23 August 2002

Two disturbing stories in this morning's New York Times.

The first deals with Cobb County Georgia's school district, which recently mandated the teaching of biblical "theories" of creation alongside evolution. Yes, I know all the arguments against this silly policy, and I won't rehash them here. I find it disturbing that the Christian right can exert so much influence that teaching the methods of scientific inquiry and criticism are being diluted in favor of unsubstantiated stories that require a specific religious belief for understanding. ( I would hate to be Hindu in Cobb County these days...) You can see the story here.

Also of interest is Nicholas Kiristoff's column on the new Florida law requiring women who have a child out of wedlock and who wish to give the baby up for adoption to print detailed sexual histories in their local newspapers in order to inform the probably father(s) of their intention to give the baby up. I can think of no greater threat to the privacy of both men and women than this law--which includes RAPE VICTIMS. I can think that this requirement will only lead to an increase in the incidence of abortion, and I imagine it will complicate adoptions to the point that more and more children will be trapped in Florida's already overtaxed and ineffective foster care system. I can't see anything good about this law. Read Kristoff's column here.

Kristoff also mentions that Bush has appointed a committee to reevaluate the necessity for Title IX. I don't know anything about this but as soon as I uncover reliable information, I'll be more than happy to share.

Hopefully the Blogger linking tool is working properly today and you will be able to view these articles.

21 August 2002

The online journal of early american history, Common-place, has a great article about Lynne Cheney's America: A Patriotic Primer. The author's judgement: "The Patriotic Primer's overall philosophy is the soporific one that things have gotten progressively better over the centuries without ordinary Americans doing anything other than going to work, following orders, and rallying around their leaders." You can see the article here.

Common-place has a special section this issue on the Constitution...interesting reading for anyone fascinated by the sometimes murky history of this country's most famous document. Included is an article by Michael Bellesiles, the embattled historian of American gun culture. I will have more to say about him in this column at a later date...

20 August 2002

None of my links seem to be working today.

For the Family Policy Network, see http://www.familypolicy.net/

For the article on the goings on at UNC Chapel Hill, simply go to www.nytimes.com and look under the National section.

The religious right strikes again...this time in North Carolina.

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill assigns one book to all incoming freshmen, which is then discussed during orientation. This year, the university selected as its text Michael Sells's book Approaching the Qur'an: The Early Revelations. Sells is Professor of Comparative Religion at Haverford College, PA, and this book presents the early parts of the Qur'an, along with analysis and commentary to readers with no background in Arabic or Islamic cultures. Officials at UNC-Chapel Hill apparently felt that this would be a way for students to begin to conprehend the rich and varied Islamiccultures of North Africa, the Near and MIddle East, and parts of Asia as more than a killing machine (which has been the American media's vision of Islam since 9/11).

Enter an organization called the Family Policy Network, which sued (and luckily, lost) to prevent the book from being taught at UNC, because it would amount to a "forced conversion" of Christians to Islam, and because the book supposedly does not tell the "whole truth" about Islam. According to this country's conservative elements, it is now OK to attempt to forbid the teaching of any other religion besides Christianity at the university level (which I suppose should lead to the end of the academic study of religion entirely), to engage in university-level book banning, to trespass on academic freedoms at will, and to push for the presentation of Muslims as completely evil--when they are to be mentioned at all.

As a budding academic myself, I wish to be free to require whatever reading I deem appropriate in a class I teach, whether at a public or a private university. UNC's policy to require this reading is a great way to introduce freshmen to academic life, to share opinions and insights, and to learn what going to college is all about--chiefly the exploration of new ideas and the reevaluation of old ones. It disturbs me that the religious right is now pushing its agenda not only in the nation's public secondary schools but also at the university level. Book banning is alive and well.

The Family Policy Network is continuing its legal fight, and is also involved in an effort to incorporate into state law in North Carolina the requirement that undergrad curriculums give equal time to all religions. Although this provision is not fully fleshed out yet, I can't see how such a thing would be possible, let alone desirable. (It is worth noting here that the FPN is also fiercely anti-homosexual--an indication of its intolerant views of the world).

You can see an article on this controversy here.

13 August 2002

On Saurday August 1, I flew for the first time since September 11th. I was stunned by the manner with which my traveling companion was treated during the security process at Logan.

While his shoes were being searched, another security officer absconded with his bag, and somewhere during this process his glasses were removed. He was left shoeless, bagless, and blind. Airport security then searched his bag while he could not supervise the process. When we both complained, we were told to stop "making a scene" or we wouldn't be allowed on the plane. At that point, other passengers came up to us and offered to back us up if we insisted on seeing a manager (which should tell you how obviously poorly we were being treated). Supervisors on the scene refused to tell us their names so we could complain properly. We were running so late that we decided just to run for our gate.

Unfortunately, our experience for the morning was not yet finished. US Airways security personnel at the gate also pulled my companion out of line, again removed his shoes and rifled through his bag. At this point, he inquired why his bag was being searched again, and no one answered. He then demanded an explanation. Instead of answering, the security woman took away his boarding pass, told him he would not be flying that day, AND CALLED THE STATE POLICE.

The state policeman who came over gave us three different answers to the question, "Why am I being searched?" First he said it was random. Then he told us it was because of the "scene" at the first checkpoint. Then he told us the first checkpoint had called ahead to the gate and requested another search. I have no idea which of these explanations is true, but the last option sounds like harassment (not security) to me. We were eventually allowed to board the flight, after being made to endure a lecture from security personnel about how our complaints made other passengers nervous.

Coming home the following day, our experience in LaGuardia was entirely different. Security personnel there were quick but careful, and above all, courteous. Nothing was searched without permission, and we returned without incident.

I recognize the need for enhanced security in the wake of Sept 11. However, I also think I have the right to know why my things or my person is being searched (even if the answer is that it is random). I also think I should be able to ask questions--asking "where are you taking my bag" does not make me a terrorist, it merely shows my concern for my property. Security can be conducted with courtesy.

On August 3, NPR reported that many security personnel at Logan had been let go, having failed to pass the required tests to become federal employees. And a few days after that, US Airways declared bankruptcy. In my more charitable moments, I wonder if the way we were treated was a result of substantial job anxiety...I look forward to seeing if the properly trained and credentialed federal workers can do better.

12 August 2002

This morning Bob Herbert published his fourth column on the horrifying story emerging out of Tulia, Texas. It seems that a police officer there arranged for a "drug raid" that rounded up over ten percent of the town's black population in 1998. Most of these people were later convicted, but now disturbing new information has come to light. The officer in question took notes by writing on his arms and legs, picked black faces out of mugbooks randomly, "lost" physical evidence (inluding the drugs that were supposedly found), and other irregularities. Most disturbing is Herbert's information that the US Department of Justice had a criminal investigation pending under the Clinton administration which was terminated under Ashcroft (surprise surprise). I am appalled by the blatant racism evident here.

You can see today's column in The New York Times by clicking the link and then going to the Op/Ed section (if I link to the column directly, you are asked to login but it will refuse to recognize your ID and password). Bob Herbert's other columns on the Tulia affair are also available. I'm going to continue to follow this story...

02 August 2002

Will Crawford's blog has an interesting link to an article about the history of the man's suit. Very interesting.

I was browsing in the bookstore today, and I found myself flipping through guides to the AP US History exam. (Actually, my real motive here was to test my ABD knowledge by trying out some of the multiple choice questions. I did fairly well if I do say so myself....)

I was shocked to learn that the AP exam only dedicates 1/6 of its questions to colonial American history. For all intents and purposes, American history begins for the AP in 1607. Moreover, the commercial review texts (Princeton and others) spend only 10-25 pages reviewing events in the colonial period. One review suggested that students preparing for the AP should spend the least amount of time studying the first two (!) centuries of American history simply because there are fewer questions about it on the AP. (This makes sense, I suppose, from a time management perspective, but God forbid students should actually study something that might NOT be on the test.)

I have two problems with the emphasis the AP places on the nineteenth and twentieth century. This is not to say that these centuries aren't important (to the contrary!), but students are left woefully underinformed about the formative period in our history. First, the AP's structure gives the impression that American history begins in 1607. Actually, permanent English settlement in Jamestown began in 1607. Students are not encouraged to think about the enormity of the encounter between Native Americans and Europeans that occurred in the sixteenth century, the patterns of Spanish colonization and how they affected English and French colonization, nor are they taught to think about pre-Columbian history. Second, the period from around 1500-1800 shows enormous diversity of peoples and religions, explosive economic growth, and new forms of political and social interaction--all of which were departures from Old World patterns and had significant impacts on the post-Revolutionary age. None of the AP materials I examined make these characteristics and changes clear to high school students.

So I have to ask: how prepared are high school graduates with even a 4 or a 5 on the AP for a college-level US history class? While I realize that high school classes have a limited amount of time to work with, I have to say students who spend a year being "taught to the test" come away with a skewed vision of American history. There are plenty of commentators out there lamenting the American public's ignorance of our history--and the AP has done nothing to help alleviate that.

01 August 2002

In my web wanderings this afternoon, I discovered the trailer to The Two Towers is now available at http://www.lordoftherings.net/ I am not sure how long it has been there--I stopped watching for it two months ago. Very exciting!

I thought it might be useful to post something about this blog. Otherwise, my fascination for John Winthrop (see below) might seem a bit...odd.

I am a graduate student (as the title of my blog suggests) at a university in the northeast that shall remain nameless. I have just completed my second year in a program for a PhD in Early American History. This means I begin teaching and working on my dissertation this fall.

My blog will include tidbits of early americana, like I posted yesterday, as well as my thoughts on the state of the field in general. As I begin teaching and writing the longish piece that is the bane of most graduate students' existence, I thought I'd share those experiences as well. I'll also write about politics (from a slightly left-of-center perspective), anything I happen to be reading, or anything else that pops into my head.

In the "anything else that pops into my head" category, CNN has an interesting poll today. Do you think your dog's bark is a) just a bark, b) an attempt to talk, and c) I'm a cat person. I am one of the 66% of respondents who believes b). Yes, my dogs talk. Any other dog owner worth his or her salt will tell you the same. Of course, I could have responded c), as well. Meow!