Infinite City: The Trouble with Facts Is…
[The below piece: “How We Got to Now” was featured in The Daily Chimera, a news-gathering/reporting and opinion-based website last week. It concerns the on-going disputes over the historical accuracy of certain aspects of the city’s past.]
For the past three months the city has experienced a vicious back-and-forth between two dissenting groups of citizens. Death threats have been made, fights have broken out at protests and rallies, arrest have been conducted, a federal investigation has been issued, and much more. This “War for True History” as it is being called has divided parents, teachers, students, citizens in the city. 90+ days into this conflict, it is possible we may have forgotten how this all really started. This was evident yesterday at a protest outside the publisher Macmilliamous-McGrood’s city headquarters. There, both protestors and advocates confused facts and details about what actually caused this unrest.
Below is an effort to explain and clear up some misunderstandings. Here is a very short summary:
Basically it started with one parent. We will call her Mrs. T on account of the innumerable death threats she has received since this all started (she is under police protection at the moment). Mrs. T was displeased with the Macmilliamous-McGrood textbook’s origin story of the city. She took offense at the glorification of the founders (Ludwig von Küssenass and Hans-Johanns Schmudieb) and the overlooking description of the native tribes that inhabited the land before any Europeans landed. She was concerned this kind of (as she saw it) poor historical accuracy was detrimental to her daughter’s (and the other children’s) education.
Her letter to the principal is below.
Dear Principal Wexinburhe,
I am writing you today as a concerned parent. My daughter returned home last week with her Centuries of Events and Peoples history book. This year she gets to learn a great deal about her city’s history. It’s very important. She’s quite excited to learn about all the people that came before her to build up this city we all live in today. I, too, was excited to see her get the opportunity to learn more about the immediate world around her.
I was, however, greatly disappointed in the textbook’s brief summary of the “origins” of our city. Specifically, I was shocked to see the land described as “mostly underutilized” by the “tribes-people” until “the infamous German pirates” came along. There are two things that are particularly upsetting about this excerpt, and the whole summary. The first being this sense of “underutilization.”
As you may or may not know, the Chinnemuuk and Othahathaway peoples had occupied that land (by the most conservative of estimates) a full three-hundred years before those two pirates and their gang arrived. The textbook describes their usage of the land as: “…seasonally for ritual dances, games, and political meetings…” This is a blatant understatement of the facts. Both the Chinnemuuk and Othahathaway had come to use much of the land that now makes up our metropolis on a daily basis. The specific area in question (“Gorgon’s Alley” as referred to in the text) was of such deep religious and political significance. The only reason they visited the two islands at the mouth of the river (which had much different names than “Eye” and “Mond”) in each season was so that they could appease their spiritual ancestors together, and continue their long peace practices. I wouldn’t think I need to remind an educator, but perhaps I might, the Chinnemuuk and Othahathaway had waged bloody campaigns against each other for years over the usufructuary rights of the land. Entire generations of people were born, lived, and died knowing nothing but fear, anguish, and continued hatred for the other group during this time period. Western Civilization does not have anything like this in kind. Not the 40 Years War, not even the 100 Years War. The conflict between the Chinnemuuk and Othahathaway went well beyond those two wars combined, and on a scale of comparability were by far bloodier and more tolling on the people than anything the European campaigns might even imagine. So when these two peoples came together to celebrate in shared spiritual practices, and participate in games and tattoo one another, share harvests, etc. it was as a means of perpetuating peace and harmony. Also, it was a means to protect them against other warring tribes from the south and the west. My point here is that this land was being used for a long time before the Europeans came along, and it was of much greater significance to those people than some trading post for pirates.
Speaking of the pirates, this leads me to my second complaint/concern. What is with the beatification of these two pirates? They’re pirates! The textbook seems to paint them in a much lighter tone as the reader goes on. By the end I expected them to start referring to the pirates as “laissez-faire apostles” who freed the world of “evil-doing collectivism.” I mean, my God, these were the same men who (along with their subordinates) pitted the Chinnemuuk and Othahathaway against each other, reigniting the war. They were perpetrators of by any account what can only be described as war crimes, enslaved what remained of both tribes, sold off women and children to other insidious Europeans who came along (including the Spaniards!), and should only be credited with bringing the disgusting habit of mechanized/organized subjugation and exploitation to the New Land.
None of that gets mentioned in this text. And I’d rather have that than some lame, half-informed, mostly balderdash writing about cartoon pirate figures bettering some “unused” land, as if other human beings never existed beforehand—like some sort of Shangri-La. That’s not history. That’s science fiction.
As someone who comes from a displaced, marginalized background, from a group of people who have often been side-stepped and left better off unspoken about in the annals of human history (which is to say white European-dominated history), I would appreciate if the school would make a much more concerted effort to educate not only my daughter (who shares my lineage), but also her peers. So that we do not destine ourselves to these awful tragedies again.
I understand the school probably has some sort of deal with Macmilliamous-McGrood and cannot necessarily rid themselves of this nonsense. But perhaps you can issue a formal complaint to the company, or insist the teachers offer some proper context to the lack of text involved in this largely fictional historical narrative.
Thank you for your time.
– Mrs. T
Principal Harvey Wexinburhe (who has not received as many death threats) responded about two months later, after consulting the school board and sponsored education board. That letter reads as such:
May I first take this moment to express my deep gratitude for sharing your concerns with me. As you are certainly aware, Tussock-Chandler Junior High (brought to you by Valvoline®) prides itself on being one of the most prestigious public schools in the city. The school does not achieve these accolades without the support of students’ parents—such as yourself—and their communication with the school—as evident in your letter. For over one hundred years the school has maintained its excellence, an excellence students benefit from and parents rely on, because of the continued community support it receives. It is without question that this support is what holds the utmost value for Tussock-Chandler (brought to you by Valvoline®) and its continuation means the prolonged success of the school. This support comes in many forms, as I’m sure you are aware.
One such instance is financially. Another through volunteering time and expertise. The one I find most beneficial is when the parent(s) continues the exemplary education their child/student receives in the classroom at home and assists in reinforcing the schooling lessons, homework, values, morals and ethnics the child learns while attending Tussock-Chandler (brought to you by Valvoline®). There are more still. The most common form of support the school receives is often by way of open, unadulterated communication from the parent. This is the method in which you chose, and we are very grateful for such support. Without you, and parents of your ilk, Tussock-Chandler (brought to you by Valvoline®) would not be able to properly assess what teaching methods, school courses, textbooks, et al. are properly utilized in the continued education of our young generations.
Tussock-Chandler (brought to you by Valvoline®) prides itself on teaching every upcoming generation in the most effective, responsible, socially conscious way possible. We firmly believe in the fact that children will be the future. Perhaps that is a little obvious, but we do not reduce this universal truth to some platitude. We take this idea very seriously and strive each day to ensure our students, your child, have the best education (an omnibus word we see encompasses the following: fundamental learning, social interplay, proper rectitude). Without the best education provided, our future leaders, workers, thinkers would be operating at a deficit in society. That would be a horrible travesty. So to receive your letter is of the utmost importance to us.
We were all very troubled by your letter. We took the issues raised very seriously. The fact you were so deeply disturbed by the historical account of our city’s founding gave us pause in considering teaching the passage to the students in the future, in addition we questioned our relationship with Macmilliamous-McGrood. So please know that your concern was our concern, too.
That being clearly stated, I must inform you that the school board and the education board affiliated with our sponsored patron (Valvoline® — For All Your Motor Oil Needs) have decided to continue teaching the passage in question as is, and to continue our contract with Macmilliamous-McGrood. The reasons being are thus, as provided from the boards’s ruling opinion:
– “The passage which is being challenged is in line with the generally accepted history of the city and coincides with historical facts as they happened from the point-of-view of the founders and collaborators. Whether there is any validity to the opposing view is not to the point, and broadly speaking does not confute the accepted position. All of the information provided in the text is accepted, even by the complainant. The only difference seems to be evident in semantics. Therefore, since most of the information provided is accepted as historical fact, the boards rule the text historically valid.
Furthermore, there is the notion of “Proper View” (as indicated in Section IV, Area 41B of ECFA). The city needs to be viewed by its citizens in the best imaginable light available. To tarnish this view would possibly engender a loss of faith in the city and the community. It is imperative then that the children of Tussock-Chandler Junior High (brought to you by Valvoline®) need to experience a “Proper View” of their city’s founders, and anything possibly contra to that point is unacceptable. Children’s minds are fragile, and the slightest threat of disillusionment can wreak unprecedented damage for the future.”
– “Tussock-Chandler Junior High (brought to you by Valvoline®) is a public school that accepts whatever provisions provided to it by both the city and its sponsored patron (Valvoline® — For All Your Motor Oil Needs). In this particular instance, with respect to the historical textbook received from Macmilliamous-McGrood, the city and the sponsored patron agreed to a lengthy contract with the education textbook publisher. Macmilliamous-McGrood provides quality textbooks to schools across the nation and is generally well-respected. For the book in question, Centuries of Events and Peoples, a team of historians collaborated to create the text, and collectively have years of experience. The board is more inclined to accept the work of those historians, and trust the judgment of the publisher over the complainant.
Even if the boards agreed to the notion that the passage was unacceptable, or that (say) 90% of the textbook’s contents were historically dubious, the boards could not possibly enforce any change. The books the school receives are upheld by lengthy contracts (as implicated above). So there would be very little, if any, change possible for Tussock-Chandler (brought to you by Valvoline®).”
Your concern, time, patience, and understanding are very much appreciated, and we look forward to your continued passionate assistance in making Tussock-Chandler Junior High (brought to you by Valvoline®) one of the best schools in the city, state, and nation.
P.S. On a personal note, being never a teacher or historian, I found your version of the city’s origin story quite interesting, but as they do not fit within the national education algorithms of the “Every Child First” Act (ECFA), specifically with respect to the “Proper View” rule, I encourage you to curb those lessons for your daughter. Perhaps it will be something covered later, say in high school or the university.
Needless to say, the response did not go over well with Mrs. T. After reading the letter, she gathered some like-minded parents (most of whom were from various minority ethnic groups, and not all of their children attended Tussock-Chandler) and started staging protests and sit-ins at the school. This eventually started being broadcast over social media, and within a week of the protests the news outlets picked up the story and ran with it (apparently there was not too much going on in the news cycle at that time), then a counter protest group rose in defense of the school and the origin story. The next thing you know chants turn vicious, people get angry, outsiders try to capitalize on the frenzy, social crusaders and grassroots organizations fly in from all around the country to attend rallies, everyone has an opinion on the situation, Donald Trump mentions it in one of his speeches saying: “In the old days, we just took hags like [Mrs. T] out back behind the shed and beat the living shit out of them, just as our founders had intended.” matters deteriorate so quickly people start throwing fists for a cause they don’t even fully understand, usually mature adults get six to twelve-month sentences in jail for things like: criminal threats, intimidation, harassment, and assault: schools become grounds for outward hostility instead of learning centers, it becomes total bedlam.
And to think, all this started over a few disputed words from a sentence in a junior high school book. It just goes to show how tightly people cling to their histories—because their identities are the manifestations of them.
It actually reminds me of what one of the city founders once said, Hans-Johanns Schmudieb fancied himself a philosopher. He said: “When you spit in the face of an idol, you spit in the face of thousands.”