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» Hatrack River Forum » Active Forums » Books, Films, Food and Culture » Do people become more conservative as they age? (Page 1)

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Author Topic: Do people become more conservative as they age?
RivalOfTheRose
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Discuss.
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rivka
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No.
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RivalOfTheRose
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Do people generally become more center-oriented as they age?
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Marlozhan
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I find that I just become less black-and-white thinking the older I get. This may mean I move more left, more right, or more center, depending on the issue, instead of feeling pressured to tow one party line or the other.
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Dogbreath
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I've become considerably more liberal.
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rivka
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quote:
Originally posted by RivalOfTheRose:
Do people generally become more center-oriented as they age?

I believe you misunderstood which part of your post I was responding to.
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Dan_Frank
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quote:
Originally posted by rivka:
quote:
Originally posted by RivalOfTheRose:
Do people generally become more center-oriented as they age?

I believe you misunderstood which part of your post I was responding to.
Heh.
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Samprimary
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quote:
Originally posted by RivalOfTheRose:
Do people generally become more conservative as they age?

No.

quote:
Originally posted by RivalOfTheRose:
Do people generally become more center-oriented as they age?

No.

Nicholas Danigelis, a sociologist at the University of Vermont, did collaborative work with Stephen Cutler of the University of Vermont and Melissa Hardy of Pennsylvania State University, which represented the first compellingly self-contained data analysis to address the idea that we get more conservative as we get older: Population Aging, Intracohort Aging, and Sociopolitical Attitudes, 2007. Using the U.S. General Social Surveys of over forty thousand Americans collected over the course of decades, and correcting for new members in different survey times, the surveys assessed attitudes on politics and economics, while doing additional research on associated sociopolitical policy and attitudes (race, gender, sexuality, religion, etc).

The findings were pretty clear: the notion that we get more conservative when we age is a myth. We actually seem to trend towards being more liberal and more tolerant as we grow older. Not more conservative. Nor is there a trend for both sides to meander towards the 'center.' While our variance through age is extremely limited in comparison to our baseline attitudes (the strongest indicator of our leanings and ideology late in life is what we manifested or were indoctrinated into early in life, and the single strongest point of data that you can use to determine the most reliably how someone will vote when they are 65 is what their initial voting habits were), Danigelis & co determined that this inflexibility isn't a senior thing, it's how we are in general. Baseline attitudes have changed and created an ideology gap between older individuals and young adults, nothing more. This provides some insight into how the myth may have ended up as pervasive as it is, because older people in this country are much more conservative than younger people, and voters under the age of 35 are overwhelmingly liberal. An incomplete analysis of the situation would lead people to infer that the ideological disparity is a function of patterned mutability in our personal ideology based on age, both feeding into and fed by a general image of older people as sour, rigid, and intolerant.

Follow-up research from multiple sources from 2007 onward, with controls for general levels of education and providing data for the same individuals at different ages and life stages, have compellingly corroborated these findings: we're mostly fixed (to the extent that in 30 years or so, as today's young voters migrate into the ages where people become reliable voters, today's american conservatism will be D.O.A.) but our fixedness is not something that calcifies notably with age, and what ideological drift we have is a liberalizing trend.

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Anthonie
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Thanks for the study info, Samprimary.

Most of the time when people stand on data to make erroneous claims like "We become more conservative as we age," there is a conflation of cross-sectional and longitudinal data. (NOM purports such a ridiculous claim that youth of today who support gay marriage will grow to oppose it as they age.)

A common example we use in intro stats here at USU:
A researcher looks over a set of cross sectional data and notices that there is a significantly lower percentage of older left handed people compared to younger left-handed people. Thus, he concludes, "As people age, there is some tendency for them to switch from being left handed to being right handed."

Of course, what he was really observing was a reflection of the shift in culture: several decades ago, being left-handed was frowned upon and many children were forced use their right hands.

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RivalOfTheRose
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Thanks samp, that seems reasonable.
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The Rabbit
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quote:
Our fixedness is not something that calcifies notably with age, and what ideological drift we have is a liberalizing trend.
I wonder to what extent this is an artifact of the broader societal trend. Attitudes toward race, diversity, religion and sexuality have changed rather dramatically in America over the past 80 years. I think it would be nearly impossible in our society for someone born in the 1930s not to have developed a more liberal attitude toward things like divorce, single parenthood, inter-racial marriage and extra-marital sex as they've aged.
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The Rabbit
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I think the question is very complicated because in America an awful lot of things are packaged together as "conservative" or "liberal" that don't necessarily make any logical sense.

Historically, conservatism places the greatest trust in traditions, laws, rules and established institutions as the best means of ensuring human well being. Liberalism, trusts the power of human ingenuity, creativity and reason to improve the human condition. Conservatism is fundamentally risk averse. To a classical conservative, any change is potentially dangerous and should be undertaken cautiously with small gradual steps. Liberalism sees risks as essential for progress. Classical liberals believe that traditions, rules and institutions limit human potential and impede progress. The liberal attitude is a fundamentally more positive view of human nature. Classical conservatives see rules, traditions and institutions as essential, and believe that without them people would become degenerate, selfish, hedonistic animals. Classical Liberals see rules, traditions and institutions as barriers to progress and that given more freedom humans will become smarter, more productive and more ethical.

If you look at the political agendas of the left and right in America, there is no consistent pattern of conservatism and liberalism. Its a total jumbled mess.

For example, I would think that a classical conservative attitude would favor environmental conservation. A genuine conservative would see altering the natural environment as "high risk". The precautionary principle is a fundamentally conservative principle so it kind of boggles my mind that American "conservatives" reject out of hand any proposal based such a conservative principle.

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The Rabbit
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I think age is a factor in peoples aversion to risk, but its not a constant trend from youth to old age.

It's strictly anecdotal, but I've observed that people in their teens and early twenties find risk taking fun and exciting. As they move into their thirties and forties, the balance shifts. Risk becomes a source of anxiety and worry rather than thrill and excitement, then sometime around fifty (mid-life), risks start to seem a lot more inviting again. Finally people become a more risk averse again in old age when they become more physically vulnerable due to failing health.

Based on my strictly anecdotal observations, the changes are somewhat more pronounced in men than women. They are also more pronounced when dealing with physical and social risks than more esoteric issues like investment and politics.

I haven't been able to find anyone who's looked at this question scientifically but I hypothesize that its something that is biologically programmed and that changes our physiological response. In my own life, I noticed some time around 30 that I no longer enjoyed an adrenaline rush very much, it made be feel more anxious than thrilled. Now at 50, I'm starting to enjoy the affects of adrenaline more again. Maybe its just me, I'm sure that there is a huge amount of individual variation but if my experience is at all common, it would explain a lot of human behavior.

Here is my basic theory. A Human individual is more likely to survive and pass on their genes if they are risk averse. But as a species, we have thrived largely because some individuals have taken risks. As a species, we are distinctive in two very important ways. Our young are unable to live without adult care for a very very long time and we are far more dependent on learned behaviors than instinct. I think those two factors explain why humans have developed complex societies. Without those complex societies the difficulty of protecting and teaching our children would have made our survival as a species unlikely. The success of our species relies almost entirely on intense nurturing of our children. Taking risks has allowed us as a species to develop skills that have helped our children flourish, but we had to be alive and healthy for a long time after our children were born in order to pass on those skills. I think the result is that we are biologically programmed to be more risk averse during our prime child rearing years. Older and younger members of the community can take personal risks. When those risks lead to new knowledge and skills, the whole community benefits but the community will suffer less when the risk fails if the risk taker doesn't leave behind young children.

Sadly, I can't find any actual scientific studies of this question. All the studies tend to compare people in their 20s or 30s to people in their 60s or 80s. No one has looked to see if risk aversion peaks during child rearing age. The hypothesis is consistent with the data and theories about difference in risk aversion between men and women but no one has looked at the question of whether risk aversion increases during the prime child rearing years.

[ March 13, 2012, 11:13 AM: Message edited by: The Rabbit ]

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kmbboots
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quote:
Originally posted by Dogbreath:
I've become considerably more liberal.

So have I.

ETA: Perhaps I should clarify. I have always been socially liberal but have become more liberal in terms of what we, as a society, should be doing for the poor. I was almost libertarian before I actually met poor people.

[ March 13, 2012, 11:16 AM: Message edited by: kmbboots ]

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The Rabbit
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quote:
Originally posted by kmbboots:
quote:
Originally posted by Dogbreath:
I've become considerably more liberal.

So have I.
I was a Marxist/Anarcho-syndicalist in my teens. There wasn't any where undisputedly more liberal to go from there. My views have changed but its hard to say whether I've become more liberal or more conservative. I've definitely become more pragmatic and less idealistic. When I was younger, I was a lot more confident that there were simple solutions to social problems. I was also a lot more optimistically naive about human nature.
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Synesthesia
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I grow more skeptical with age, not so much conservative.
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Lyrhawn
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I've radicalized much more even in the last six months since starting grad school.

Santorum was right, I AM being indoctrinated. Then again, I don't know how anyone can study US History and not be a radical.

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Orincoro
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quote:
Originally posted by The Rabbit:
quote:
Originally posted by kmbboots:
quote:
Originally posted by Dogbreath:
I've become considerably more liberal.

So have I.
I was a Marxist/Anarcho-syndicalist in my teens. There wasn't any where undisputedly more liberal to go from there. My views have changed but its hard to say whether I've become more liberal or more conservative. I've definitely become more pragmatic and less idealistic. When I was younger, I was a lot more confident that there were simple solutions to social problems. I was also a lot more optimistically naive about human nature.
Typically what annoys me most about young liberals is their often ridiculous overconfidence in relatively flat assertions about what does and does not work.

But then, I find that quality to be a thousand times more irksom in older conservatives. NaÔvetť is one thing, ignorance and willful stupidity another.

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Stone_Wolf_
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I read Atlas Shrugged in my late teens, and was very conservative...loudmouth teenage style. I have definitely become more liberal as I grew up. I still consider myself a Librarian, by ideology, not association with the political party.
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Xavier
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Rabbit, you might be interested in this National Geographic article. It talks a lot about what you mention above about the differences between young and adult behavior, and what drives the difference.
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The Rabbit
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quote:
Originally posted by Stone_Wolf_:
I still consider myself a Librarian, by ideology, not association with the political party.

I had no idea that Librarians had a distinctive political ideology or party. I presume their platform strongly favors universal literacy, free access to books, complete open exchange of knowledge and information and strict enforcement of library fines.
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advice for robots
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[Big Grin]

I've drifted to the center over the years and prefer to cherry-pick my views.

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BlueWizard
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Let's make a very important distinction here, there is a HUGE difference between becoming personally conservative and becoming a Conservative.

Though there are exception, time and the weight of life and responsibility, make people more conservative in their personal actions, but frequently more liberal in their attitudes to the actions of others.

For example, my mother is a devote Christian who is in her late 80's, and she sees no problem with Gay Marriage. She is able to separate personal beliefs from the needs of Secular Law. She can be personally conservative, but liberal towards the actions of others.

So, back to my central point, the fact that I grow personally more conservative with time has nothing to do with my very liberal attitudes toward life.

A conservative does not necessarily equal a Conservative. In fact, I think most modern alleged Conservatives are nutjobs who have been brainwashed, or individual who are acting out of self-serving motivations. Real true Conservatives have been shouted into the background by fanatics.

But then, that's just my opinion.

Steve/bluewizard

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The Rabbit
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quote:
Originally posted by Xavier:
Rabbit, you might be interested in this National Geographic article. It talks a lot about what you mention above about the differences between young and adult behavior, and what drives the difference.

Thanks Xavier. I'm pretty familiar with most of what's in that article. As an educator, adolescent brain development is something that has interested me for a long time. There are a couple of things that are pretty well established from a scientific perspective. Adolescents have worse judgement and are less risk averse than adults in their mid to late twenties. Women of all ages tend to be more risk averse than men of that age.

What I haven't been able to find is anyone studying what happens to people as they enter middle age. There is lots of anecdotal stuff about the "mid-life crisis" which basically amounts to people in their late 40s and 50s choosing to take more risks. They might leave the stability of a marriage, decide to switch from a stable job to start their own business, or resume a dangerous hobby they enjoyed in college.

All the studies I can find compare adults over thirty to adults under thirty. No one seems to be asking whether there is a second transition to higher risk behavior around 50.

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BlackBlade
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quote:
Originally posted by Lyrhawn:
I've radicalized much more even in the last six months since starting grad school.

Santorum was right, I AM being indoctrinated. Then again, I don't know how anyone can study US History and not be a radical.

Modern Americans and their perceptions of "conservative" and "liberal" I am convinced are in large part a function of US History as taught in school which is,

Revolution -----> Constitution -----> Traveling West-----> Civil War ----> Great Depression -----> WWII -----> Modern America. There's so much political development amongst the general populace that is completely ignored. During the Civil War we talk about attitudes towards slavery and state's rights but nobody discusses anything else. McCarthyism if it's even discussed comes decades after a just as relevant socialist uprising in the United States, where worker rights vs corporate rights were in de facto war with each other.

I'm probably going on for too long, but it'd be so nice if history classes found more room for Teddy Roosevelt, Eugene Debs, Upton Sinclair, Woodrow Wilson, Herbert Hoover, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

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Stone_Wolf_
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Stupid autocorrect on my phone...libertarian was the word I was trying for...although the way you describe the librarian party sounds pretty good.
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DDDaysh
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It's interesting to me that the data doesn't support this conclusion. In my personal experiences, I've found it to be unfortunately true.

My grandfather censors his ridiculously racist remarks less and less with age and becomes more and more paranoid about the government intruding into our lives.

My own parents are less and less accepting of social deviation as they get older, particularly my father. Likewise, his ideas about the fiscal aspect of government and taxes are increasingly conservative every year. This may be due to the fact that his income has risen steadily over the last 15 years or so though, so maybe it has less to do with age and more to do with increasing income brackets.

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The Rabbit
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DDDaysh, I'm guessing from what you said that your grandfather is quite elderly and possibly suffering from a general decline in his mental abilities. It seems likely that he says more racist or paranoid things because his ability to self-censor has decreased and not because he's actually becoming more racist and paranoid.

There are some interesting studies that have tried to control for the effects of declining cognitive ability versus general aging by matching elderly people with younger people that have similar cognitive abilities.

[ March 13, 2012, 03:36 PM: Message edited by: The Rabbit ]

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The Rabbit
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quote:
Modern Americans and their perceptions of "conservative" and "liberal" I am convinced are in large part a function of US History as taught in school which is,

Revolution -----> Constitution -----> Traveling West-----> Civil War ----> Great Depression -----> WWII -----> Modern America.

You forgot -- Columbus and Pilgrims -- but I agree with you completely. I think there must have been at least one unit of American History or civics in every year I was in school and until I hit my Junior year in high school, there was never any mention of anything but heroes and heroism. I roll my eyes when people point to high school classes that assign books like "A People's History of America" as proof of a rampant liberal agenda. If the only American History kids ever learned was from Howard Zinn, they'd have a legitimate complaint. When the school system spends 12 years teaching "Rah Rah Rah, America's the greatest country in the world", exposing the kids to a few alternative views in their final year does not constitute a liberal bias.

I think the problem is that conservatives and liberals have different objectives in teaching and studying history.

Conservatives think the primary point of teaching US history is to mold kids into loyal citizens. They think the parts of history that promote pride in our country are what is most important. It's not that they think the bad parts of American History aren't factual, its that they think the most important truth is that America is overall really good despite the bad parts. They don't think kids will learn the truth that America is good if we teach the bad parts.

Liberals think the primary point of teaching history is to promote progress. They think its important to understand both what's good and bad about the past so that we can make the future better.

Conservatives tend to think that unconditional loyalty is an essential trait of a good citizen. Liberals tend to think that good citizens must work to improve their country even if that means being disloyal to particular institutions and traditions.

Conservatives tend to see studying the problems in our history as trying to drag the country down. Liberals tend to see studying the problems as a the only way to actually improve the country.

Overall, I think the conservative strategy of promoting pride and loyalty by hiding the bad stuff backfires an awful lot of the time. You can't hide the bad stuff forever and when people do eventually learn about it, a lot of them get outraged by the deception and assume that all the good stuff must of have been lies as well.

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kmbboots
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quote:
Originally posted by The Rabbit:
quote:
Modern Americans and their perceptions of "conservative" and "liberal" I am convinced are in large part a function of US History as taught in school which is,

Revolution -----> Constitution -----> Traveling West-----> Civil War ----> Great Depression -----> WWII -----> Modern America.

You forgot -- Columbus and Pilgrims -- but I agree with you completely. I think there must have been at least one unit of American History or civics in every year I was in school and until I hit my Junior year in high school, there was never any mention of anything but heroes and heroism. I roll my eyes when people point to high school classes that assign books like "A People's History of America" as proof of a rampant liberal agenda. If the only American History kids ever learned was from Howard Zinn, they'd have a legitimate complaint. When the school system spends 12 years teaching "Rah Rah Rah, America's the greatest country in the world", exposing the kids to a few alternative views in their final year does not constitute a liberal bias.

This. Well put.
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Orincoro
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quote:
Originally posted by The Rabbit:
[I think the problem is that conservatives and liberals have different objectives in teaching and studying history.

It's funny, I'm actually slightly in favor of a little *more* civic indoctrination in schools. The problem I see with the conservative viewpoint on that is that the focus is, as you say, very much of heroic individuals and heroism. Popular movements get largely ignored, unless their leaders or a few particular acts are interesting (The original Boston Tea Party, or MLK are mentioned, but monopoly and union busting largely ignored).

That has been one of the *few* things I have found advantageous about the educational system of the more socialist country where I live: the schools make some amount of effort to instill a balanced, yet national viewpoint in civics classes. As an elementary level teacher, in the past I taught lessons on what it means to be Czech, and it was very much about the tribal history of the people- not about their politics, which are changeable, but about the things that make them who they are: their art, their food, their language, etc.

Of course, such a small culture has an easier time of teaching its youth what that culture entails. In America, our culture is going to be significantly transformed by every new generation. But I think Americans might benefit from more of this kind of teaching, even if only on the local level.

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Hobbes
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Rabbit, I agree with your overall point, but your post strikes me as an extremely partisan view of the subject. I assume you're using the definition of 'conservative' as it applies in todayís political discourse rather than itís denotation but even then it seems quite unfair to decree that those on one side just want to mass produce blind loyalty while the other side want a fair and nuanced discussion to help move the country forward. And knowing quite a few people who fall on what you call the conservative side, I can think of no one whose position came down to the impact on the loyalty of our children.

I know growing up, my biggest complaint with history books wasnít the amount of positive or negative anything in them so much as the complete lack of history. It seemed like whole books were basically just pandering to special interests rather than trying to teach anything. I recall one book (this was extreme enough to stick with me all these years) which had one chapter on World War II. The first two thirds of that chapter were entirely focused American womenís contribution to the war effort. The last third began with D-Day, had a section on the war in Europe and jumped right into the results of the division of Germany. No talk of war in Russia, no talk of appeasement, no talk of Africa, and certainly no mention of the war in the Pacific outside of one short section on the atomic bomb.

Itís not that I think womenís interest groups have ruined everything, that example was merely happenstance. Rather itís that at least where I grew up (which is a very well-funded, and high-scoring scholastic area) no one in my class learned any history from history class. At this point, I honestly donít care if the whole class is on the trail of tears and disenfranchisement of non-land-holding-white-males, Iíd be happy if I thought actual history was being taught in grade school.

Hobbes [Smile]

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Lyrhawn
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quote:
Originally posted by Orincoro:
quote:
Originally posted by The Rabbit:
[I think the problem is that conservatives and liberals have different objectives in teaching and studying history.

It's funny, I'm actually slightly in favor of a little *more* civic indoctrination in schools. The problem I see with the conservative viewpoint on that is that the focus is, as you say, very much of heroic individuals and heroism. Popular movements get largely ignored, unless their leaders or a few particular acts are interesting (The original Boston Tea Party, or MLK are mentioned, but monopoly and union busting largely ignored).

That has been one of the *few* things I have found advantageous about the educational system of the more socialist country where I live: the schools make some amount of effort to instill a balanced, yet national viewpoint in civics classes. As an elementary level teacher, in the past I taught lessons on what it means to be Czech, and it was very much about the tribal history of the people- not about their politics, which are changeable, but about the things that make them who they are: their art, their food, their language, etc.

Of course, such a small culture has an easier time of teaching its youth what that culture entails. In America, our culture is going to be significantly transformed by every new generation. But I think Americans might benefit from more of this kind of teaching, even if only on the local level.

I think the disconnect there is that Conservatives don't want to teach civics as it relates to civil participation, they want to teach civics as it relates to a creating a citizenry grounded in subservience to national authority. If Conservatives cared about civics as it pertained to good citizenship, they wouldn't be the leading advocates of disfranchisement efforts across the nation, and wouldn't have spent the last 100+ years devoted to that effort. They just want the trains to run on time, they don't want inclusive democracy, because that means messy democracy. I suppose some people will also say it's self-serving, because the groups they seem to disempower overwhelmingly vote for the other team, but I think it has less to do with left/right politics than it does with authority.

I don't have a problem with teaching a national ethos or ideology, so long as we do it in context. Lincoln was the one who said that the Declaration of Independence wasn't a statement of the way things were, but of what we'd like them to be, and how we get there through constant striving. There's nothing wrong with saying "these are our principles, at times we've failed to live up to them, it's your job to make sure we never fail again." To me, that creates far more motivated, active, invested citizens than the spoon-fed crap we usually give them.

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kmbboots
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Hobbes,

I am not sure now is the best time to be making the "all sides are equally bad" argument.


http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/23/tea-party-tennessee-textbooks-slavery_n_1224157.html


quote:
A little more than a year after the conservative-led state board of education in Texas approved massive changes to its school textbooks to put slavery in a more positive light, a group of Tea Party activists in Tennessee has renewed its push to whitewash school textbooks. The group is seeking to remove references to slavery and mentions of the country's founders being slave owners.

According to reports, Hal Rounds, the Fayette County attorney and spokesman for the group, said during a recent news conference that there has been "an awful lot of made-up criticism about, for instance, the founders intruding on the Indians or having slaves or being hypocrites in one way or another."


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Vadon
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quote:
Originally posted by BlackBlade:
Modern Americans and their perceptions of "conservative" and "liberal" I am convinced are in large part a function of US History as taught in school which is,

Revolution -----> Constitution -----> Traveling West-----> Civil War ----> Great Depression -----> WWII -----> Modern America. There's so much political development amongst the general populace that is completely ignored. During the Civil War we talk about attitudes towards slavery and state's rights but nobody discusses anything else. McCarthyism if it's even discussed comes decades after a just as relevant socialist uprising in the United States, where worker rights vs corporate rights were in de facto war with each other.

This was a complaint of mine throughout all of my primary education. Each time I was required to take a US History course it followed this exact formula. My issue is that the way in which my teachers taught the subject material was by pure memorization of significant dates and figures. They made sure I knew when important events happened and what they were, but they never really talked about why it was important.

My first year of college, I saw a class that was called "History of the American People." Instead of using the usual markers of wars to create a timeline through history, the professor broke apart our history in terms of waves of immigration and how these waves influenced life in the United States. It was a refreshing change because when we talked about a wave of immigration, we covered the effects of the influx of new Americans. Instead of being a class where I memorized dates, I learned about movements and how they informed the American identity. One of the highlights of the class was when we talked about the Iroquois. I'll be upfront in saying that in learning of the French-Indian War in high school, I learned little more than the fact it was where George Washington made his military mark, and that colonists were forced to contribute to paying for the war. My history classes never talked about the tribes of the Iroquois and their connection to the revolution. I'd guess this would be due in part to the tendency to highlight American heroism in history classes.

More than anything, what I'd like to see in History classes is for there to be more than simple memorization. When students complain and ask why "this stuff" is ever going to matter, I have trouble coming up with an answer other than to say knowing these facts will help in trivia games. What does matter is showing how events in our history inform what we are today. Showing the conflict between ideas and movements is far more interesting (and I think useful) than learning when Eli Whitney made the cotton gin or what years the "Gilded Era" took place in.

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BlackBlade
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I think the essence of history should be a discussion of what actually happened, preceded by a reading assignment with primary historical documents heavily featured. This is then followed by discussing how events today are connected to the period being discussed.
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Altáriël of Dorthonion
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I became much more liberal as I grew older. I grew up in a conservative Catholic family. Although we hardly went to church, and we're not fundamentalists in the least bit, we were still religious.

Then I went to college, had my "Are you really there God? Been waiting for a reply or a sign for almost 20 years now... They say you exist but, I've never seen anything that proves you do... Please don't strike me down for questioning your existence!," moment, and I decided I was no longer a believer. Very liberating moment.

I'm not the kind of atheist that dislikes people who are religious, but that's probably because I only comingle with other non-believers and I never discuss religion or politics with my family.

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Lyrhawn
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quote:
Originally posted by BlackBlade:
I think the essence of history should be a discussion of what actually happened, preceded by a reading assignment with primary historical documents heavily featured. This is then followed by discussing how events today are connected to the period being discussed.

You've obviously never sat through a historical theory class.

What you just said is soooo much more controversial than most people probably think it is.

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Vadon
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quote:
Originally posted by Lyrhawn:
quote:
Originally posted by BlackBlade:
I think the essence of history should be a discussion of what actually happened, preceded by a reading assignment with primary historical documents heavily featured. This is then followed by discussing how events today are connected to the period being discussed.

You've obviously never sat through a historical theory class.

What you just said is soooo much more controversial than most people probably think it is.

I'm interested to know what's controversial about what he said. I have not been in a historical theory class, so I suppose it's to be expected that I don't see the controversy.
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Lyrhawn
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Well, let me ask you this: How do you know what actually happened?
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BlackBlade
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quote:
Originally posted by Lyrhawn:
quote:
Originally posted by BlackBlade:
I think the essence of history should be a discussion of what actually happened, preceded by a reading assignment with primary historical documents heavily featured. This is then followed by discussing how events today are connected to the period being discussed.

You've obviously never sat through a historical theory class.

What you just said is soooo much more controversial than most people probably think it is.

Oh, I'm sure when you get down to the nitty gritty it's naive and idealistic if not impractical. If I taught history I would totally make the class watch stuff like Too Late To Apologize: A Declaration on youtube or segments of HBO's John Adams, or parts of 1776. Also, students who opted to write reports about what was wrong with The Patriot would get extra credit.

My AM Studies teacher in high school sometimes tied a book to a time period and helped us see the broader historical context. It's why books like Grapes of Wrath and The Jungle are just incredible if the historical context is understood.

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BlackBlade
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quote:
Originally posted by Lyrhawn:
Well, let me ask you this: How do you know what actually happened?

Well obviously in regards to the birth of the United States, Franklin smote the ground and out sprang George Washington, full grown and on his horse. Franklin then electrified him with his miraculous lightning rod, and the three of them - Franklin, Washington, and the horse - conducted the entire Revolution by themselves.

I didn't realize any of these facts in dispute. [Smile]

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Lyrhawn
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Absolutely, using novels in concert with history lessons can be a phenomenal teaching tool in a number of ways. Plain historical text can rarely get emotions and feel across the way a novel can, though journalists, I think, sometimes have a better go of it than trained historians (but we're still better than they are [Smile] ).

And that's probably my favorite quote from 1776 for oh so many reasons.

My larger point is that ascertaining "what actually happened" is nearly impossible. All you can do is research and come up with a best guess as to what you think happened, as interpreted from a particular historian's point of view. So in that, saying "but I'm going to teach the truth, not like that other guy!" might feel good, but it's such a loaded statement, because historians aren't a monolithic group, and we frequently disagree about things great and small. So at some point, "truth" to you is going to mean throwing your support behind a particular narrative.

Pursuant to that, we need to teach students that history changes in the present as our understanding of it evolves. This ties into a broader lesson about critical thinking. That often there is no RIGHT answer like math or the sciences tends to drive students towards, there is often a BEST answer, one best argued and best supported by evidence. Teach students the methodology and the controversy so that when you actually teach them the history, they know what you mean and don't take everything you say as magical truth.

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BlackBlade
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I should have clarified that when I say "what actually happened" I mean the teacher does a reasonable job keeping up on scholarship and explains it's our best understanding of the event. While history is set in stone, our history books are snap shot of that stone. Our perception of that stone improves as we look at pictures from multiple angles, and develop the image to include color and to appear crisper.

BTW Lyrhawn, there's a series of audio cassetes / cds that were scripted by Orson Scott Card way back in his early years entitled "Dramatized American History" that I found exceptionally good for about junior high to high school level history.

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Lyrhawn
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quote:
Originally posted by BlackBlade:
I should have clarified that when I say "what actually happened" I mean the teacher does a reasonable job keeping up on scholarship and explains it's our best understanding of the event. While history is set in stone, our history books are snap shot of that stone. Our perception of that stone improves as we look at pictures from multiple angles, and develop the image to include color and to appear crisper.

BTW Lyrhawn, there's a series of audio cassetes / cds that were scripted by Orson Scott Card way back in his early years entitled "Dramatized American History" that I found exceptionally good for about junior high to high school level history.

That's much more delightfully nuanced. That's also a method of teaching I wasn't specifically taught until grad school, though I figured it out from undergrad lessons.

Still, K-12 rarely teaches a view of history so nuanced, which means most undergrads get to college having no clue about anything.

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Orincoro
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quote:
Originally posted by Vadon:
quote:
Originally posted by Lyrhawn:
quote:
Originally posted by BlackBlade:
I think the essence of history should be a discussion of what actually happened, preceded by a reading assignment with primary historical documents heavily featured. This is then followed by discussing how events today are connected to the period being discussed.

You've obviously never sat through a historical theory class.

What you just said is soooo much more controversial than most people probably think it is.

I'm interested to know what's controversial about what he said. I have not been in a historical theory class, so I suppose it's to be expected that I don't see the controversy.
(from a literary theory and musicology background)

By shaping a syllabus, the instructor, by definition, offers a perspective and a set of substantive arguments defending that position, even if the entire substance of that position is tacitly implied in their choices of sources.

You canny teach without making judgements about what is relevant, and you cannot judge relevance based on a complete familiarity with the facts- there are always too many. Instead, you collect and process enough trustworthy and interesting analysis of fact and theory, and synthesize a contribution that develops a unique position, or deconstructs existing positions.

Imagine, I'm a teacher of early 20th century classical musicology, a narrow enough field. Most of my teaching *would* consist of primary sources. How do I choose them? Can I listen to everything in my field? Not in a lifetime. Can I en extend my knowledge to the primary sources of all artistic movements f the same period? No. And can I do the same for the whole historical period, not to mention that preceding and that following my period of nearest? No, no, no.

So I make choices. And those choices are based on imperfect and subjective decisions based on what other views I trust- what other analysis already exists.

Or else, you aren't really studying history. History is endured n what people have said about it. The nterpretation f history is a part of history. Can I learn the "facts" of WW2 without reading Churchill? And if I do, don't I then have to listen to his views n history? Is not reading his views also reading factual history? Analysis is fact- as well as opinion. There is no primary source of history.

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jebus202
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No, there are still primary sources.
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Orincoro
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Heh. There are primary sources. I repeat my exact words, and I thank you to mind the context of those words: "there is no primary source of history."
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Vadon
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quote:
Originally posted by Orincoro:
quote:
Originally posted by Vadon:
quote:
Originally posted by Lyrhawn:
quote:
Originally posted by BlackBlade:
I think the essence of history should be a discussion of what actually happened, preceded by a reading assignment with primary historical documents heavily featured. This is then followed by discussing how events today are connected to the period being discussed.

You've obviously never sat through a historical theory class.

What you just said is soooo much more controversial than most people probably think it is.

I'm interested to know what's controversial about what he said. I have not been in a historical theory class, so I suppose it's to be expected that I don't see the controversy.
(from a literary theory and musicology background)

By shaping a syllabus, the instructor, by definition, offers a perspective and a set of substantive arguments defending that position, even if the entire substance of that position is tacitly implied in their choices of sources.

You canny teach without making judgements about what is relevant, and you cannot judge relevance based on a complete familiarity with the facts- there are always too many. Instead, you collect and process enough trustworthy and interesting analysis of fact and theory, and synthesize a contribution that develops a unique position, or deconstructs existing positions.

Imagine, I'm a teacher of early 20th century classical musicology, a narrow enough field. Most of my teaching *would* consist of primary sources. How do I choose them? Can I listen to everything in my field? Not in a lifetime. Can I en extend my knowledge to the primary sources of all artistic movements f the same period? No. And can I do the same for the whole historical period, not to mention that preceding and that following my period of nearest? No, no, no.

So I make choices. And those choices are based on imperfect and subjective decisions based on what other views I trust- what other analysis already exists.

Or else, you aren't really studying history. History is endured n what people have said about it. The nterpretation f history is a part of history. Can I learn the "facts" of WW2 without reading Churchill? And if I do, don't I then have to listen to his views n history? Is not reading his views also reading factual history? Analysis is fact- as well as opinion. There is no primary source of history.

But I don't think that BB's position violates anything that you've said. He's not claiming that there is a primary source that presents historical fact. There are facts of the matter in history, whether we have an accurate account of those facts is a separate issue. Ultimately, you're going to be covering issues from biased perspectives. But if you're going to try to get at the heart of "what actually happened" you need to find sources to motivate the discussion. I think that primary sources (by that I mean sources that were around in the era being discussed) can be a valuable resource. BB didn't say they were the only aspect, but something heavily featured. I take no issue with trying to establish context through the writing of the era. But once you've had this discussion on "what really happened," it can sometimes be an entirely alien concept to the students unless you try to ground the discussion into something more relevant. You could use novels, current events, or pop culture for all I care. But I think finding a way to show the relevance of the issue you're exploring is a valuable aspect to teaching history.

Is there going to be bias? Of course! The number of times I've watched my professors bicker with one another whether Thomas Hobbes was an egoist or not is mind-numbingly stupid. There's a truth of the matter, and people have different guesses on what the truth is. But does the fact that there are subjective accounts on historical events mean that people are purposefully promoting a biased agenda? I don't think so.

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Lyrhawn
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quote:
Originally posted by Orincoro:
Heh. There are primary sources. I repeat my exact words, and I thank you to mind the context of those words: "there is no primary source of history."

Well, there is still a difference between a primary source and a secondary source. You just need to understand the different baggage that comes with each. And often, the bias of primary sources is as much a part of historical truth as the mythical objective Truth we all seek.
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