Sunday, November 09, 2003

The education president strikes again
Tom Spencer over at Thinking It Through and Atrios both have pieces up today on a bizarre article in the Christian Science Monitor concerning new history textbooks being introduced in Iraq. Under the summary, “As revised history books roll off Iraq's presses this month, some critics charge that they have moved from one-sided to 'no-sided'” the article begins:
For 15 years, high school history teacher Abtsam Jassom has dutifully taught 20th-century history according to the Baath Party. In it, America was the greedy invader, every Iraqi war was justified and victorious, and Zionists were the cause of world suffering.

Now, however, with the ouster of former President Saddam Hussein, US officials say teachers will finally be free to teach a more factual account of historical events. But the question is: Whose account will that be?

The first indicator of what a Saddam-free education will look like is arriving this month, as millions of newly revised textbooks roll off the printing presses to be distributed to Iraq's 5.5 million schoolchildren in 16,000 schools. All 563 texts were heavily edited and revised over the summer by a team of US-appointed Iraqi educators. Every image of Saddam and the Baath Party has been removed.

But so has much more - including most of modern history. Pressured for time, and hoping to avoid political controversy, the Ministry of Education under the US-led coalition government removed any content considered "controversial," including the 1991 Gulf War; the Iran-Iraq war; and all references to Israelis, Americans, or Kurds.

"Entire swaths of 20th-century history have been deleted," says Bill Evers, a US Defense Department employee, and one of three American advisers to the Ministry of Education.

Think about that for a second. Going catatonic in the face of any hint of controversy is pretty common for school districts in the US, but removing all references to the Kurds? How are they going to use these books in Kurdistan? It’s one thing to ignore uncomfortable events. But how do you ignore the second largest ethnic group in the country. Imagine a US history textbook that avoided any content considered controversial by having no references to women, African-Americans, or US relations with Latin America (now that I mention it, I think I did have that textbook in junior high).

Further down in the article we see the Bush administration’s strong commitment to helping democracy flourish.
In months ahead, Hussein [head of the text revision committee] will begin organizing a curriculum committee that represents different religious, political, and ethnic groups from around the country. US officials say most curriculum decisions will be made after the civilian government leaves Iraq, and that they will play a limited role - unless things go in a direction they don't approve.

"We will strongly recommend concepts of tolerance, and be against anything that is anti-Semitic or anti-West - content that would only sow the seeds for future intolerance," says Gregg Sullivan, spokesman for the Near Eastern Affairs Bureau of the State Department. "We'd hope it's only an advisory role, but if something develops that's disadvantageous to the Iraqi people, we'd weigh in on a stronger level."

In a democracy, you are free to say anything we want you to say. That whooshing sound you hear is the last vestige of American credibility going down the toilet.

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