Friday, May 2, 2008

The Famous Lincon-Douglas[s] Debates

Bwah ha ha ha ha! What do I think, indeed.

This reminds me of my all-time favorite book, Barron's Painless American History by Curt Lader, a study guide for middle school students. Any teacher who ever wondered where his/her students picked up their strange ideas about US history can send Mr. Lader a thank-you note. The student reader will learn the following from this book:
  • "A blow was struck for freedom of the press in 1734 when John Peter Zenger was defended by a young lawyer named Alexander Hamilton when Zenger was accused of libel — which is making false statements — against the governor of New York." Of course, Zenger's lawyer was Andrew Hamilton. Alexander Hamilton wasn't born until 1755 (though he might have meant Dr. Alexander Hamilton, who still lived in Scotland in 1734). Also, that's not what libel means.
  • "The issue of slavery caused much controversy even in the early days of colonization. Northerners felt that slavery was wrong, while in the South, plantation owners saw the need for what they called 'the peculiar institution.'" Yep, all colonial-era Northerners thought slavery was wrong.
  • "Before we analyze the battle, look at the first verse of the famous poem, 'The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere.' Imagine what the response of the colonists was when they got the warning, 'The British are coming, the British are coming!" J.L. Bell has already said it all.
  • "In 1864 Lincoln fired General McClellan after the Union loss at Antietam." Wow, if it took Lincoln two years to act after the battle, no wonder the Union was having trouble.
  • "An angry Confederate soldier, John Wilkes Booth, shot the president as he was sitting with Mrs. Lincoln in the presidential box." Soldier?
Most of that is piddly stuff, but this isn't:
  • "[John] Brown's own words as a slave illustrate his intense hatred of the institution . . . When you look at the diary entry, you will see the agony that Brown went through as a slave. It is not surprising that when he escaped, he decided to lead the attack. You must take this suffering into account in deciding what you would have done if you were John Brown."
Ha ha ha ha ha. The "diary entry" Lader refers to is an excerpt from an 1855 slave narrative called Slave Life in Georgia, which was dictated by a fugitive slave named John Brown who escaped and moved to England in 1850. Shockingly, there was more than one person in the English-speaking world named John Brown.

I'm sure I have made embarrassing public errors in the past and I will continue to do so in the future. That doesn't mean I don't enjoy laughing at other people's.

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