2006-01-27 / Columnists

From the Editor’s Desk

By Howard Schwach


There are those who say that history is written by the winners, and perhaps that’s true. Anybody who reads several sources, particularly primary sources about any historic even will quickly learn that even the participants, writing at the time of the eventt, see things differently.

Having said that, history is what happened. We should not be rewriting history to shoehorn the story to fit an agenda.

While Hollywood is the prime purveyor of “Docudramas” – story lines that purport to be history but are simply lies, there are many groups doing the same thing.

As a minor historian who reads history constantly and who has written history textbooks for teenage students, rewriting history has become one of my pet peeves and there are certainly many targets to choose from.

There is one group who really should know better, and yet educators see nothing wrong with rewriting history to foster “authentic learning” and “diversity.”

I was at a conference a few years ago, prior to my retirement, and the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) was doing a workshop on “Authentic Learning.” Since I had long believed that I was teaching my social studies students “authentic” material, I wanted to see what it was all about. I soon found out.

The workshop presenters handed out some copies of a lesson that discussed the role of a black woman who was one of the leaders of the 1848 Seneca Falls, New York woman’s rights convention. That convention issued a “Declaration of The Rights of Women” and is considered to be the beginning of the women’s movement in America.

They pointed out that the lesson they were presenting was “authentic learning” because the fact that a black woman was involved would draw black students, both male and female, to study the convention more closely. The implication was that black students would not study an event in which no black people were involved.

I raised my hand and pointed out that there were no black women involved in leadership positions at the Seneca Falls Convention of 1848.

They asked me how I knew that and I told them that I had used the convention as one of the “Spotlights” in my textbooks and had done extensive research on the convention and on its major leaders – Elizabeth Cady Stan-ton and Lucretia Mott.

They waffled a bit and then said that they had done some research and found that a black woman was present at the convention.

I pointed out that attending the convention, if she in fact existed, was a far cry from the leadership position they claimed for her. They argued that it was necessary to “invent her” to interest black children in the event.

I couldn’t convince them that they were wrong to invent history and they couldn’t convince me that it was necessary to do so.

Most of the teachers in the room couldn’t have cared less one way or the other, so we moved on.

A few years earlier, National Public Radio had come to Middle School 53 in Far Rockaway to do a story on the wonders of bilingual education. They too had a story they wanted the teachers to use in a lesson. It was about a Hispanic southerner who was important to the rebel cause during the Civil War because he sold cotton to other nations such as England and France.

The lesson made the man sound as important as Jefferson Davis or Robert E. Lee to the confederate cause.

I went home and did some research (this was prior to the Internet, so I had to go to the library and to my own primary sources). The man existed, but was a minor functionary in the southern purchasing office.

Our teachers never used the story and the NPR reporters were so frightened by the bomb scares, fire alarms and violence in the building that they soon left for other climes.

Just prior to my retirement, I went to the UFT offices in Queens to discuss a per-session job that entailed writing social studies lessons for teachers.

I fit the bill in more ways than one, as a staff developer, curriculum writer and professional textbook writer.

One of the questions they asked was whether or not I was willing to write lessons that “would motivate minority students.”

The question seemed somehow strange in that context because all lessons are written to motivate students.

I asked the interviewer what he meant and he explained to me that the project was an attempt to interest minority students particularly in the “great issues that faced America” in the past.

I asked how the union planned to do that.

The interviewer told me that they would insert minority “heroes” at every step of the way to show that minorities had a stake in building America.

I asked him if he meant that we were going to rewrite history. I didn’t get the job.

Which brings us back to Hollywood and to the movie “Munich,” which Steven Spielberg recently produced.

I have written about the movie previously in this space, even though I have steadfastly kept from seeing it. I have been taken to task for writing about the movie without haven seen it, but I am not reviewing the movie. I don’t care if it is good or bad, entertaining or deadly dull. All that I have to know from reading other reviews and articles is that it rewrites history.

More evidence of that fact comes in a Daily News article by Michele Green that appeared last weekend.

The headline tells it all: ‘Munich is pure hooey, say real Israeli agents.”

Green’s lead says “Israeli spooks gave a thumbs down to Steven Spielberg’s new thriller, “Munich,” saying the film about Israel spies seeking revenge for the 1972 Olympic massacre ‘has no relation to reality whatsoever.”

The spies, most of them now retired, called the film “pure fantasy.”

“The gap between what really happened and the way events are portrayed in the film simply cannot be bridged,” Rafi Etan, who headed the Mossad’s operations department at the time, told Green. “A team that amateurish and clumsy would have been arrested by the local police within a day of arriving for their mission.”

Last Sunday, there was a documentary that told the real story of the assasinations that followed the Munich murders. It was on the Discovery Channel, which means that it will be on again. Look for it. It is well worth watching.

It follows the action for Munich to the terrible mistake at Lillihammer, where an innocent Arab man was killed by the hit team who thought that he was one of the Munich planners. Faulty intelligence.

One of the interview subjects in the documentary is Ehud Barak, who was on one of the Israeli hit teams. He eventually became the prime minister of Israel.

“It is justified,” Barak said. “It’s a war against terror, and you won’t prevail by sitting idle or by being too selective in your targeting.”

I agree.

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In addition to my duties as a Technology Instructor at The Belle Harbor School-P.S./M.S. 114Q, I serve as Technology Consultant to the NYCDOE Office of Parent Engagement, a conduit for *all* parents of our great City's public school children to become involved in their child(ren)'s education....Whether in school, teaching; or delivering presentations for parents, I, honestly, do NOT *see* the skin color of children and their parents: As a veteran teacher, how *could* I, in good conscience, differentiate? I teach CHILDREN, period. I. technologically, inform parents and guardians, period. THAT is what I am paid to do, and I love it......


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