Nel's New Day

February 18, 2019

Tell Scholastic to Publish Accurate Educational Materials

When I was young, we celebrated the birthdays of two presidents born in February, Abraham Lincoln (2/12/1809) and George Washington (2/22/1731), the latter being a national holiday for the past 140 years. In the past few decades, Lincoln seems to have lost his popularity, and only seven states celebrate his birthday. Even “George Washington Day” has largely become “President’s” or “Presidents’” Day in the states—although three states don’t celebrate the holiday.

For over a century, children were taught the myth that Washington said he could not tell a lie. Washington’s storyteller went overboard with this tale, but Washington insisted on paying the new nation’s war debts, despite his colleagues suggesting that the U.S. renege on payments to both its new citizens and French investors in the Revolutionary War.

The man inaugurated as the 45th president of the United States Presidents Day, the current occupant of the White House, reportedly told 8,158 lies during the first two years after his inauguration—almost 6,000 during his second year. That’s almost 16.5 a day, nearly triple the pace.

Almost two years ago, Scholastic Books, well-known in the past for being a reputable publisher of books for youth, came out two books by Joanne Mattern, both called President Donald Trump. The first, for ages 6-7, is in the Rookie Biographies series, and the second in True Books series is for children ages 8-10.

The younger book begins with this poem:

His buildings reached into the sky.

His businesses just grew and grew.

Then Trump became our president–

People wanted something new.

The first prose text states:

“Meet Donald Trump. Donald Trump is a famous entrepreneur. He is also a television personality. In 2015, Trump surprised many people when he decided to run for president. In November 2016, he won the election. Donald Trump became the 45th president of the United States.”

And continues:

“Donald Trump inspired his supporters to try something new. He promised them a better future. Millions of Americans are counting on him to help improve their lives.”

Trump supporters would say that this is all true. The book, however, just tells one part of the story, omitting how many children were frightened because of his promises to get rid of people of color (aka threats) and the hostile language that he used for everyone except white people. At least 1,000 people wrote Scholastic with their outrage about the book’s propaganda.

Scholastic responded to the negative comments by claiming “that discussing controversial aspects of any public figure’s life isn’t appropriate for our youngest readers” and that the True Books biography for older readers would “delve deeper into the controversial aspects of the Trump campaign and presidency” in their True Books biography of Trump for readers in grades 3-5. Scholastic failed in its promise to “delve deeper,” and they are wrong that Trump’s white supremacist statements aren’t “appropriate for our youngest readers.” Many children suffer from Trump’s push toward white supremacist because bullies—even ages 6 and 7—who listen to him.

The book failed to address how builders working for Trump being unfairly treated or how Trump discriminated against people of color who wanted to live in his buildings. Scholastic got around this by not mentioning people of color at all. Forty percent of people in the U.S. were ignored. The statement that “many people were happy” about the election silenced the dissent and resistance regarding the election except for one picture. Avoiding the hard issues about race—that most children of color know—supports the dominance of the ruling (aka white) class.

Kathleen Nganga and Sarah Cornelius wrote this review about the “True Biographies” version of Trump:

“The book dedicates 10 glowing pages to Trump’s business career, high rises, and casinos, but does not include a single detail about housing discrimination claims, his unfulfilled business contracts, and customer grievances such as the lawsuits against Trump University. In fact, the one time the book mentions Trump’s bankruptcies and alludes to organizational troubles, the book removes all responsibility from Trump by solely attributing these problems to the ‘weakened’ real estate market.

“There is a page dedicated to New York City’s Central Park where Trump is credited with rebuilding the Wollman ice-skating rink in 1986. No mention is made of another Central Park story, Trump’s crusade against the Central Park Five (all teenagers at the time), including spending $85,000 for full page ads in all four New York daily newspapers in 1989 calling for a reinstatement of the death penalty. This is a crucial story for understanding Trump’s use of racism and law and order rhetoric to garner support. There is also no mention of Trump’s lead role in the Birther Movement (questioning President Obama’s legitimacy as an American citizen). Both of these stories are relevant to his biography since they contributed to his base and eventual election as president. By dedicating most of the book to Trump’s fancy buildings and T.V. shows, the implication is that his business experience and stardom led to his election. While there are a couple of references to prejudice and discrimination, racism is not mentioned once.

“Regarding the election, Mattern writes: ‘[Trump] had no political experience. He had never held a public office or taken part in political activities. For this reason, some people thought he was not qualified to be president. Others loved the idea of an outsider coming in to shake up the way the government was run.’ In contrast, after detailing Hillary Clinton’s professional experiences the author states, ‘… many people did not like Clinton. They felt she was not trustworthy and would not bring enough changes to the government.’ While the book qualifies that “some people” were dissatisfied with Trump, dissatisfaction with Clinton is qualified with “many people.” This juxtaposition suggests that most people found Trump qualified and trustworthy….

“There is only one page dedicated to Trump’s campaign statements. It begins, ‘Trump made several statements during his campaign that were concerning to some people.’ That is an understatement. People were not only concerned, they were also demeaned, insulted, and threatened by these comments. It says, “For example, he promised to build a wall between the United States and Mexico to keep out illegal immigrants.” There is no reference to the language he used to describe women, Mexican immigrants, POWs, Muslims, people with disabilities, and more.

“This is also the only place in the 45-page book in which people of color are featured, and they are protesting. While protest imagery conveys important ideas of non-electoral forms of democratic engagement, it is significant that the book’s only visual reference of people of color is one of them engaging in disruptive protests and surrounded by police….”

Scholastic may have muzzled Mattern in the book’s content. An earlier draft of the Scholastic book indicates its “changes” in the final edition. In a prepub draft, a page called “Troubling Statements read:

“Some of Trump’s biggest supporters were white nationalists. Their comments and actions during and after the campaign were racist and often dangerous. Trump did little to speak against them.”

In the finished book, the heading was changed to “Campaign Statements,” and the text read, “Some of Trump’s critics felt he did not speak out against prejudicial people and groups strongly enough.”

Penguin Young Readers has chosen to not publish any books about Trump at this time, and even conservative Regnery, which published the Pence picture book about the family’s pet rabbit has no plans for a young readers’ biography of Trump. In an update about First Ladies, Kathleen Krull found little information other than she was the third wife, a supermodel, and the wealthiest.

An example of using “bare facts” methodology that Scholastic used in its two children’s books about Trump:

“Hitler was a powerful leader. He promised to lead the German people out of their economic depression. He particularly wanted to help Aryan citizens. Many people were happy with his leadership style.”

The best advice for publishers, to paraphrase an old saying, might be: “If you can’t say anything accurate, don’t say anything at all.”

Scholastic has misled children in other books. Hurricane Harvey’s devastation of Houston made no mention of climate change, and Scholastic partnered with the American Coal Federation to distribute educational materials about the benefits of coal with no reference to the dangers. Scholastic finally pulled A Birthday Cake for George Washington after complaints about the happy depictions of his slaves.

People are growing more and more upset about the poor education in the United States. You can protest a major publisher for its misrepresentation that helps children grow up ignorant. Created almost 100 years ago, the huge publishing conglomerate of Scholastic wields great power over education for children in the U.S. The company needs to hear from people regarding this practice of promoting inaccuracies in educational materials that purport to be nonfiction.  You can contact them here. They need to know that you care about children.

February 18, 2013

Thoughts about the Presidents

Today is Washington’s Birthday, a federal holiday created in 1880. Technically George Washington’s birthday isn’t until Friday, but in 1968 Congress moved all federal holidays to Mondays. Back when I was in school, we celebrated Abraham Lincoln’s birthday on February 12 and Washington’s birthday on the 22nd. Now people call the Monday before the 22nd “President’s Day” and ignore Lincoln’s birthday, but Congress never changed the name.

It’s a quiet day today. Congress has disappeared for ten days and can’t do any damage except for the stupid comments that keep coming out of their mouths. Because there’s the feeling that all presidents are commemorated on this day, here are a few facts about past presidents, sort of a mini-history/trivia lesson.

Although history books teach that George Washington was the first president of the United States, he was actually the eighth. The “Presidents under the Articles of Confederation” had the official title of “President of the United States in Congress Assembled.” Before these seven presidents there were 16 Presidents of the Continental Congress, but John Hanson was the ninth of these and the first to hold the title “President of the United States.” Hanson’s Birthday would postpone the federal holiday almost two months to April 14.

Although the Constitution requires that presidents be born U.S. citizens, the first seven presidents were not “natural-born citizens” of the United States, as the Constitution requires. Of course, that was because they were all born before there was a United States. Since then, however, controversies have arisen from time to time about this constitutional requirement.

Because the Constitution does not define “natural born,” the law has had to create a definition. The first one came from the Naturalization Act of 1790: “The children of citizens of the United States that may be born beyond sea, or out of the limits of the United States, shall be considered as natural born citizens.” Later Title Eight of the U.S. Code filled in some gaps.

The argument about presidential citizenship flared up after “birthers” declared that Barack Obama was not born in Hawaii and thus ineligible for the presidency. The Congressional Research Service (CRS) sent a memo, dated April 3, 2009, to Congress echoing the Naturalization Act and claiming that the definition of “natural born” would “include a person born abroad to parents who are United States citizens.”

President Obama was not the first president whose citizenship was questioned. The one other president who had only one U.S.-citizen parent, Chester A. Arthur, was rumored to have been born in Canada. Arthur became president after President Garfield was shot and killed.

If the place of birth were at issue, eligibility could have been questioned for Vice-President Al Gore, born outside of the United States in Washington, D.C. and for candidates Barry Goldwater, born in Arizona Territory, and George Romney, born in Mexico. The birthers never questioned the eligibility of John McCain to become president, who was born either at the Coco Solo Naval Air Station or in a civilian hospital in Colon City, Panama, according to his birth certificate. Neither place was identified as United States territory at the time although a 1937 law retroactively conferred citizenship on people born in the Canal Zone after February 26, 1904 and in the Republic of Panama after that date who had at least one U.S. citizen parent employed by the U.S. government or the Panama Railway Company.

One president was not even a U.S. citizen when he died. John Tyler, the 10th president, died in Virginia on January 8, 1862, as a citizen of the Southern Confederacy.

Over two dozen federal legislators have proposed constitutional amendments to change the requirement of natural-born citizenship for the presidency, usually because of a preference for a candidate. Rep. Jonathan Bingham (R-NY) introduced one in 1974 to allow Secretary of State Henry Kissinger to become eligible, and Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) presented the Equal Opportunity to Govern Amendment in 2003 to make then Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R-CA) eligible for the office.

By the 21st century, people expected the president to have college degrees, but ten presidents have not earned one, the most recent being Harry S. Truman. While in office, eight presidents owned slaves before it became illegal, and another four others also owned slaves while they were not sitting presidents. The last president to own slaves while in office, Zachary Taylor, had 100 on a Mississippi plantation. Ulysses S. Grant, freed his slave, William Jones, in 1859.

Only one president, James Buchanan, was never married. He was described as nearly inseparable from Alabama senator William T. King, who was known as “his wife.” Documents show that Buchanan was undeniably “the first gay president,” not Barack Obama as a sensationalist Newsweek cover proclaimed.

Four presidents became president after they lost the popular vote, the most recent being George W. Bush. The others were John Quincy Adams, Rutherford B. Hayes, and Benjamin Harrison—all in the 19th century. Two presidents, Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton, were impeached and acquitted, and a third, Richard Nixon, resigned before the impeachment process moved to trial.

In this case, history is stranger than fiction when one considers the frenzied impeachment of Bill Clinton during the last few years of the 20th century.

In honor of my left-handed partner, I want to add that eight presidents, including President Obama, have also been left-handed.

As of 2013, not one woman has served as U.S. president, unless you include the powerful wives of Woodrow Wilson and Ronald Reagan. In the rest of the world, women have been elected president in Argentina, Finland, Iceland, Indonesia, Ireland, Liberia, Malawi, Malta, Nicaragua, Philippines, South Korea, and Sri Lanka. Another 50 countries have had women heads of state. Another 13 countries have had women representatives of heads of state. Six Muslim countries have elected women heads of state. 

Yellow: Female head of government; Blue: Female head of state; Light Green: Female head of state/government (combined); Dark Green: Female head of state and female head of government

Yellow: Female head of government; Blue: Female head of state; Light Green: Female head of state/government (combined); Dark Green: Female head of state and female head of government

Rumors proliferate, however, that former First Lady and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, with an approval rating of over 70 percent, may be a 2016 presidential candidate. Would she run against Ryan? Or Rubio? Or Christie? Or another Bush? Or another Paul? Or, or, or?

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