earn 50 times what their American employees made, now make 1,500 times what their Bangladeshi workers earn.
Terms of class is unacceptable
Why might they commit such a blunder? First and foremost, publisher censorship of textbook authors. “You always run the risk, if you talk about social class, of being labeled Marxist,” the editor for social studies and history at one of the biggest publishing houses told me. This editor communicates the taboo, formally or subtly, to every writer she works with, and she implied that most other editors do, too.
Publisher pressure derives in part from textbook adoption boards and committees in states and school districts. These are subject in turn to pressure from organized groups and individuals who appear before them. Perhaps the most robust such lobby is still Educational Research Analysts, led until 2004 by Mel Gabler of Texas. Gabler’s stable of right-wing critics regards even alleging that a textbook contains some class analysis as a devastating criticism. As one writer has put it, “Formulating issues in terms of class is unacceptable, perhaps even un-American.”
More often the influence of the upper class is less direct. The most potent rationale for class privilege in American history has been social Darwinism, an archetype that still has great power in American culture. The notion that people rise and fall in a survival of the fittest may not conform to the data on intergenerational mobility in the United States, but that has hardly caused the archetype to fade away from American education, particularly from American history classes.
Get left out
Facts that do not fit with the archetype, such as the entire literature of social stratification, simply get left out.
Textbook authors may not even need pressure from publishers, the right wing, the upper class, or cultural archetypes to avoid social stratification. As part of the process of heroification, textbook authors treat America itself as a hero, indeed as the hero of their books, so they remove its warts. Even to report the facts of income and wealth distribution might seem critical of America the hero, for it is difficult to come up with a theory of social justice that can explain why 1 percent of the population controls almost 40 percent of the wealth. Could the other 99 percent of us be that lazy or otherwise undeserving? To go on to include some of the mechanisms—unequal schooling and the like—by which the upper class stays upper would clearly involve criticism of our beloved nation.
For any or all of these reasons, textbooks minimize social stratification. They then do something less comprehensible: they fail to explain the benefits of free enterprise. Writing about an earlier generation of textbooks, Frances FitzGerald pointed out that the books ignored “the virtues as well as the vices of their own economic system.”
For capitalism has its advantages
Teachers might mention free enterprise with respect, but seldom do the words become more than a slogan.
This omission is strange, for capitalism has its advantages, after all. Former basketball star Michael Jordan, Chrysler executive Lee Iacocca, and ice-cream makers Ben and Jerry all got rich by supplying goods and services that people desired. To be sure, much social stratification cannot be justified so neatly, because it results from the abuse of wealth and power by those who have these advantages to shut out those who do not. As a social and economic order, the capitalist system offers much to criticize but also much to praise. America is a land of opportunity for many people. And for all the distortions capitalism imposes upon it, democracy also benefits from the separation of power between public and private spheres. Our history textbooks fail to teach these benefits.
Assent to its social structure and economic
Publishers or those who influence them have evidently concluded that what American society needs to stay strong is citizens who assent to its social structure and economic system without thought. As a consequence, today’s textbooks defend our economic system mindlessly, with insupportable pieties about its unique lack of stratification; thus they produce alumni of American history courses unable to criticize or defend our system of social stratification knowledgeably.
But isn’t it nice simply to believe that America is equal? Maybe the “land of opportunity” archetype is an empowering myth—maybe believing in it might even help make it come true. For if students think the sky is the limit, they may reach for the sky, while if they don’t, they won’t.
Blaming the victim
But neither here nor anywhere else do Promise or Challenge (or most other textbooks) hint that opportunity might not be equal today for white Americans of the lower and working classes.
Perhaps as a result, even business leaders and Republicans, the respondents statistically most
likely to engage in what sociologists call “blaming the victim,” blame the social system rather than African Americans for black poverty and blame the system rather than women for the latter’s unequal achievement in the workplace. In sum, affluent Americans, like their textbooks, are willing to credit racial discrimination as the cause of poverty among blacks and Indians and sex discrimination as the cause of women’s inequality but don’t see class discrimination as the cause of poverty in general.
Identify the cause of their alienation
More than math or science, more even than American literature, courses in American history hold the promise of telling high school students how they and their parents, their communities, and their society came to be as they are. One way things are unequal is by social class. Although poor and working-class children usually cannot identify the cause of their alienation, history often turns
them off because it justifies rather than explains the present. When these students react by dropping out, intellectually if not physically, their poor school performance helps convince them as well as their peers in the faster tracks that the system is meritocratic and that they themselves lack merit. In the end, the absence of social-class analysis in American history courses amounts to one
more way that education in America is rigged against the working class.
The recommended book
Lies My Teacher Told Me
Book: -Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong (James Loewen)