A good historian to read to understand why textbooks suffer from stultifying edict-writing is Burton Folsom. A few years ago, Bill Bennett wrote a series of history textbooks for use in schools, for the specific goal of correcting disinformation promulgated as fact.
However, defining thoughts reoccur in modern educators for a reason. The facts that they understood to be true in the schools they attended bent them badly, yet these same mistruths are still taught. Why did Paul Ehrlich call for population control to answer the "Population Bomb" that never appeared as he predicted? Why did so many Ecology-movement activists agitate for DDT to be outlawed? Many argued the Wells-Shaw argument, that banning DDT would allow Malaria to help reduce the global population, and best target the "inferior, hopeless masses."
The biggest divergence from reality sprung from a simple mistruth offered up in 1832. If there ever was a simple causation for all belief in the benevolence and value of a strong centralized government, then this is it.
In a review of fourth and eighth grade history books, all of them get it wrong. None of them were honest about big government vs. big business. Each book spent much effort painting a picture of successful government monopolies in the Fur trade, building canals and railroads. The historical truth is that these government monopolies were uncontested failures - Failures so severe that the populace rose up in anger, ended the political forces that fed them, and turned them over to successful entrepreneurs. The books all preached to the young that big government was the savior and Robber Barons the nemesis, when in all actuality, it was the opposite that held true.
What caused this was a reliance on the historical works of John L. and Barbara Hammond, who influenced all the school books that followed. They relied on the Sadler Report of 1832 that reported the Industrial Revolution was "crowded with overworked children", "hotbeds of putrid fever," and "monotonous toil in a hell of human cruelty." Charles Dickens' novels helped to codify this image.
Would modern day Progressives feel less secure promoting big government to solve social and economic problems, if they knew in their hearts that what they learned as children was a lie? An historical review by Dr. Burton W. Folsom points out that
Mr. Sadler, we know today, lied in his report. He was a member of Parliament and made up much of his report to gain support for a bill he wanted to see Parliament pass. Economist W. H. Hutt has described Sadler's falsification of evidence. Even Friedrich Engels, comrade of Karl Marx, concluded that "Sadler permitted himself to be betrayed by his noble enthusiasm into the most distorted and erroneous statements."
The history of our country is clear: It was the government that charged outrageous prices and tried to pawn off shoddy merchandise, while the private businesses that supplanted them did the job right, charged lower prices, and did it without government subsidies that kept the monopolies afloat.
Folsom wrote:The school books give the impression that robber barons stepped in to exploit whatever they could, and were a negative point in history. The lesson the books should be teaching is that in the world of commerce, the profit motive, the structure of incentives. and the stifling tendencies of bureaucrats are such that those businesses run by entrepreneurs will consistently outperform those run by the government. Instead, the authors had a bias for a strong central government. When the authors were called on these reports, they agreed that they were not reporting fact, but incorrect, unsubstantiated ideology.
As a prime example, what happened in Michigan, my home state, is the rule and not the exception.
Based on Grace Kachaturoff, author of Michigan, Folsom wrote:When the state builds a project, the incentives are different from those of private enterprise. Satisfying political interests is often more important to legislators than building a railroad that is financially sound and well constructed. State builders use taxpayers’ money, not their own. If the road fails, it’s the state, not the builders, with empty pockets. The Michigan story is full of accounts of padded vouchers, illegal bidding, cost overruns, and the stealing of materials by contractors and even by the citizens themselves. Since no one actually owned the railroads, no one felt the responsibility to take care of them.
Judge Thomas Cooley, Michigan’s most famous 19th-century lawyer and a president of the American Bar Association, observed this waste firsthand. He wrote about it later and said, "By common consent it came to be considered that the State in entering upon these works had made a serious mistake." The people of Michigan, Cooley reported, became convinced "that the management of railroads was in its nature essentially a private business, and ought to be in the hands of individuals." In 1846, therefore, the state of Michigan abandoned all the canals and sold the Central and Southern Railroads, which were only partly completed, to private investors. The new owners promised to do some rebuilding and to expand the lines to the Chicago area. From this distress sale, the state recovered one-half of its $5 million investment and ended its headaches from being in the railroad business.
Once the railroads had been privatized, they were rebuilt with care and extended across the state. At last, Michigan citizens had the roads they needed to trade and thrive. This turnaround was so startling that its implications were not lost on Michigan voters. They learned from history.
In 1850, Michigan threw out its old constitution and wrote a new one. It read, "the State shall not subscribe to or be interested in the stock of any company, association, or corporation." Furthermore, "the State shall not be a party to or interested in any work of internal improvement, nor engaged in carrying on any such work" except to provide land. The heavily taxed voters were determined to learn from their mistakes and chart a better future for the state. In the years of laissez-faire that followed, Michigan’s entrepreneurs developed the state’s natural resources—lumber and iron ore—so effectively that Michigan soon became a major industrial state.
This is a root principle that denies the fallacy that is inculcated into belief systems as school children. How can you dismiss the honor and veracity of an educator who believes what he was taught in school?
Going deeper into disinformation, consider the tendency to disparage the right as religious extremists and strongly anti-science. Once again, how can one begrudge one who learned Columbus almost never discovered America because the religious zealots said he was a heretic? They learned in school that the church decreed the Earth was flat and that was that. Going back farther, who hasn't learned that the great enlightened civilization of Greece and Rome ended when the Church entered the picture, and then began a "Dark Ages" That lasted until The Renaissance? This disinformation is all wrong, yet believed devoutly by many educators.
Rodney Stark in How Christianity (and Capitalism) Led to Science presents the accepted and unargued true history that is unreported in school books.
It was Andrew Dickson White who wrote:The warfare of Columbus [with religion] the world knows well: how the Bishop of Ceuta bested him in Portugal,; how sundry wise men of Spain confronted him with the usual quotations from Psalms, from St, Paul, and from St. Augustine; how, even after he was triumphant, and after his voyage had greatly strengthened the theory of the Earth's sphericity... the Church by its highest authority solemnly stumbled and persisted in going astray... the theological barriers to this geographical truth yielded but slowly. Plain as it had become to scholars, they hesitated to declare it to the world at large... But in 1519 science gains a crushing victory. Magellan makes his famous voyage. He proves the Earth is round, for his expedition circumnavigates it... Yet even this does not end the war. Many conscientious [religious[ men oppose the doctrine for two hundred years longer.
Every history book recounts how Columbus fought the religious extremists who used the Bible to decree the Earth was Flat. Name an educator who knows any different!
White lied. He was running for President of Cornell and admitted he wrote this to "get even with his Christian critics of his plans for Cornell." Every educated person of Columbus's time knew the earth was round. This includes Roman Catholic theologians. The Venerable Bede (ca. 673-735) taught that the Earth was round, as did Bishop Virgilius of Salzburg (ca. 720-784). Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179), and Thomas Aquinas (1224-1274), and all four became Saints. It was part of an ages-old conspiracy of atheists to portray Religion as being anti-Science. Columbus was not argued out of sailing off the edge of the world. The scientist of his day knew the world was round - but much larger than Columbus estimated. He put Japan at being only 2,080 miles from the Canary Islands, but the "sundry wise men of Spain" knew it was over 14,000 miles. Had Columbus not run across an unsuspected continent - his crew would have all died at Sea.
But then again, the entire "Dark ages" is a crock. Christianity actually inspired science. There was no science in ancient Greece or Rome. Aristotle thought the weight of objects were proportional to the speed with which they dropped. A simple test by dropping two different weights off a cliff never occurred to him. Guesswork without empiricism is not science. It was only at the birth of Christianity, that a wise God appeared who fostered the idea that science could be done and should be done. The Church understood there was a duty to understand God's handiwork, the better to marvel at it.
As for a time of barbarism, superstition, and widespread ignorance - there was no "Dark Ages." The march of progress was sure and steady, and sparked by the Christian concept of the world as an understandable creation following understandable laws which needed to be studied. The phrase, "Dark Ages," was a myth, first used in the early 19th century by atheists to claim credit for a sudden "enlightenment" that occurred against the Church's wishes. In fact it was the Church that fostered science. Quintus Tertullian instructed in the second century, "Reason is a thing of God, inasmuch as there is nothing which God the Maker of all has not provided, disposed, ordained by reason — nothing which He has not willed should be handled and understood by reason." The success of the West, including the rise of science, rested entirely on religious foundations, and the people who brought it about were devout Christians.
Yet, every good aetheist knows Gibbons wrote The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire and blamed the Fall of Rome and the rise of barbarism on Christianity. Historians disagree - yet the schools still distort the truth. The New Columbia Encyclopedia (1975) says the term "Dark Ages" is no longer used by historians because this era is no longer thought to have been so dim. The Encyclopedia Britannica concurs.
During the era of Classical Greece, neoPlatonism originated, a philosophy which merged Plato's philosophy with Indian pantheism. Plotinus taught that the world was an "emanation" or radiation of being from a nonpersonal Spirit or Absolute--somewhat as light is a radiation from the sun. This is New-Age religion. The Godhead is unknowable, pure and good; the farther away one is the more evil and base. This religion only subscribes to ascetic practices that suppress bodily desires that liberate the spirit and allows it to be reabsorbed into the infinite essence. Through the years, Neo-Platonism has become a a mystical religion, crafted in part to counter Christianity. In some aspects it has merged with Christianity.
But here we are... products of strong disinformation that tells us religion engenders ignorance and is anti-science - when true history claims Christianity is the single catalyst that sparked and promoted science. A famous poll taken in Darwin's day found that almost all celebrated scientists, including Darwin, were deeply religious. Eighty-four years later, the same poll showed exactly the same results. Modern scientists are profoundly religious.
What this all means, is that when John Dewey created the modern-day educational system, he (who was a self-admitted follower of Engels and Marx) designed a structure that promulgated the very disinformation that education should correct. He wanted a system that produced government-dependent under-educated helots who would fit into a pre-conceived political system.
When Bill Bennett wrote his history textbooks, it was in the attempt to speak the unspeakable and correct settled lore that is untrue. In doing so, the content of the works, as well as the intent, drives the textbooks to be interesting and readable. It doesn't need to be a work of an author's genius to succeed.