History Robert Scheer SI Podcast

Jim Mamer: Fake Journalism Is Only the First Draft of Fake History

35 year teaching veteran Jim Mamer explores the areas of history many schools fail to teach and what it means about the state of the world today, on this week's "Scheer Intelligence."
Jim Mamer.

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In recently crediting the slave owners who wrote the Declaration of Indepenence with inspiring the abolitionist movement, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis was only the latest in a long line of politicians determined to purify the innocence of the American experience despite its original and enduring racist sins. 

It is only one of a series of inconvenient truths concerning this nation’s imperialist legacy that have been bleached out of our historical memory to leave us, as Gore Vidal once described, the United States of Amnesia.

It is a rigid bias imposed by those who select the text books and curriculum for the nation’s high schools where formative knowledge of our societal past is largely imposed. It is a bias resisted by a few heroic high school teachers such as Jim Mamer, who 30 years ago, early in his career, was honored as a national Social Science/History Teacher of the Year in 1992 by the National Council for Social Studies. Now retired after 35 years in the classroom and a decade teaching teachers at the University of California Irvine, Mamer talks to Scheer Intelligence host Robert Scheer about his concern over the disinformation of much of what passes for American education. 

He begins with the nation’s violent origins and repeated throughout the accounts of the nation’s history recorded in more than 400 history textbooks that Mamer has reviewed, the majority of which contain glaring omissions or inaccuracies about the history of the formation of the U.S., its major wars and the social movements that shaped contemporary society.

“If you asked any students if they even know the name of a war that was declared by the United States against the Indians, you will find that they don’t have any idea,” Mamer mentions. The history of Native Americans, as Mamer talks about, is one of the most mangled subjects within American textbooks. 

“The Native people are basically almost not present in the textbooks,” Mamer says. “It’s fascinating and that’s obviously done on purpose, but they do the same thing with labor history. Very few students know much about the development of the union movement. They do the same thing with the history of various Asian groups in the United States.”

With the Ukraine war dominating the media space and the U.S. once again slickly involved, isolationism as it relates to early U.S. history is another area of disputation of the written record in some books. “Every textbook I’ve seen and every student I’ve talked to has said, well, this is an isolationist nation and that changed in World War I… you can’t teach that the United States was isolationist because it never was isolationist. It had enough work to do in expanding from sea to shining sea,” Mamer mentions.

Credits

Host:

Robert Scheer

Producer:

Joshua Scheer

Transcript

Robert Scheer: Hi, this is Robert Scheer with another edition of Scheer Intelligence, where the intelligence comes from my guests. In this case, as somebody who really knows a lot about education in America or the lack of education in America, Jim Mamer. Way back when, when I first met him in Orange County when it was a conservative county, California, he was this great high school social studies teacher who won the national award for being the best social studies teacher in the country, and so I went to meet him. I wanted to see what the greatest social studies teacher is, and Jim Mamer was teaching, I believe at Irvine High School.

And over the years, I’ve had a number of his students come through different universities where I’ve taught, most recently, USC and they’re splendid students, and now he writes for ScheerPost that I edit and he wrote a wonderful piece about… Well, he’s written a whole number of them, but he wrote one on the Florida Governor’s lack of knowledge of history, Ron DeSantis, and what was interesting is the governor of Florida, although he’s this Trumpian, maybe alternative to Trump from the right wing, was educated at the best schools in America. What is it? Harvard and Yale.

Jim Mamer: Harvard.

Scheer: And yet he mangled history so badly, and in your column, you raised a question of whether it was out of ignorance or malice or what have you, but really, tell us about the state of historical knowledge among young, well, any Americans. You’ve been at it for a long time and you just pointed out these blatant errors. So let’s go there. Do we Americans really know anything about our history, the world’s history, and whose fault is it?

Mamer: Hi, Bob. Glad to be with you. Gosh, I think that DeSantis, for example, knows the history quite well, pretty sure of that, and I do believe that there’s a relatively organized attempt to create a new American Genesis, some kind of story that fits what they want it to fit. So when he says that no, and he says this exactly like this. He says, no one thought of slavery being a problem until the American Declaration of Independence.

When he says this, there’s a reason he says it, and I think the reason, it’s very difficult for me to figure out what it is and he’s not going to talk about it, but the reason has to be something like if the American Declaration of Independence or the Constitution was the beginning of an abolition movement, then we can credit that not with the people who were enslaved, but with the white men that wrote all these documents. Obviously, the anti-slavery movement, abolition movement, the revolts of the slaves were immediately after slavery began and they were run by the enslaved people themselves.

Scheer: And way before the Declaration of Independence.

Mamer: Oh, way before the Declaration of Independence, I think I looked up the earliest one. I believe it was 15… I’m not reading this now, but 1566 or something in a colony that’s now become South Carolina, but that was, at that time, a Spanish settlement, but that was the first time I could find any kind of slave revolt, but everybody, I think learns about a lot of them in the colonies. There was never any lack of slave revolts in the United States.

Scheer: Yeah. So the irony here is we’re blaming a group that had many slave owners. You point out Jefferson had, what, 150 slaves, human beings under slavery when he died despite his enlightened writings on a lot of other subjects, but also even on slavery. He protested too much. He was for freeing the slaves, but he didn’t free them, and what you’re really talking about is a notion of American innocence that somehow, slavery was visited upon us and we sought to end it, and it’s just not true.

But I want to get to our sense of history because I teach in a university and my students, and they’re good students, know very little about anybody’s history, and you were honored once as a great high school teacher, the best in the country. What do we know? What do our young people know about it, and then you taught, by the way, at UC, University of California at Irvine for, I think 10 years training teachers. So what really is the state of historical education in a country that presumes to set the future of the world based on some claim on history? I know our students get next to nothing in the way of an education about basic history.

Mamer: I want to start with a quote from a guy that teaches at Stanford in the education department, I believe, but his name is Sam Weinberg. It’s just really relevant to what you just asked. He suggests that according to his studies, Americans have never been fully convinced of history’s place in the curriculum and I think that’s pretty obvious to everybody. The lack of respect is the root of the problem of getting Americans to understand history. The obsession with STEM education, there’s nothing wrong with science or engineering or technology, but I think that when people… Well, what I’ve found looking because I’ve thought about this a lot. Depending on the state you pick in the United States, the graduation from high school alone is either 74%, in the seventies, or up to 94% in some of the states, and you’ve got 42% of the people that have college degrees.

The fact is 60 to 70% don’t study much history after high school and what they study in high school is usually dependent upon a textbook, which I think Frances FitzGerald said when she did an analysis of secondary textbooks, she said secondary textbooks in the United States are not like other histories. They tend to be what older people want younger people to think about their country, and that goes right back to what DeSantis is saying. There’s a real effort to create a new birth of the United States. It’s sort of innocent. If you look at what’s studied in high schools, you find out that the Native American history just isn’t dealt with. In the last history book I used, and you have to take one that the state approves of, the Native Americans were finished when the first chapter was called the First Americans.

And that was a combination of every kind of Indian, every kind of Native American cultural group just combined into one chapter, and then for the rest of the textbook, all it is these massacres that happen every once in a while. They’re never connected to anything. So if you asked any students if they even know the name of a war that was declared by the United States against the Indians, you will find that they don’t have any idea. They’ve never heard of one. I usually, when I’ve done this in classes, both in colleges and in high schools, and I’ve done it hundreds of times, I ask them, I’ve stole this question from James Loewen’s book, Lies My Teacher Told Me, I asked them, The United States has fought in many wars, they all agree. I ask them to list the wars.

I think in all those times, I’ve had perhaps two students, two people in the classroom that wrote down something like there were wars against the Indians. The rest of them will write down fairly nicely, the Revolutionary War, they have World War I and World War II, they put down Vietnam. They would put down Iraq and Afghanistan today, but they would never know any, and I pretend to not know what I’m talking about and I asked them, do you guys remember the name of the, I think it’s the Florida State Athletic Teams, and eventually, somebody will say, yeah, the Seminals, and I said, well, where do you think they got that name? They say, I don’t know. I have no idea, and there are three declared wars against the Seminals in American history, but it’s never in any textbooks.

Scheer: Well, just recently, in the last few weeks, I mean, I was dealing with Mỹ Lai Massacre in Vietnam and I can say in a room full of almost a hundred students, I think there were two or three that had ever heard of Mỹ Lai, one of the really great war crimes mowing down between five and 600 children of little infants and mothers and old men, not even a sight of an eligible warrior of any kind, and it’s just what Gore Vidal called the United States of amnesia, but you teach and you’ve spent your career teaching in California, supposedly an enlightened blue state, right?

Not given to the parochialism of some states, and yet, and my students primarily have come through the California high school system, which makes it at least the pretense of including the history of marginalized people, but really, they don’t really cover it. In fact, the very fact that the Declaration of Independence, which DeSantis is referring to, refers to Native Americans as savages and totally dismisses them as possible human beings, and the document was written by people who were holding Black people as non-human slaves.

Mamer: In many parts of the United States, they definitely tried to hold the Indians as slaves too. Certainly, that was true in California, even before the English came or the people from the East Coast, but you would add-

Scheer: Oh, in California, I’m not the historian you are, but as Benjamin Madley of UCLA, a great authority on all this has pointed out, in his book, there was a genocide against Native Americans in the 19th century in California in which basically, the Native population, which was quite passive by that point in terms of its agriculture, it wasn’t seizing ranch land or anything, they were exterminated and part of the whole gold rush and everything.

Mamer: I wish that more people would read that book. It’s astoundingly well documented. What he does is use the definition of genocide that has developed in the last 40 years or so after World War II and he applies it to what happened to the Native Americans, and it’s absolutely, it was difficult for me to read. I think it was two or three times while reading that book that I just couldn’t see the pages anymore because I was crying. There are these incredible stories about people throwing the Native children onto fires, babies, and he documents every single death. I think there’s about 200 pages of footnotes at the end of that thing, which he-

Scheer: And part of the documentation was from the popular press of the time and reminding people, this is not the 1500s. We’re talking about in the 18, late 1800s, and we’re talking about yes, throwing Native children into a fire. We’re talking about all the horrible marks of a genocide and that’s not taught, is it?

Mamer: No, it’s not. The Native people are basically almost not present in the textbooks. I mean, there’s always something in there, usually at the beginning, and then they do mention massacres, but they never connect them to wars. So if you don’t connect these things to what they’re a part of, there’s no way the students can remember them I use the stuff that Ronald Takaki wrote at Berkeley.

He wrote a number of books on Asians in the United States and their history. They’re really fascinating, but if you rely on the textbooks, there’s very little there, which means that when people come into teaching history in the schools, those teachers have to have a background in history at least enough so that they can supply what’s missing from the textbooks, and if they don’t, if they’re not able to supply what’s missing from the textbooks, you have a really odd… This history needs to be taught as an academic field. It has to be about argument and complexity, and in my experience, students really like that. I’ll give you an example. For example, every kid that comes into classroom, your classroom, it doesn’t matter, they know who George Washington was, and if you ask them what they know about George Washington, a very large percentage of them will tell you about the cherry tree.

They still do that. That is a mythology that was made up by a guy named Mason Weems who wrote in 1800 the first biography of Washington, but inevitably, there are some people who believe that, but there are very few. I used to start teaching about Washington, and this isn’t to put Washington down. I think he was an amazingly good president that actually left the office after two terms, but I tell the students that young Washington that you think chopped down a cherry tree, when he was 14 years old, he inherited 10 people, and I read from Lawrence, I think it’s Lawrence Washington, his father’s will. In his will, he gave his other son, Lawrence, most of his property, but he gave a 14 year old boy 10 human beings and I just asked the students to imagine how their lives would be different if they owned 10 people at 14.

That’s a lot more important than the cherry tree and I’ve never seen it in a textbook, but I read Mason Weems’ book so I could give them that. Students like to see history as an argument and as something complex. So that’s sort of the job of a teacher, but you have to ask yourself, who becomes the teachers in the United States, and a lot of them are very good. I worked with fantastic people that couldn’t have worked harder, that work probably 70 hours a week just teaching. I know that’s hard for people to believe, but if you have 200 students and you have them write anything, you have to look at that stuff. It takes that long. If you wanted to look at what our education system is like and get a good picture of it, there’s a couple of places, a wonderful book written by Diane Ravich called Life and Death in the American School System, or they could just watch The Wire season four. It gives you an incredibly accurate portrayal of what’s going on in schools.

Scheer: Let me just circle back to George Washington, and yes, literally the white-washing of our… is interesting, but also, it goes even further than that. I mean, it’s not an obscure document that Washington left to us in his farewell address. Not a radio, there wasn’t radio address, but every bit as significant as Dwight Eisenhower, President Dwight Eisenhower’s farewell address. Both of them warned about the same thing. They warned about the potential of a US imperialism, something that is left out of all of our historical teaching. It’s always a journey of innocence, whether it’s westward expansion, whether it’s the Philippines, whether it’s Cuba, right up to the present, whatever we’re doing in Europe now with Ukraine and so forth.

It’s always a journey of innocence. Sometimes we make mistakes, but those are aberrations and so forth, and yet two of our better, by far better presidents, Dwight Eisenhower and George Washington, both former heroes, generals warned us about the potential of US imperialism, and I’ve always been amazed because every time I refer to it, I then rush to the books to make sure I got it right, but in his farewell address, which as you point out, he had two terms, so we had a lot of time to think about it. Originally, he was only going to have one term and he warned his countrymen. He said, yes, engage in trade and contact around the world.

But do it by gentle means, and he said beware the impostures of pretended patriotism. Now that’s a pretty pithy quote. You could build a whole class about that, beware the impostures of pretended patriotism. Well, much of our foreign policy appeal has been not to go fight in an imperialist war, but rather some notion of pretended patriotism. We’re under attack from Vietnam or we’re fighting for freedom in Vietnam. Well, now Vietnam is our favorite trading partner because we are now turning once again against China, and so it’s interesting. I’ve never run into anyone, any student or anyone who ever heard a reference to Washington’s farewell address where he warned us about foreign military intervention. Am I crazy in thinking this? I mean, do people bring it up?

Mamer: You’re exactly right. You could look at any… I have looked unfortunately, I’ve looked at least 400 different textbooks over 35 years of teaching only because I used to choose the ones for the high school. So I’d go to these conventions and try to look at them and try to talk to the authors, and they’re all basically similar to each other. They weigh a ton, they have a nice, pretty cover, but they never have inside them a couple of things, and certainly one of them is Washington’s farewell and another one is Eisenhower’s speech warning about the military industrial, originally, congressional complex, which I like even better, but those are not in the books. If you look at what’s in there about Martin Luther King, there is the early bus boycott and then his “I Have a Dream” speech. They never read the ending of that speech, just that “I have a dream part”, and I’ve never seen a textbook with the speech Martin Luther King gave one year to the day before he was killed on August 4th, April 4th, 1967 at Riverside Church.

Scheer: April 4th.

Mamer: I forgot. And I’ve never seen that in a textbook. So I mean-

Scheer: In which he warned, that my government is the major purveyor of violence in the world today. Martin Luther King saying, “How can I preach nonviolence in the ghettos of America to young men that you are recruiting to engage in your government is the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.” It’s been black that we have a false history. Let’s fix it. Talk about fake news, false news. We have false history. There’s nothing sacred about our history keeping or teaching. I want to bring up a current example, how we regard the Chinese people. China is a nation, forget about communism, and I have yet to find students who have ever been told about the exclusion act, the Chinese Exclusion Act, have ever been told that it wasn’t until 1943 when China… This has got nothing to do with communism. 

When China was our ally in the war against Japan, saving American pilots and so forth on our side, building air fields and everything, that Chinese Americans did not have fundamental rights about even their marriages, about how they lived, where they go. This is modern history, ’43, and now we have this thing that somehow, China has to prove itself to us as if all of our history and the history of the west where China has not been one of division, of oppression, of exploitation. It’s startling and there’s still no reference to that basic history in a place like California. It was 1943 where finally, a Chinese man could marry a non-Chinese woman, but even the first… I mean, it is just startling that there’s no recognition to that history. That’s why I wanted to talk to you. You’ve spent your life teaching this thing called history and how could intelligent people, most of our people who are teachers, they’re intelligent, they’re well educated, how could they go along with getting it so wrong?

Mamer: Well, God, that’s a very good question. Let me go back and just, I want to add one thing. On the history of Asian peoples in the United States, Ronald Takaki was a great writer and since I’ve read three of his books, I was able to add that stuff into the class. In the last textbook I used teaching American history, I had to rewrite a lot of the chapters to get the students to understand what was being said, but there was mention at one point of the, I think it’s 1882, that was the first Chinese Exclusion Act and it says in that paragraph, the Chinese Exclusion Act is passed in 1882 and it would last for 10 years, and then if you look, I don’t know, 20 pages later, it says the Chinese Exclusion Act was expanded for another 10 years.

They could have said that at the beginning. It was 1882 to 1943 because the Chinese, the Japanese were the enemy then and the Chinese were our allies, and that’s the only reason they got rid of it. I hate to think they would have it on today. I want to mention one other thing, which is related to what you said. When you’re talking about early America, let’s say from, I don’t know, 1820 to 1920, in every book I’ve seen, and I’ve seen a lot of them, there is a mention that the United States had a foreign policy of isolationism and that lasts until World War I, but the United States never had a policy of isolationism. The Native people were recognized by the government of the United States as individual nations, as people. They signed treaties with them. I think it’s something like 92 signed treaties that’s in the American History Museum now.

So they signed treaties with them, they’re recognizing that they exist, that they’re people, and then the United States declares war against them. So you never really had an isolationist period. You had an aggressive period of expansion, which meant you had to take the land away from people who owned it, and that’s never been in a textbook. Every textbook I’ve seen and every student I’ve talked to has said, well, this is an isolationist nation and that changed in World War I. I’m sure you’ve heard this too, but you can’t teach that the United States was isolationist because it never was isolationist. It had enough work to do in expanding from sea to shining sea. That’s why that in their textbooks, they all talk about manifest destiny, which is a big deal in every one of the textbooks, and oftentimes, described as God has given this land to the, it never says the white people, but to the settlers.

Scheer: Well, but the odd… I mean, it’s odd that people go along with this fake history. It’s amazing. I mean, clearly, and as I say, even our founders… Look, first of all, our founders were great students of what had happened to previous empires and they made a war against the British empire and they were certainly conversant with their example of Rome or what have you, the Greeks, Alexander. They knew this history. They had a lot of time in the winters by candlelight to read what were already great works on the folly of imperialism, and there was one idea they were very clear on, not really as a matter of social justice, just that very simple, that if you’re an expansionist world conquering power, you will not be accountable to your own citizens.

You will not be a representative republic, and this is quite aside from exploiting large numbers of people within your own boundaries, but the more you expand, and that’s what the westward expansion was, you’re controlling more and more people and when you’re doing it worldwide, you lose the great hope, and there is a great hope in the American Declaration of Independence and in our constitution of restricting government power and making it accountable to the people. That was the whole impetus of this grand experiment, presumably, was to hold government accountable to the people, and what Washington was saying is asking his countrymen in his farewell address beware the impostures of pretended patriotism was precisely what goes on.

Whether it’s coming from Trump or Biden or Nancy Pelosi or DeSantis, this illusion that when America does it, it’s not imperialism, and it is, and Washington was warning. That’s what he meant by pretended patriotism. You’re going to go about meddling in everybody else’s affairs, conquering them, killing them, and you’re going to pretend it’s in the name of yourself, safety, patriotism, protecting your homeland, and isn’t. That’s why he called it pretended patriotism. Now, how in the world can we have a founding father who was giving us this incredibly important, I would say the most important warning, and not have school teachers ever bring it up, know about it?

Mamer: Well, I think a lot-

Scheer: How could this remain it’s an inconvenient truth, admittedly, but how could it remain hidden in clear sight? It’s there, right? I didn’t invent this. I mean, maybe I did. Every time I’ll finish this show, I’ll go look it up once again, or did I misinterpret it?

Mamer: I think that there are a number of people who do bring that up, but you have an entire culture that simply denies it where you can say things like the United States has been an isolationist country. You can talk about… I don’t even hear people talking about what happened in Vietnam. In the current news reports on what the United States is doing were sort of left out of what’s going. I mean, every once in a while, yesterday, I read an article about another 12 million, I think it was, of what weapons we were sending to Ukraine. There’s very little about the background of that. I don’t get any of it. 2014 overthrow of a Russian sympathetic, president of Ukraine that was sympathetic to Russia and replacing that president with one that was sympathetic to the West. I mean-

Scheer: Supported by a large part of the population that speaks Russian.

Mamer: Absolutely.

Scheer: And many of whom thought they were still living in Russia when the Cold War ended, right? I mean, it is bizarre that… I mean, look, we, in such a cavalier way, talk about all these totalitarian regimes all over the world that distorted history and lie, and they do. They do. Everybody lies about their history, but the particular conceit of the United States is that we believe we’re exceptional in not lying about it, and I actually had someone who was quite expert on our USC’s programs with China. We have 6,200, the last count I saw, students from China.

And he said clearly, from his experience, Chinese University students know more about the United States in a detailed, complex, informed way that American students know about China. So what is the measure of our freedom? What is the measure of our being an educated people or capable of critical thought when we have this completely distorted history of our past actions, and I get back to this basic question, Jim, because you were a much admired teacher out of our high school system and then you went to University of California at Irvine where you did this for 10 years, training teachers. These are good people, these are solid people. They want to teach. How can they turn away from this harsh reality of our own experience? Are they on drugs? How do they do it?

Mamer: I don’t think they’re on drugs.

Scheer: This is an Orwellian question. Why do people shut up and go along?

Mamer: I think it’s teaching in a classroom, especially a high school classroom, is so much work. It is so many hours that a lot of them have to rely on those textbooks and there’s nothing in the textbooks. The idea that they can rewrite the textbooks is not realistic. I was talking to a class a couple of years ago at UCI, people becoming teachers. I was asked to come back and just talk to them about what they needed to get done, and some of them asked me, well, I bet it gets easier after, because they were all student teaching. I bet it gets easier after a while, and I said, it gets harder. You’ve got more to do because there’s more you can learn and then you can try to figure out how to get it in your class, but they were really intimidated by that. These guys are working.

You have to remember, they have families, some of them have kids, and they’re spending 70 hours a week and they’re really spending 70 hours a week doing this. I was very lucky. I worked in schools where I was basically allowed to do whatever I felt was right. They let me buy textbooks for the students that I also thought were right. So I often bought the ones they use at UCI, but that’s not the case in most schools and a lot of the teachers that are teaching history classes are also coaching very large teams, and that’s a lot of work in and of itself. If you are a baseball coach or a football coach, that’s a lot of hours, and so what happens is they rely on the textbooks and there’s very little in the textbooks. The textbooks have to be approved by state governments, by departments of education, I guess.

But you get a certain commonality. There’s a lot of stories about the influence of California and particularly, Texas because I believe they do it at the state level. California can do it at a local level, and because of that, the textbook companies write these things so that they’ll be accepted in Texas or even accepted in California. When you bring up things that are not in the textbook, it’s often challenged so you better have some idea of what you’re talking about. It would be fun to just have people read these textbooks and tell me what they mean. I had a wonderful experience. This must be 15 years ago, and we’d gotten a new textbook. I gave some assignments and I read, of course, the stuff that I assigned, but I had this tendency to put stuff in there that wasn’t actually in the textbook since I already knew the history.

And so I’d give them questions and they just completely didn’t know what I was doing, and I went in one morning and I just said, I apologize. For some reason, I’m completely failing you guys, and they said, what you’re saying isn’t… Read the textbook. So I went home and I read it as if I knew nothing else, and I realized that the textbook had left out so much. I think this was a section on the Atlantic Charter of all things, but it had left out so much that no student could get anything out of it. It was fascinating, and so you have to read these things. They’re not, as Frances FitzGerald said, they’re not like other histories. They are what old people want young people to think about.

Scheer: We’re going to conclude on this, but Frances FitzGerald is an old friend, is somebody I admire very much as a writer, and she wrote a book called Fire on the Lake, which was about the lies really that got us into the Vietnam War, and they’re very similar to the lies that get into not only get us into unnecessary wars and barbaric wars, but other countries, and it’s the same old story and it was a total denial, not her book, but her book corrected that horrible story that somehow, we went into Vietnam in order to free or preserve the freedom of the South Vietnamese against the terrible communists in the north, and it was all accepted, that old version, and she came along and challenged it and because the war was on, people could see through it, but now all of those lessons are forgotten.

And oddly enough, here we’re in this moment where now once again, demonizing China, maybe preparing for the end of all wars, which would be war with China and maybe include Russia, and again, the simplification, the distorted history accepted by the mass media, taught in the schools, and no lessons are learned, and I want to conclude and I’ll give you the extra time because this is important to get this all straight. There are two models of dystopian society. There’s a current book out now predicting a different kind of dystopian future, however, where Chinese are victimized.

But if you take the two classics of Huxley and Orwell, something I keep bringing up, Orwell brought up a model of totalitarian society that we can easily recognize. They’ll break into your home, they’ll arrest you, they’ll overtly torture you, and so forth, and then there’s Huxley’s model, and you have been a teacher in Orange County, California, a rather basically affluent place and so forth, and you’ve been subject to a different dystopian division where people consume like crazy, and if they’re not doing the toilet cleaning and the child raising, they basically have a good life and what you actually do is distract them and you were there trying to educate with unpleasant truths. How did it go?

Mamer: Look, if you treat students as if they’re old as they’ve ever been, you get a 16 year old in front of you and you treat them as if… You don’t treat them as if they’re some sort of tiny little child. That 16 year old has never been older, and so you have a respect for them and you teach them a history that’s complex and you try to make them think and come to some conclusions. It went very well. I was always amazed at the fact that it went very well. The students and their parents, even though Orange County is quite conservative, would thank me and say, thank you for teaching about this.

One parent told me, one kid said that she had been recording my classes and that the family had been listening to them in the car as they drove to school. It scared the hell out of me, but it turned out that the parents loved it and they were very, very nice. I’d never had very many troubles at all. I think if you’re able to treat kids with respect and you try to tell them things that aren’t in the textbook, they become really fascinated by that, and they would always ask me, why isn’t it in the textbook, and that’s a really interesting discussion. It could be about something as boring as the Atlantic Charter, but in my experience, the students really liked it. God, I had something I wanted to mention to you.

Scheer: Well, let me endorse what you’re saying because I’ve been teaching on the college level now for, well, a good 25 years or so more, and I have received your students, quite a few of them, and one, I don’t want to out her or anything, but Carolina Miranda’s a major writer right now for the Los Angeles Times. I’ve had her speak to my students about the great journalism she and other people do and it’s a positive story. I mean, everyone will tell you, anyone who has ever been a significant writer or thinker or a contributor or the like will remind you of a high school teacher or even elementary school teacher who made the difference. I know in my case, there was a guy named Arby Speed at Christopher Columbus High School in the Bronx who taught physics, and my hat’s off to you and I think that’s why it matters what we teach, and what I’m concerned about.

And this, I’ll let you have the last word, but I’m glad you are now taking up the craft of journalism and that I get the honor of printing your rewriting of history, really, both contemporary and the received history, and I do think we have to reclaim that territory and you’re right. The right wing wants to claim it. I understand why and I think we need new Howard Zinns and I’m hoping that you will rise from your retirement and now be that Howard Zinn. So on that note, that’s enough of a tribute and I’ll have you back again, Jim Mamer, and I want to thank the folks at KCRW, Laura Kondourajian and Christopher Ho for posting these shows, make them available on that important NPR station in Santa Monica, California. Joshua Sheer, our executive producer, Natasha Hakimi Zapata, who edits these programs, and I want to thank the JKW Foundation, the memory of a very important independent writer, Jean Stein, for helping fund these shows. See you next week with another edition of Scheer Intelligence.


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12 comments

  1. After the dot.com collapse, I worked as a substitute high school math teacher around the San Francisco Bay area for a couple of years. I enrolled at Sonoma State in their teacher training program in hopes of getting a credential and being hired as a full-time teacher.

    Just before I was kicked out of the program because I have no talent for classroom management, I sat in on an early morning class that began with the Pledge of Allegiance, a ceremony I find dangerously subversive.

    In answer to Bob’s question why teachers go along with teaching fake history, my inclination was not to stand and put my hand over my heart, but I stood and did it anyway because it seemed I was the only person offended by this practice, and I was surrounded by a room, if not an entire school, full of people who do not question it.

    Was I supposed to mount a one-man protest at that moment to stop the Pledge of Allegiance from being recited in schools ? Getting kicked out of the program saved me having to decide to leave it on my own.

  2. “…and how could intelligent people, most of our people who are teachers, they’re intelligent, they’re well educated, how could they go along with getting it so wrong?”

    Because teachers are obligated to go by a curriculum they had no say in creating, and not veer from it. I don’t like it any more than anyone else but that’s why. You veer, you could lose your job. I think it was Arkansas a few years ago that banned Howard Zinn’s “The People’s History Of The United States” from being used in classrooms. That sent a message.

    Unfortunately not all teachers are intelligent. Come to the south, you’ll see.

  3. IGNORANCE, UNCERTAINTY, AND FEAR

    Of course stupidity and ignorance can’t be ruled out, even among the Ivies. About 25 years ago, I returned to college; short of $, I did temp jobs occasionally. Speaking to another temp worker who had just graduated from Columbia about politics, the subject lead to history. This allegedly well-educated young man asked me as a Boomer what I remembered as a kid during WWII. I was dumbfounded. One generation later, amnesia had set in. And/or considering irrelevant anything not about oneself.

    This same ignorance continues. Possibly a deliberate strategy. More likely, where facts that fit personal narrative are retained and the rest turned away before they even enter consciousness. Kids learn early what behavior is rewarded by the power structures. Currently, even at U Cal (Berkeley) the biggest major is business. Never mind those nagging doubts about an insane econ system destroying communities and ecosystems.

    Can’t rule out DeSantis as ignorant (or stupid) either. Most likely, though, he knows full well how to say what pleases the powerful while placating rank and file conservative voters deeply fearful of change and uncertainty. Ironically, those claiming there is only one Truth are least likely to want to see it raw. They need the comfort of certainty, of believing in American greatness. No preponderance of evidence will convince them otherwise. Especially when they are convinced others are trying to take from them the little they have.

    It’s critical that political activists listen to people who know how to communicate with the young, with the working class, with people who don’t speak professional jargon. To enable their sense of commonality and hope for the future so as to overcome this ugly manipulation of fear and anger by the Rs and Ds.

    1. Well, did you remember anything about WWII ?
      I imagine first hand recalls of Vietnam are pretty hazy.
      I think the most important thing is how much you remember about USA/NATO treachery in instigating the Ukraine War, you know the one that could end everything?
      Sometimes the “planted ” memories become a problem.
      We absorb books and media and war stories about the past that are a put-up job.
      When I was office manager a small construction company we hired a young (26) man of many talents (plasterer, mason, tiler, concrete, etc.) and the owner took him under his wing because he couldn’t manage his life because of chronic mental illness. I had to help manage his delusions sometimes.
      We completed a long job for the town where we were located and threw one of those public relations parties (like on This Old House). It was at the owner’s big house where Dante’ (the talented guy) lived in the basement.
      About 10pm they were making speeches and congratulating one another on the good outcomes when Dante’ burst in and confronted Mr. Fleming in front of the big shorts. “Didn’t you see me down there?” he yelled, “I seen you looking out the winder but but you never come to help me! Goddamn, man, there I was fighting Hitler all by myself and nobody would help me!”
      By then I had positioned myself to take Dante off Mr. Fleming’s hands and go find him a soda and some cake. But it taught me a lesson that all people get history wrong sometimes, not just those with psychotic episodes. People that are mostly sane get obsessed on history sometimes and it is a hard job talking them down.

  4. Putin’s “Empire of Lies” is perhaps a better descriptor than Gore Vidal’s “United States of Amnesia”. The latter assumes benign forgetfulness; the former an active erasure of truth and manufacture of falsehoods.

  5. If history is really important why do the people with the resources and power keep repeating it?

    Perhaps the weight of the truth is just too much to bear. After I read the book “Who’s the Savage by Wrone and Nelson about the purely evil atrocities committed by whites on indigenous peoples of North America I was never the same. One cannot really be a human being and disregard that kind of truth. But even with the 2000 years of Christianity which was supposed to fix our moral standards , the monsters are still among us.

    1. Bee: I read that book too (and other similar histories) and it made me want to study Indigenous American History formally. I enrolled in a graduate course at the Univ. of Texas at Austin. Well, the first paper I wrote (about 35 pages) the instructor gave me a D-. I was outraged because I’d worked so hard and been so diligent. (She was a grad student teaching under a renowned professor.) In her office I confronted her and she said what happened was she forgot to tell the students they could only use books on the reading list she forgot to hand out, because she ran out of copies. I was angry and made her cry. Her boss (the professor) came in and said she was correct to restrict my reading, that it was too much work for them to look at the “left wing propaganda” I’d cited.
      He then called campus security to escort me out and I was dropped from the course without a refund.
      So my experience tells me that there is no legitimate history education even at the graduate level. You must educate yourself on a dual track and restrict your content to earn a grade. This is good preparation for real employment considering most people need an income.
      The transcriber early in this interview (Scheer/Mamer) mentioned “A war on the Seminal(e)”
      (probably the Seminoles) but the mistake conveyed a truth. In American History there is a war on : Seminal
      (of a work, event, moment, or figure) strongly influencing later developments.
      Similar:
      influential
      formative
      groundbreaking
      pioneering
      creative
      original
      (a war on anything insightful or informative).

  6. I was very bored in high school American history class, but going back to school and taking a class on African American history I fell in love. History is so interesting, and it’s a shame our students are kept away from the conflicts and struggles we faced and still face.

  7. It’s odd that the interviewee claims to be a student of both Diane Ravitch and Ron Takaki, yet he is unaware of how to pronounce their names.

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