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Thursday, Oct 02, 2014
Commentary

Textbook politics


Published:   |   Updated: February 4, 2014 at 06:29 AM

In California, the Armenian lobby is celebrating passage of a resolution in the state’s House instructing the education department to emphasize the Armenian genocide in its publications. “We did it!” the Armenian National Committee of America, Western Region, alerted its followers in an e-mail. “Just a few hours ago, despite heavy attacks from the Turkish Lobby, we won a battle for truth and justice that will be passed down to future generations.” The letter then goes on to solicit donations so “we can continue to build on today’s victory.”

In Virginia, as The Post’s Laura Vozzella reported, legislators are working on a resolution instructing the education department to buy textbooks that challenge the name of the Sea of Japan, which many Koreans believe should be called the East Sea. Newly installed Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe finds himself in a pickle. On the campaign trail he promised to support such a change, but he has now discovered that Japan — whose companies are big investors in the commonwealth — is unhappy about the idea.

All of this prompts the following suggestion: Maybe state legislatures aren’t the best place to write high school history textbooks.

We understand that public education systems ultimately need to be responsive to the taxpayers who pay for them, and the legislators in Richmond (or Sacramento) are representing those taxpayers. But the history they teach should be based on the best judgment of historians, not on such considerations as, to quote Sen. J. Chapman “Chap” Petersen, D-Fairfax, the fact that “in Virginia, there are a lot of Koreans. There are very few Japanese.” Or that Armenian Americans outnumber Turkish Americans in California.

We’re not doubting the importance of teaching about the Armenian genocide that began in 1915. We also think Americans can benefit from learning about the history of Japanese imperialism in Asia. We’d be fine if the General Assembly instructed the education department to embrace such controversial subjects and to write curricula that encourage exploration and debate on historical issues that continue to reverberate in modern times.

We doubt, though, that elected officials should be drawing textbook maps or writing lesson plans — whether they are about evolution, climate change, Armenia or that body of water between Japan and Korea.

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