Revisionism

There hardly so popular an option in GCSE history than the American modules, especially the 20th century ones. Many more British high school students learn about American history than American students learn about British history, or at least British history after 1783.

I have looked through at least three British GCSE textbooks covering the early 20th century. It appears to me that in every instance, the goal it to teach students anti-American history. The worst Americans are, of course, Southerners. After all, Northerners may have unjustly executed Sacco and Vanzetti, but all Southern whites were members of the KKK and they went around lynching all the blacks. American history, British style, would be very comfortable with the James Loewen view that especially in the South it is really all about racism.

But what really got me was trying to teach about the Scopes Trial. All Southerners went to church all the time and didn’t believe in evolution. Can you believe it?

So I just told them that most Americans at the time went to church and didn’t believe in evolution. What’s more, I showed them the 2005 CBS poll indicating that most Americans today don’t believe in evolution. It is too advanced and not in the curriculum to deal with historical revisionism. They can’t grasp that the British view of the Scopes Trial in 2007 is not the American view, especially not in 1925.

They see Clarence Darrow demolishing William Jennings Bryan with his interrogation. They don’t see that Bryan didn’t get to cross-examine Darrow, since the court stopped with Darrow’s questions and struck them from the record, ruling them irrelevant. When Bryan’s questions with Darrow’s answers were published in newspapers the day after the trial, even the New York Times wasn’t impressed that all Darrow could say was, “I don’t know.”

The textbooks even mischaracterise the end of the trial. They note that the Tennessee Supreme Court reversed Scopes conviction. What they don’t say is that the conviction was overturned on a technicality, because the judge imposed a $100 fine and under Tennessee law at the time any fine in excess of $50 had to be imposed by the jury. The Court upheld the enforcement of the Butler Act. As the Court said, “Those in charge of the educational affairs of the State are men and women of discernment and culture.”

This is not the view that the those in charge of the educational affairs of this nation want students to have of the people of Tennessee or the American South.

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