The Student News Site of Sacramento City College

The Express

The Student News Site of Sacramento City College

The Express

The Student News Site of Sacramento City College

The Express

Lost in translation

Illustration by Patrick Higgins

History textbooks have long been respected as closest to the truth and based on fact. Scholars and historians spend much time and effort in the research and fact checking of these publications. Yet approximately every two years history books get rewritten or updated.

“Battles over what to put in science and history books have taken place for years in the 20 states where state boards must adopt textbooks, most notably in California and Texas. But rarely in recent history has a group of conservative board members left such a mark on a social studies curriculum,” wrote James C. McKinley in The New York Times.

For example, the state of Texas buys a large enough percentage of textbooks so that what the Texas Board of Education decides to use sets the stage for how history is taught in elementary and high schools across the country.

How much of the original history has been lost in translation? How much of history is being rewritten?

City College History Professor Carl Sjovold says the rewriting of history textbooks is common practice, and it is the choice of the textbook that makes the difference. As the History Department chair, Sjovold says the challenge is no different for him than any other history teacher.

“Since we are not a K-12 [institution], we don’t have a board looking over our shoulders,” said Sjovold.
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The important viewpoint depends on who is writing the book. Every country or state wants to be seen in a good light, not much different from a family choosing to not share ugly secrets of a family member. However, even so, the choice of the textbooks that best enhances their coursework is an annual challenge for professors.

Academic freedom is a different matter at the community college level. The academic freedom to choose textbooks and interpretations of history exercised by City College professors is important because students will in turn relate that information to others, especially family.

So when Texas rewrites history, whitewashing America’s mistakes, how is the country not destined to repeat them? The political philosophies of the Republican Party and a strong support for American capitalism won the vote of the Texas Board of Education for future history books in March 2010, according to The New York Times. The conservative change was considered an added “balance,” making one wonder if the truth seen today will make the history books of tomorrow.

Certainly the recall of the Civil War, World Wars 1 and II, Korean War and Vietnam involving this country told by two different fighting sides would have varied points of view. When collecting historical facts about this year alone, how much will we read differently a year from now as more information is discovered?

We need to always consider the source of what we hear and read because history changes, depending on the teller and the political tenor of the times. City College professors in any discipline, especially history, have the academic freedom to research and choose whatever texts best reflect the teachings in their classes.

Let’s not wear our mistakes as a nation in shame but tell the truth to better ourselves as a country and move forward as one people.

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