James Loewen: Criticized by David Horowitz





The following report identifies several academic departments at Pennsylvania State University which openly and regularly violate the academic freedom provisions of the university. These provisions were only recently made applicable to students at Penn State by a resolution of the faculty senate (20.00) in May. The new policy was a response to the Pennsylvania academic freedom hearings and the campaign for academic freedom waged by Students for Academic Freedom and the David Horowitz Freedom Center. The report examines official class syllabi, departmental web pages, and course descriptions and singles out the Penn State Women’s Studies Department for failing to meet academic standards and being a program designed to indoctrinate students in a sectarian ideology, which is expressly forbidden by Penn State's academic freedom policy HR 64....

Introduction to American Studies (University Park Campus)
American Studies 100. Instructor, Melinda P.Wilkins

The course is taught by several instructors, among them M.P. Wilkins, a Senior Lecturer in English at the University Park campus. Wilkins’ syllabus depicts American culture as the expression of a history of uninterrupted brutality and oppression, in which minority groups suffer while their white oppressors write the official story as a narrative of unfolding freedom. This is not atypical of the curricula offered in other American Studies 100 sections. Wilkins is not formally trained in history and only holds an M.A. in English Literature from Virginia Tech, which she received in 1982.

The sole historical text assigned for this course is Jame’s Loewen’s Lies My Teacher Told Me. This book is not a scholarly work, but -- as the title suggests -- a sectarian polemic against the traditional teaching of American history and against what the author views as the black record of the American past. Among other harangues to be found in his text, Loewen laments “[h]ow textbooks misrepresent the U.S. government and omit its participation in state-sponsored terrorism.”

According to Loewen, the lies teachers told him result from facts being “manipulated by elite white male capitalists who orchestrate how history is written.” This answers the course’s instruction to students to determine who is telling the story and who benefits. But it is an extreme and sectarian answer, and is not tempered by a required text with opposing views. Hence it violates Penn State’s academic freedom policy which defines an appropriate academic instruction as training students “to think for themselves” and providing them with “access to those materials which they need if they are to think intelligently.”

A typical chapter in Loewen’s required text is called “1493: The True Importance of Christopher Columbus.” Loewen summarizes the achievement of Columbus in these words: “Christopher Columbus introduced two phenomena that revolutionized race relations and transformed the modern world: the taking of land, wealth, and labor from indigenous peoples, leading to their near extermination, and the transatlantic slave trade, which created a racial underclass.”

As an extreme view, Loewen’s amateur text might be a useful subject of analysis and discussion. It is certainly not an accurate view of the historical record, since the taking of land, wealth and labor from indigenous people, leading to their near extermination, was a well-known practice of the Romans, long before Columbus arrived in the Americas. Moreover, the intercontinental slave trade (though not the translatlantic one) long pre-dated Columbus making his role hardly revolutionary as Loewen claims.

But Lowen’s tendentious text is not offered as a text to be examined critically and objectively as a reflection of extreme, uninformed, polemical views. Lies My Teachers Told Me is required as an official classroom guide for students. It is the only assigned historical text for Wilkins’ Introduction to American Studies course and its chapters are assigned in lessons throughout the semester to provide historical background to students as they study cultural artifacts throughout American history. In other words, it is the text designed by the instructor course to introduce students to the facts of American history which are said to underlie its culture. ...

comments powered by Disqus
History News Network