Whose America? Culture Wars in the Public Schools

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9780674009189: Whose America? Culture Wars in the Public Schools

What do America's children learn about American history, American values, and human decency? Who decides? In this absorbing book, Jonathan Zimmerman tells the dramatic story of conflict, compromise, and more conflict over the teaching of history and morality in twentieth-century America.

In history, whose stories are told, and how? As Zimmerman reveals, multiculturalism began long ago. Starting in the 1920s, various immigrant groups--the Irish, the Germans, the Italians, even the newly arrived Eastern European Jews--urged school systems and textbook publishers to include their stories in the teaching of American history. The civil rights movement of the 1960s and '70s brought similar criticism of the white version of American history, and in the end, textbooks and curricula have offered a more inclusive account of American progress in freedom and justice.

But moral and religious education, Zimmerman argues, will remain on much thornier ground. In battles over school prayer or sex education, each side argues from such deeply held beliefs that they rarely understand one another's reasoning, let alone find a middle ground for compromise. Here there have been no resolutions to calm the teaching of history. All the same, Zimmerman argues, the strong American tradition of pluralism has softened the edges of the most rigorous moral and religious absolutism.

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About the Author:

Jonathan Zimmerman is Professor of Education and History at the Steinhardt School of Education and in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences at New York University. He spent two years as a teacher with the Peace Corps in Nepal.

Review:

Zimmerman examines the culture wars that have been fought in America's schools since the Civil War and divides what is commonly held to be one battle into two distinct conflicts, each with its own unique beginnings...By placing these conflicts within their historical context, the author leads readers to a deeper understanding of the issues and how they have influenced and continue to influence public school instruction. [A] landmark piece of scholarship. (Mark Alan Williams Library Journal 2002-08-01)

Zimmerman argues that the educational wars over religion in the schools and the content of history and social studies courses are separate battles with different stakes, and that the former have been more contentious than the latter. He offers histories of both since the 1920s to illustrate his point and concludes with suggestions about how the religious wars might be resolved. This is a thought-provoking and well-written book...[It] is essential reading for anyone concerned with these issues. (M. Engel Choice 2003-02-01)

Zimmerman does make a convincing argument. Examples of history textbooks published today substantiate his claim of a diversity coexisting with dullness. So, what exactly does Zimmerman's position mean for the classroom? This book calls for a reexamination of how U.S. history is taught...This call for presenting multiple perspectives in American history classrooms is a timely one. (Athena Liss Social Education)

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