June 3, 2006

The state of education

One of the cool things about having super fast broadband is the ability to easily download music and such from the internet. I was goofing around yesterday on iTunes and found free downloads in the podcast section from the History 7B course at Berkeley. The downloads are the actual lessons to the introductory history class and covers post Civil War to Present. The course is lectured by one Jennifer Burns.

Being a student of history, and the price was right, I downloaded several of the lectures to my iPod. Since I am no longer in school, I only have to listen to the lectures I want, so I skipped the Reconstruction lectures. I chose to listen to the "Conquest of the West" lecture first. Since the course is from Berkeley, I expected the lecture to lean to the left politically. I do not want to get into historiography here, the point of this post is different. To be honest, the fact the lecture was from a liberal bent does not bother me. Students will find their own way politically, regardless the teachings and lectures they get in schools and universities. There are too many college educated conservatives for this to not be true.

I am bothered, and so should the parents who are paying a significant sum of money to have their children educated at Berkeley, with the factual errors in the lecture. For instance the US Government did not have a "huge standing army they had to do something with after the war" Burns says that this huge army was sent west where "as we know, anytime you move in the army tensions increase and that starts trouble." By her definition, if we had not sent in the "huge standing army" the Indians would have been peace-loving Gaia worshipers living in harmony with their fellow man. First, the Federal Army was not large, even during the Civil War. The bulk of both armies was comprised of the equivalent of the National Guard and militias. The armies were raised by the States and given to the Government for the duration. Most of the army was mustered out by 1866.

Some of the more aggrevious factual errors are basic knowledge Ms Burns should have learned in middle school. The idea that a PhD in History does not know that the Black Hills are in South Dakota, not Nebraska is appalling. In addition, Custer did not discover gold in the Black Hills, nor did he mine it. The Battle of Little Big Horn was in 1876, not 1874. Custer's Seventh Cavalry (BTW, MS Burns it is not pronounced cal-vary)was not "wiped out to the man" by 12,000 Sioux. He lost only about half his troops (those that went with him to the far side of the encampment) and the battle was not fought in the Black Hills. The US Army did not pursue Crazy Horse into Canada after the Battle. In addition, President Grant did not appoint a group of religious leaders to oversee Indian affairs in 1890. Grant was not President in 1890, in fact he was significantly involved in other pursuits at that time -- he was dead (1885).

You get the idea. I will not even get into the plain wrong ideas she gives regarding reservations, the five civilized tribes, the US policy regarding Indians, the Ghost Dance, Geronimo, and the often disabused notion that the Indians were guardians of nature, and they used the whole buffalo to feed their people. Clearly much of Burns' lecture and knowledge of the West comes from the "Memoirs of Chief Red Fox", known for decades to be a complete fabrication.

One can read post after post in blogs decrying the state of education in this country. If this lecture is representative of the quality of education offered at Berkeley, I will have to agree. I have several more lectures downloaded, they are entertaining. I am glad I have the knowledge to know what is fact and what is just plain wrong. I hope Ms Burns' students do too.

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