The Text Book Controversies – A Background Note -1

High school students hate history. When they list their favorite subjects, history invariably comes in last. Students consider history “the most irrelevant” of twenty-one subjects commonly taught in high school. Bor-r-rtng is the adjective they apply to it. When students can, they avoid it, even though most students get higher grades in history than in math, science, or English. Even when they are forced to take classes in history, they repress what they learn, so every year or two another study decries what our seventeen-year-olds don’t know.

African American, Native American, and Latino students view history with a special dislike. They also learn history especially poorly. Students of color do only slightly worse than white students in mathematics. If you’ll pardon my grammar, non-white students do more worse in English and most worse in history. Something intriguing is going on here: surely history is not more difficult for minorities than trigonometry or Faulkner. Students don’t even know they are alienated, only that they “don’t like social studies” or “aren’t any good at history.” In college, most students of color give history departments a wide berth.”

The opening lines to the Introduction – Something has gone very wrong – of the Book “Lies my Teacher told me” by James W. Loewen with the additional sub title “Everything that your American History text book got wrong”.

For 20 years, Loewen taught race relations at the University of Vermont. Prior to that, he taught at Mississippi’s Tougaloo College, a historically black college. Since 1997, he has been a Visiting Professor of Sociology at The Catholic University of America.

Krishna Kumar states that, “The social backgrounds to which [students] belong, and the points of view these backgrounds shape, become irrelevant when history is presented as a body of facts”. In R.S. Sharma’s textbook for class eleven on Ancient India, both the Brahmans and the tribal students were subjected to narrowly interpreted retellings of their histories. The narrative carried an omniscient point of view in which the students’ subjective identities are challenged and with which they found little resonance, no space in which to respond. Native American children often have the same response to Thanksgiving reenactments in the classroom. The writing of history textbooks that presents conjecture as fact, and fact as incontestable, precludes the academic opportunity to look at the known historical data from other perspectives. In contrast with this categorical totality of certainty approach, Kumar suggests a more “tentative tone”, or as Sam Wineburg would say, use more “hedges”.

The teaching of history, in most representations, has a political, nationalistic, ethnic, gender and/or class bias. W.A. Reid, a professor of education from Great Britain pointed out in a personal communication, “It’s always going to be a story. The question is whose story and how defensible it is?”

Excerpts from “Curriculum as Destiny: Forging National Identity in India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh” by Yvette Claire Rosser, B.A., M.A.

Who is this Krishna Kumar? He is the current chief of NCERT appointed by the UPA in Aug / Sep 2004 replacing the controversial J S Rajput an NDA government appointee.

Who is he ( R.S. Sharma) talking about? The founder chairman of ICHR and a true blue Marxist Historian.

The offending Paragraph:

The most remarkable development in the religious field in India from about the sixth century A. D. was the spread of tantricism. In the fifth-seventh centuries many brahmanas received land in Nepal, Assam, Bengal, Orissa, Central India and the Deccan, and it is about this time that tantric texts, shrines and practices also appeared. Tantricism admitted both women and sudras into its ranks, and laid great stress on the use of magic rituals. Some of the rituals may have been in use in earlier times, but they were systematized and recorded in the tantric texts from about the sixth century A.D. They were intended to satisfy the material desires of the devotees for physical possessions and to cure the day-to-day diseases and injuries. Obviously tantricism arose as a result of the large-scale admission of the aboriginal peoples in brahmanical society. The brahmanas adopted many of the tribal rituals and charms, which were now officially compiled, sponsored and fostered by them (p. 172) R.S. Sharma’s textbook on “Ancient India” .

Krishna Kumar in his book goes on to say

Apart from the confidence with which the origins of tantricism have been stated in this passage, it is interesting to observe the features that allow the passage to be interpreted in the manner which the teacher’s use of it, as a basis for her class-preparation, reflects. One is the narrative style which carries the omniscient narrator’s point of view. Such a style is common in history-writing. Indeed, the difference between the storyteller and the historian has never been too easy to maintain. Only the intentions are somewhat different. The historian wants us to accept what he is narrating as a body of facts. The story-teller does not always worry about this. The historian writing a school text is tempted to project a ‘facts only’ image of his narration even in cases where ‘facts’ are sparse and where the connections between known facts are a matter of conjecture. He may present such connections as ‘facts’ simply because conventions of school text writing favour certainty. In this context, it is interesting to compare our text with the discussion of this particular episode of Indian history by other historians.

‘The esoteric nature of Tantrism obscures its roots and rituals’, says Wolpert (1977), ‘though it clearly seems to antedate Brahmanic Aryan religious concepts, harking back to ancient mother-goddess worship and Shaivite forms of worship.’ According to Zimmer (1969), ‘Tantra may have its roots in the non-Aryan, pre-Aryan, Dravidian soil.’ Thapar (1966) takes a similar view, adding that ‘the emphasis on shakti and the mother-goddess would suggest that Tantricism was rooted in pre-Aryan culture, which is not unlikely considering that it originated in essentially non-Aryan areas.’ In all three of these examples one can notice a tentative tone. In the school text, we are faced with total certainty, of how a cult ‘arose’ and ‘spread’. The use of verbs like ‘arose’ and ‘adopt’ suggest a theory of contact between the ‘brahmanical society’ and the ‘tribal’ or ‘aboriginal peoples.

It is pertinent to note that this book was sought to be replaced by the Janata Government in the year 1977 but the Government was short lived. The later Indira Government reverted back to its Pro JNU-Marxist stand.

P.S: All emphasis mine.


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