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Monday: 08/19/02

The Blogosphere In Action
The National Education Association creates what it calls "a special Remember September 11th Web site" that "brings together in one place an abundance of ideas, lesson plans, discussion points, and much more to help young people learn from the September 11 tragedy."

The Washington Times features an article about the lesson plans and draws attention to several textual passages that can be found in the plans.

One of these passages reads: "Blaming is especially difficult in terrorist situations because someone is at fault. In this country, we still believe that all people are innocent until solid, reliable evidence from our legal authorities proves otherwise."

Another suggests that students "discuss historical instances of American intolerance" in order to avoid "repeating terrible mistakes," then goes on to say: "Internment of Japanese Americans after Pearl Harbor and the backlash against Arab Americans during the Gulf War are obvious examples…Teachers can do lessons in class, but parents can also discuss the consequences of these events and encourage their children to suggest better choices that Americans can make this time."

Charles Johnson discovers the Times article. While it almost makes his head explode, he manages to post the first four of its 20 paragraphs, along with this commentary: "Is it any wonder that the Islamofascists think we’re a nation of weaklings? While they teach their children to murder infidels, we’re teaching ours to be understanding, and tolerant, and for heaven’s sake don’t blame anyone! This is cultural suicide."

Glenn Reynolds reads Charles Johnson's post and weighs in: "CHARLES JOHNSON IS OUTRAGED that the N.E.A.'s teaching suggestions for 9/11's anniversary tell teachers to be sure not to 'suggest any group is responsible.' I think it was that Family Circus character, Not Me, who did it. Er, except that Osama bin Laden bragged about it, and Palestinians danced in the streets in celebration. And then there's the matter of these videotapes. Perhaps teachers should show those in class, so that students have a clear idea of who isn't responsible. And I suppose that showing this would be out of the question. It might make people angry or something."

What's wrong with this daisy-chain of outrage?

Well, start with the Washington Times article. It actually offers the most context, explaining that the NEA has compiled "more than 100 lesson plans teachers will be able to use to help elementary, middle and high school students integrate how they might remember the day's events through subjects such as art, drama and math." In addition, it includes a link to the website where the lesson plans can be found, something neither Johnson nor Reynolds bother to do.

At the same time, however, it fails to include citations that would make it easy to find the specific lesson plans that it quotes. While I'm sure they're there somewhere, I spent over an hour skimming through dozens of lesson plans, and the closest thing I found to the quotes cited in the Times piece was this excerpt from a lesson plan provided by PBS: "Use the treatment of citizens of Japanese and German ancestry during World War II--looking specifically at media portrayals of these groups and internment camps--as historical examples of ethnic conflict during times of trial; explore the problems inherent in assigning blame to populations or nations of people."

That's another thing the Times article doesn't address: it says the N.E.A. "compiled" these lesson plans, but it doesn't make it explicitly clear who actually created them. As it turns out, the plans come from a variety of sources, with the American Red Cross providing more than half of them. Who created the plans doesn't change their specific content, of course, but it is helpful to know that it's the Red Cross, rather than the NEA itself, that created these materials. (Whether or not the Red Cross [and myriad other organizations, both commercial and non-profit] should be allowed to proselytize directly to schoolchildren just because schools don't have the money to create their own study materials is another issue, of course…)

The Times also fails to provide excerpts from any of the dozens of lesson plans that cover things like "Remembering the Uniformed Heroes of the World Trade Center" and "the sending of patriotically themed stuffed bears across the nation." And finally, it quotes one one William S. Lind of the Center for Cultural Conservatism for the Free Congress Foundation, who says "A lot of what's stated in these lesson plans are lies…None of what is mentioned in these plans are facts. It's an ultimate sin to now defend Western culture. It does not matter today whether a student learns any facts or any skills. What matters now is the attitude they come away with when they graduate school."

Lind doesn't actually give any specific examples of the lies he found in the lesson plans, which include documents like the first ten Amendments to the Constitution, but maybe those patriotically themed bears aren't really bears at all -- maybe they're actually patriotically themed bunny rabbits that just look like bears!

In any case, what one is left with from the Times article, which is entitled "NEA delivers history lesson," is the notion that the NEA is trying to bamboozle innocent schoolchildren into adopting a "decidedly blame-America approach" toward the September 11th attack and its aftermath. The Times article says nothing about the lesson plans devoted to media literacy and how to approach news coverage of September 11th; it says nothing about the lesson plans on the first ten Amendments and the Geneva Conventions, or the ones on family disaster planning, community preparations, and healing rituals. It focuses solely on a couple excerpts from out of over 100 lesson plans, and it concludes that those excerpts obviously show that the NEA's primary agenda here is to rewrite history with an anti-American bias. Then, Charles Johnson takes this reductive, highly interpretative conclusion and gives it an extra twist of rhetorical escalation: "While they teach their children to murder infidels, we’re teaching ours to be understanding, and tolerant, and for heaven’s sake don’t blame anyone!" In truth, of course, it would have been a lot more accurate if Johnson had written something like this: "The NEA is suggesting to teachers (many of whom could probably give a fuck what the NEA thinks…) that they check out and perhaps use some of over 100 lesson plans, one or two of which reportedly include some politically correct language that seems mostly designed to encourage third-graders not to beat up their classmates of Arabic descent." Instead, he conflates the NEA with our whole sick liberal culture, and suddenly it's no longer just the NEA making mealy-mouthed curriculum suggestions via its website -- in fact, "we're" actually teaching this stuff, right now, in schools across the land, poisoning the minds of Little Johnnie and Little Susie and making them believe we have only ourselves to blame for the tragedy of September 11th.

Next comes Reynolds, who always gives every soundbite the careful attention it deserves. And thus, while the NEA compiled over 100 lesson plans to address how schoolchildren might think about and react to numerous aspects of the September 11th attacks, Reynolds knows better than to waste time wading through all that pinko Red Cross subterfuge and touchy-feely "building a memory" crap when it's quite clear from Johnson's misleading take on the Times' reductive slant on the "Remembering September 11th" project that the NEA's real agenda is to "tell teachers to be sure not to 'suggest any group is responsible.'"

In the end, both the NEA's "Remembering September 11th" project and the Times' article about it raise some interesting questions: what should we be teaching schoolchildren about the attack and its aftermath? How come the American Red Cross has the opportunity to share its perspective of international humanitarianism in classrooms, without equal time for weapons manufacturers? Why do so many newspapers and pundits fail to make it easy for curious readers to find the actual sources of excerpted quotes? But neither Johnson or Reynolds address any of these issues. They simply repeat and amplify the Times' inaccurate characterization of the NEA's collection of "Remembering September 11th" lesson plans, and they do it without showing any sign of actually having read the lesson plans themselves. And there you have it, the blogosphere in action: now that there are others willing to not-read for you, you no longer have to waste time not-reading yourself!

-- G. Beato


Update: Johnson followed up his original post with this post. Reynolds' followed up his original post with this post.


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