Thursday, December 29, 2005

History Textbooks: Sanitized For Their Protection?

I thought that this would've happened later, rather than sooner:
Historians say the impeachment and trial of President Clinton is closeted in a gray area of history, an episode too far in the past to be a current event, too recent to be judged in perspective.

Yet these historians already are judging Mr. Clinton in the place where millions of students get their information about him -- their textbooks.

Seven years after he was impeached in a scandal of sex, perjury and bitter politics, Mr. Clinton has become a fixture in major high school texts.

The impeachment is portrayed in the context of his two-term tenure, a milestone event, but not one that overshadows how Mr. Clinton handled the economy, crime and health care.

The most commonly used texts give straightforward recaps of Mr. Clinton's toughest days, with some flavor of how it affected the nation. Absent are any of the lurid details of his relationship with Monica Lewinsky that spiced up daily news reports and late-night talk shows as the scandal and impeachment played out in 1998 and early 1999.

Mr. Clinton was president from 1993 to 2001, the growing-up years of today's high school students. Even today's oldest high school students were only 10 or 11 during the height of the scandal, and today's middle schoolers were just approaching or entering first grade.

So, for students, the impeachment is literally a subject for the history books. "This is very difficult for everybody, because it's so fresh," said Gilbert Sewall, director of the American Textbook Council, an independent research group that reviews history texts used in schools. "It's easier to nail down history like the transcontinental railroad. With Clinton, you're dealing with material that has by no means been settled."

The House impeached Mr. Clinton on charges of lying to a federal grand jury and obstructing justice to conceal his affair with Miss Lewinsky, a White House intern. Although he was acquitted in a Senate trial, Mr. Clinton was branded as the second president impeached for conduct in office.

The topic is covered briefly in middle school texts. McGraw-Hill's "The American Journey" offers a description that is representative of other accounts -- balanced and methodical.

"Although there was general agreement that the president had lied, Congress was divided over whether his actions justified impeachment," the authors say.
I guess the fact that Monica Lewinsky's stained dress isn't mentioned is probably a good thing.

And for the record, I don't think that the history books are going to be very generous to President Bush regarding the invasion and occupation of Iraq.
Visit this week's edition of The Carnival Of Education here and our latest posts over there.