TRUTH NOW: Interview of Gore Vidal by Linda Sutton ©2006, Linda Sutton
TRANSCRIPT: Author Gore Vidal is interviewed by Linda Sutton
TRUTH NOW PRODUCTIONS
Gore Vidal On Education in America Today
© 2006, Linda Sutton W.G.A. Reg. No: 1149317
GV: Well, you know, it's just a country of non-readers.
They just don't read. Everything is too difficult for them.
The New York Times is too difficult. So they have no way of getting information, and the New York Times also tells lies for interested parties. So they're not missing a lot. But you have to have some means of access to the outside world.
LS: I'm Linda Sutton. We're here today with author/philosopher Gore Vidal to discuss the state of education in America.
Gore, since the middle of the 1940's, you have written and commented on American history, politics and culture, being one of the most prolific as well as one of the most controversial authors of our time. I've heard you at many speaking engagements recently. Each time you quote from Benjamin Franklin who said that the American government will ultimately fail because of the corruption of the American people. Are we at that point today?
GV: Yes. I think tragically so. But there it is.
Franklin was a wise old bird and instead of blaming it on other people, who did it, it would be somebody from outside did this to the greatest people in the world. You know our constant boasting has done our educational system enormous harm, and our position in the world, even greater harm. We're regarded as the great crashing bores of the entire planet.
"America's, we're the best, we're number one, we're this, we're that."
Well, we're just about nothing, and the quality of life, I think we rate 24th among the first world countries, and there are times when we seem to be not even in the first world.
But, we have nothing to compare ourselves to. Europeans have a number of civilized neighbors. We have Mexico and we have Canada. Canadians don't much like us and the Mexicans, I suppose, don't much like us either. But we have so many problems with immigration and our Mexicans, our Southern neighbors, that it's unfair to say what our relations really are.
But the corruption of people that was foreseen by Benjamin Franklin, it doesn't mean everybody goes out and steals money all day long, or tells lies all day long, although most people do tell lies all day long, particularly our government.
He meant that eventually, he was speaking specifically of the Constitution, which he objected to many things, including the powers of the president, but he said, it's, you know, "Let's move on. We'll work as best we can. This will give us good government for a time, and then it will fail, as most experiments do, due to the corruption of people."
By that he means, not that you and I go out and, cheat, steal and sell drugs to children on street corners. It's not that kind of corruption. It's collusion. There's a total collusion that's taking place in the United States.
We've had two elections that were palpably stolen-- presidential elections in 2000 and 2004. A book was written about the 2004, the stealing of the election in the state
of Ohio, engineered by the secretary of state of that state. John Conyers, a Democrat of Congress went up with a team. He did an analysis of what happened during the election of 2004, wrote a very thorough study, extraordinary, hair raising, if you care about the country.
But this is the collusion of a people who do not care about their country, at all, and their teachers don't care, and kids don't care, all they want to do is play games, and so on…. well, and that's normal too.
But not one voice was raised. Congressman Conyers publishes this book, "What Happened in Ohio." I wrote the preface to it, so I do know something about the fate of the book. The result was the New York Times never reviewed it, the Washington Post never reviewed it…. that was the end of it. It was not reviewed anywhere in the country, and here is proof that the election was stolen by electronic machinery put out by Diebold and by Triad. I'm just naming them for the record.
That's corruption and every human being in the United States is equally corrupt, because he didn't complain. You call yourselves a republic, that's all we have going for us. Which are our basic institutions, the three branches of government who are somehow or other, are supposed to be in balance and generally are, are totally out of balance, when a really power mad and money hungry little group grabs control of Congress, the Executive and the Judiciary.
LS: How has our American educational system contributed to this current state of affairs?
GV: By being lousy. It's been lousy most of my lifetime. I never, alas, I say now, I never went to public school. I went to private schools, which, if your parents can afford them, they're pretty good in the United States. You can get a fair education.
But, I've known a lot of teachers in the public school system, and when I was a working politician, I really worked a lot with teachers. And, I sympathize with their problems. I know a lot about their problems.
They're up against all kinds of superstitions perpetrated by church, others by state, others by bureaucracy. They're held down, the good ones; the bad ones have just given up and they just collect their paycheck-- hope that they have not done too much damage to their pupils.
They don't know how to teach history. Why do you think I spent thirty years telling the history of the United States from Aaron Burr to the year of the millennium of 2000, and I would never have. It was a lot of work, thirteen volumes. And it was there because everything that our people should know by the time they are 18 or 20, a great deal of it they should know, they didn't know, because the teachers couldn't teach it, or wouldn't teach it, and the atmosphere was so anti-intellectual,
"Oh, you want to read books… oh, you must be a sissy."
Oh, we're such a manly people! That's why we lose so many wars now. We're not proving our manhood at all. We're proving we're pretty dumb.
And that has been a problem most of my lifetime, my adult life, has been observing teachers, schools and somehow trying to come up with ideas or write pieces that might give them hope on how you could make history the backbone from kindergarten to graduation from high school.
Start with creation theory, teach them all, no matter how silly, teach all of them. They're very exciting stories, you know, from every culture, from that of the Buddha, that of the divine yellow ancestor of the Chinese, to the various American indigenous religions. Some of them are quite fascinating. Give them a broad look, just since kindergarten, these are all stories kids like. After all, kids have been learning about them in different cultures for thousands of years. Then move to the present day in the course, of what is it, of the 13 years from kindergarten to graduating high school.
First you start with the Big Bang or god creating the universe in a few days. Tell all the stories. Then you get down to Greece and Rome, the first civilizations, and China, which is even greater, or as great a civilization certainly as the Greeks or Romans. And most of the several billion people on earth today descend from one or another of those three religions or attitudes toward life, philosophies. Well, if you did that, it's first, it's a riveting story.
And it's very hard to make it boring. I know there are teachers born with the gift of boredom, and there are certainly regents of schools, school boards that never want the truth told about anything, because the crimes they have committed might be among them. So they've got to deny everything about what they have done in their lives, and what the robber barons, we used to call them in the 19th century, did when they took over the railroads, and the railroads corrupted every legislature across the country. Because they had to have new routes, and so on, so they had all the legislators. And, they, in turn, elected the presidents. We had a lot of fairly crooked presidents, or worse, just inept ones.
So, by having no proper education. Remember, I spent half of my life in Europe.
"Oh, no, he's not an American"
Well, I am an American, and that's all the more reason I did that, to find out what a civilization is like. Because I know we were not growing one here. What we were growing is a consumer society, an ugly one, which has done no one any good.
Then we are too much involved in wars which are none of our business. I always thought that the lousy government that we now have today, I believe everyone agrees, conservatives and liberals, that it's lousy. We have that government, because my generation, I enlisted in World War II when I was seventeen, most of us did. And, we were not cowards like Bush and Cheney and all the other draft dodgers. We enlisted-- we put our lives, we put ourselves in harm's way, as they like to say, never having done it themselves. But they put other peoples' children in harm's way, because that's the nature of that beast. And then I watched and I saw, there were too many of us were killed. Our losses, they were not in the billions or anything like that, hundreds of thousands, a million or two, I forget what it is. I block it out.
But I know people that I was at Exeter with, a good New England school, about a dozen of the brightest boys there--were killed. And they had been put in the army as cannon fodder. They weren't put there to be any use, if they had died usefully as somebody who would chart a course or something--- They were just thrown away, thrown away, thrown away--- And I think the absolute degradation of American society today politically, in the arts, in everything--- is due to too many of us were killed. Because the brightest kids I've ever seen always were the ones who got it first, and they're gone, and they were not, there was no repeat generation…
Then you had the official draft dodgers, and I don't blame them. I was all in favor of them at the time of Vietnam. They were supposed to give their lives, as Kerry pointed out, I'm no fan of his, but he did point out,
"How do you persuade somebody to be the last person to die for a lie?"--- for no cause at all.
I think even the dumbest kids---and kids, by and large, are not too dumb when it comes to their interests-- realizes that he's not been given a reason for the Vietnam war. Our government has never figured out what we were doing there. I know, but they can't admit it, vanity .
"We're number one in the world. Nobody can defy us--not little yellow people. We'll go after them gooks, and we will cover it with cement. We'll bomb them back in the Stone Age."
Well, we've bombed ourselves back into the Stone Age. We are uncivilized. We're outside civilization.
Most Europeans loath us, because we don't know anything that they know. We're not curious about anything.
In education, in my working days as a New York politician, I used to talk to a lot of parent-teachers' groups, and schoolteachers. And, I always had a question, particularly for the parents and teachers, I'd say,
"Why is it that I have never met a dull 6-year old, and I have never met an interesting 16-year old?--- What have you done?"
I would get an avalanche of applause. Everybody knew exactly what I was talking about. More at first hand, since I have no children, than I do. And I thought, you know, at least they feel a little shame of the mess they've made.
LS: Speaking with Gore Vidal today. Credentialed teachers in all the California schools are expected to follow a set of state "academic content standards" in the area of social studies. What is your view of the impact such kind of standardized state directives would have on students' learning?
GV: Well, you can argue both sides of it. I would say that the more points of view that you are able to give across the country, probably the better it is. But if every point of view is just going to be rah, rah, rah propaganda, and we just love America even for its faults, I think that's rather pointless. Let me put it another way. If you're going to standardize, have a good standard. And, we have to start with that and the only standard is truth.
We must admit what we did to the indigenous population of the United States whom we laughingly call Indians. And if we want to call them by racial types, if we use such a word, they were Mongolian. You have to begin with the truth about our situation and how the European invaders of North America killed everything in their path, just killed, killed, killed---
And, as more Europeans came over, they started to kill each other. French were killing the English, and the English were killing the indigenous population. And then more people were fighting with Spain and the south, the south of the border. There's always blood, there's Murder Incorporated-- is what we began with.
"Oh, you can't teach that to the children. You see they'll emulate it.
They'll become killers themselves like the founders."
I've heard people say the equivalent of that stupid thing that I have just said.
"Oh, no, we can't teach them the truth. They might know how to make babies, and we don't want them to do that too, before they can earn a living at a McDonald's."
I could say that every stupid thing you could do, we have done it in one way or another, in the education of the young. And, it's tragic. We have a very interesting history, and luckily for me, I've lived by telling the history of the United States. But I ought not to be doing it. The schools ought to be doing it. I'm perfectly happy to hand over my megaphone any day of the week, but they can't tell the truth. They know nothing about the buildup to World War II, the buildup to World War I. They don't even know, the students don't even know, that there were such wars.
LS: Or when they were.
VG: Or when they were.
"Oh, no, don't bother us with dates. You know, I just don't like dates. Just don't like them."
Why worry their poor minds, because they could be creative if they didn't have to learn dates. What? Teach them about Pearl Harbor? They'd have to learn December 7th. They'd have to learn that date. Well, think how creative they might have been if their minds were not cluttered with December 7th. They would have gone out and invented, well, I don't know, something awful.
LS: Teachers also must follow the president's "No Child Left Behind" policy requiring schools to meet test score guidelines or face the possibility of state takeover. How do you think this focus on testing now affects the learning environment?
GV: Well, coming from this most ignorant president in American history, it is great comedy. He really is stupider than most people, and he knows less about everything than the average human being in America. And he is setting up guidelines, or says that they should be set up for everybody, is, you know, the final insult, or may I go back to Benjamin Franklin, the final corruption.
There is a very bad, and it's all agreed upon by now by everyone, very bad president-- inept, uneducated, uncivilized. Just to watch him talking with his mouth full in St. Petersburg (referring to the G8 summit meeting) and the food dropping, you know, onto his plate from this ghastly horse's aperture…it was horrible.
And so, I don't think we need any guidance from him. Just throw him out. Just don't pay any attention to him. There are more teachers than there are presidents, and this president is never going to be heard from again.
LS: And yet all the school districts have leaped on board and very few schools are not following it, although they have not been fully funded to carry out the policies.
GV:Well, if they are not funded, then they won't do anything so that takes care of itself. And whoever thought he was sincere about "leave no child behind!" He wants to leave everybody behind and keep all the money for himself, and Halliburton, and his friends. That's where the money is going, has gone, already. He's used these wars as a pretext to Hoover-up all the money in the country for his gang. When he says anything about children and education, he does not mean a word of it. And if he did
mean it, he doesn't understand it. He doesn't understand how teaching is taught, what a school book should be, what history is. I mean he's just so blank on it.
I remember he was fussing away in days when he was first president. And, people hadn't realized it-- that he knew nothing. No matter what the subject, he was blank.
Somebody asked him about the designer of the American Empire of the Twentieth Century was Dean Acheson, the Secretary of State, a brilliant lawyer, a mischievous man, but he was responsible for the empire. He used Harry Truman as an opening wedge to militarize the country. And they're talking to Bush about Dean Acheson. Well, there was nobody Bush's age who didn't know about him. Even though Bush would have been a child during that period, but certainly his father knew Acheson. I knew Acheson in and around that age. And suddenly, the architect of the American empire, he had not heard of, and was never going to hear of because he was so bored. He's not supposed to know things like that. He's supposed to know about who's going to what post office, or how to redistrict Southern Texas--those are his interests.
So, I tell the school teachers, just throw him out the window, just throw him out.
LS: Going back several years on textbooks, Diane Ravitch in her book, "The Language Police," denounced what she called the "regime of censorship" taking place in textbooks and testing materials saying that the pressure groups from both sides of the political spectrum have forced the watering down of the curricula to such an extent that it has seriously affected students' ability to read and think critically. Would you comment on that?
GV: All I know is what you just quoted. I am quite sure of it, knowing how the U.S. works and how the pressure groups work. I mean if anybody would allow into a room without roaring with laughter who denies evolution, if you deny that, you deny all modern science, all medicine, and all knowledge of the human race. And only someone extremely stupid, full of the laughing gas of very, very primitive fundamental religions which were told to stay to their humble place by Thomas Jefferson, and they still should be kept.
When I used to campaign around the country, if I ever felt I wanted a big line of big applause for something, I would always come up with, "Also, I favor the taxing of all religions." You get knocked over by the waves of applause whether they're Jews or Catholics or Protestants. It's ferocious. They all know all the religions are getting away with murder and are breaking the law. They are not taxed because religion is supposed to be a good thing. And, but, they must not go into politics. That's the quid pro quo. And, of course, they all immediately have political machines. They elect governors. And they smear people, and they go after minorities that they don't like. These are evil people! And my guiding word for today is Franklin's, these are corrupt people.
LS: In addition to political pressure groups pushing their agendas, we now have politicians vying for control of school districts, some having succeeded, as in New York and Chicago, and some version of this is now being proposed for Los Angeles, although voters, apparently, will get no say in the outcome. How do you think this increasing focus of politicians on education affects teaching and learning, particularly within the public schools?
GV: I would assume not well. What is a politician, by and large, unless he's an educator of some kind himself, tinged perhaps with genius, he might be useful to discuss such matters. By and large, I wouldn't trust an alderman or a state senator to come up with a curriculum. He'll just going to come up with whatever the Mormons told him that morning and decided it sounded good to him. No, I believe in separating church and state, and keep the politicians out of it.
LS: Many of our politicians too are favoring the founding of charter schools run by private corporations as an alternative to public schools, in effect, bringing privatization to one of the most basic institutions that serves the public. Do you think this ultimately will benefit students, or are we really talking about a new source of corporate campaign funds from these private school contractors?
GV: Well, it's one of the last big rip-offs, and they expect to make a lot of money out of charter schools. Who are they to do that? They don't know anything about education. They're money collectors. And they have two big goals, that's one, and they've made some headway here and there, I've been told. And, the next one is to privatize social security which they can then rob the entire American people--the dream of every good American politician--take their money!
LS: Is this push toward privatization part of the efforts by fundamentalist Christians to expand the government's support for their vouchers and "faith-based initiatives?"
GV: Well, I would assume they're after anything that can get money into their coffers. We have a society now that has no interest in anything but money. I've looked at more television than I have in years just sitting here in California, and everything's about money. And, it's either people are too much in debt, which I can quite understand that, and it's wonderful what loans they can get.
"If you're a property owner and have a little problem with the cash flow, we'll be happy to lend you money at a very, very low rate." And the property owner ceases to be a property owner, because they'll get his house. That's what they're after. And, everybody falls for it.
LS: We've seen some of the same religious groups push this idea of "intelligent design" to replace the teaching of evolution. What do you this is really saying about the separation of church and state guaranteed to us in the first amendment of our Constitution?
GV: It smashes it.
LS: It's gone?
GV: It's gone. It's gone almost everywhere, the fourth amendment--unnatural illegal searches, and so forth, looking a people's bank accounts, that's the dream of every government. We have a totalitarian government. Now, I know that's a big word, and many of your teachers won't know what it means. I won't use any euphemism. But it is totalitarian, it's total. It's going to get all of our money. It is going to get information on everybody in the country. The first amendment--fourth amendment--these were all our protections. Protections have been smashed.
How did he do that? Bush is leading the charge-- by taking a bunch of religious zealots who bombed New York and Washington and smashed their plane. And he used that to declare war. He has no power to. He cannot declare war. The president has not the right. Only the House of Representatives can do that, Congress can declare war, but they wouldn't, and they didn't. They gave him an occasional, you know, supplemental money for his smashing apart two countries that had done us no harm and could do us no harm.
I think 60% of the American people have been convinced that Saddam Hussein had something to do with 9/11. He didn't. And now we're going to shoot him as a war criminal in his own country for having kept order in his own country. Yes, he was a tough dictator, but he was their dictator, he had nothing to do with us. And, he's about to be condemned to death. There's every sign of it. We always do this. He was our ally. We used him to fight Iran. We were very happy with him. Rumsfeld was always paying calls on him in Baghdad, and now they're enemies.
This is a country of absurdity. Nothing we do makes any sense, and it's getting more and more fantastic! As we have declared war on science, and we also declared war on practically everybody on earth who disobeys us. We want to have a war with one billion Muslims. Well, there are a lot more Muslims than we are, and they seem to be rather good at suicide bombing. I don't think it's a good idea to take them on, but he it did, he takes them on. There goes the capital, there goes the White House, there goes the Empire State Building. These people are not going to respect our wishes. They're going to wreck us. They have weapons that we don't have. We don't have suicide people, although sometimes I think we do, when we see the results of certain elections. However, to be honest, we never, never know how an American election turns out these days.
LS: Because of the electronic voting.
LS: Also in the first amendment, we have free speech and two recent court decisions against it. First, Mayer v. Monroe County (Community School Corporation, in Bloomington,) in Indiana, which held that a teacher does not have free speech rights in the classroom. This was a case in which a teacher was specifically forbidden to mention "peace" in her classroom after saying that peace was an option to war.
GV: (laughs) That was revolutionary, wasn't it!
LS: Then the Supreme Court (Garcetti v. Caballos) held that the First Amendment does not protect "every statement a public employee makes in the course of doing his or her job." Do you see these as the first steps in an increasing effort to silence dissent through limiting the scope of the first amendment rights?
GV: Of course, I do. It's a totalitarian government. It does not want to be criticized. So, they're setting it up through the courts, which are as corrupt as everything else in the country. They're doing it through the courts. They got the Supreme Court to declare "W" president of the United States, when he'd had lost the popular vote by 6 or 700,000 votes and the electoral college was pretty dicey. It was not a correct count in Florida, and it could have been. But the Supreme Court of the United States called it off, said "Stop, stop, stop." We must have a vote. That is a matter really of the
Supreme Court of Florida to decide if we still had states' rights, and Florida was flushed. The Supreme Court in Washington, Scalia and Thomas and all those great constitutional legal minds. They knew whom they wanted for president, and they made him president, although we the people had nothing to do with it.
LS: Author Gore Vidal on education. In "The Future of the First Amendment" poll of 100,000 high school students last year, results showed that nearly three quarters do not know how they feel about the first amendment, and only half said that newspapers should be given free exercise of the press without government interference. I think you've already addressed, to a certain extent, how this has happened. But would you like to add anything about this poll?
GV: Well, the kids tend to be very conservative. They come out of conservative households. I'm sure their parents don't know what the first amendment is either. So, if the parents don't know, how are the kids going to know? If the teachers are too frightened to teach the Constitution, which apparently they are, that's the end of that. So, there is no way you can get anything into their heads.
Purdue used to do an annual poll of high school seniors. They would ask questions about the Bill of Rights, but didn't tell them it was about the Bill of Rights.
And, ninety percent of the kids voted against the Bill of Rights which had not been explained to them, the powers that are innate in it, they objected to. Like double jeopardy, I mean, all the things that are the essential parts of the constitution.
Then this lunatic we've got as president with Gonzalez, who is a very sinister creature (Secretary of the Justice Department):
"I'm a wartime president. I'm a wartime president"---he keeps on and on and on.
Then Gonzalez says, "Yes, his inherent powers as commander-in-chief." They say that so reverently. I have read the Constitution many times. There are no inherent powers for a commander-in-chief. There are enumerated powers, and they're very clear, and very few. And, that's a great difference.
Gonzalez got caught. Feinstein (Dianne Feinstein, Democratic senator from California) was quizzing him at the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing. and she was talking about well why doesn't the president, who's already got this court sitting there, why doesn't he just ask for warrants, you know a judge to hand down a warrant for the right to go through someone's bank statements instead of just doing it illegally. Because he actually he prefers illegality. But, we've got the court sitting there, it isn't that much work, just send over, or now he's talking about a brand new court which will take up lots of time and he can get away with murder. And Gonzales really put, I realized how stupid he was, he put his foot in when he said, "This court is really only operative in wartime."
Dianne rose to her great moment in history, "This is not wartime?"
Gonzalez realized what a mistake he'd made. They'd been pretending that the lunatic attack on New York and Washington was war…a War on Terror which will never end. Terror will never end. And the Attorney General said well this isn't wartime, having argued that this wartime, because there is no false argument that he will not pull if it increases the executive's power. He looked like he was going to vanish through the floor.
LS: He slipped.
GV: He slipped. Just a slip of the tongue.
LS: Where does this breakdown in knowledge and responsibility for all our constitutional rights take us as a people when fewer and fewer citizens are voting?
GV: I don't know they are fewer. I thought the vote in Ohio was pretty good. They got quite a few people, but, of course the Secretary of State, was not going to, a black man, but he was not going to allow poor blacks to vote, so he pretended they were felons or on a list somewhere of people who had been in prison in Wyoming. So he managed to get a lot of would-be registered voters unregistered or just unaccepted. I wouldn't say fewer and fewer people were voting. I'd say more and more people are discouraged and candidates the public is offered.
One thing we have not discussed but along with problems in the educational system and political system is the media---that has never been more corrupt or dishonest. It lies about everything---because it's based on lies--it's based on telling you one detergent is better than the other detergent when they are equal. These are just big lies. They don't seem like much, but you keep doing it for a living---you're out of the truth racket. Then, they start to sell the presidents the way they sell the detergents, and basically they don't find much difference between them.
LS: With many social studies classrooms using newspapers and the internet to teach current events. Where can we find reliable sources for what's happening in the world today?
GV: Read "The Nation." It's very readable. It's well written. It'll cover just about everything of a political and constitutional nature in the course of a year. It's a weekly. Start reading foreign newspapers.
"Oh, how did you know so much about the history of the United States? How were you so prescient in saying so and so would win an election?" This group would do that.
Because I read the foreign press. They have no reason to lie about us. Yes, they have many liars in the foreign press. Yes, they grind a lot of axes. They have no superstitions about the United States and its stupidity.
The apparent stupidity of an entire people who wants to reject Darwin and the basis of modern science. We're just opting out--we're going back to horse and buggy--not going to have cars--they go too fast.
And, we have appalled the world. Most Americans have been brought up to hate other countries and other people cause they're inferior to us.
"They all want to come live here."
I often throw that in a question and answer period, oh yes I say, "Yes, when was the last time you saw a Norwegian with a green card?"
Nobody wants to leave Europe for this place nowadays. South of the border, yes. We've wrecked the economy down there and we've got a lot of poor people. And, they're swarming in to do our work, and so on, but we are not a magnet for anything in the world except shysters.
LS: With the low educational levels, particularly within disadvantaged communities, and the resulting low opportunities in the job market, does the army become the only alternative for these students?
GV: Yes it is, unfortunately. It's not much training for anything else. They don't give career guidance very much.
LS: I know in your recent book "Imperial America" you go into great detail about the increasing militarization of American society since World War II. With our taxes going primarily to sustain the huge military budgets, is the current direction in education operating in such as way as to guarantee the recruits needed to sustain the standing armed forces?
GV: Well, I have noticed that every time there's a big layoff at General Motors or Ford, thousands of people are let go, stocks go up, prosperity is around the corner. A lot of that is technical money management, but an awful lot of it is more cannon fodder for the American war machine.
LS: Like the students you knew in your youth?
GV: Or people who couldn't get into schools or were so bored by the schools they were in.
I've been reading, I always read any news about Birmingham General Hospital where I was when I came back from overseas (from WWII). It's now a high school. So, I read any news item about them. How particularly Black and Hispanic students just don't graduate. They're too bored. They haven't been taught anything. I'm on their side. It's not because they're dumb. It’s because they're taught dumb things--- that nobody can believe-- the official stories about the founding of the United States, and so on, the founding fathers.
Even when they are true, they're made out to seem like such god-awful propaganda that you sort of resist it. And very early they get to be skeptical. And then when they go out and see the real world, how the police misbehave in every town, and they're one of the great problems along with criminals. Most young people are realistic, which is another word for cynical.
LS: So you think that they recognize that the history they're being taught really contains so much deception that it doesn't feel real to them?
GV: I don't think they know that. I think they suspect that, since everything else in their lives is so deceptive. They can see them lying about things which are on the front page of their own local paper. There's not any community out here where the kids don't know everything about the police. These neighborhood kids, they just know which policeman is stealing, which one is on the take, which one is x, y, zed.
LS: Howard Zinn did a piece earlier this spring on the various lies that the different presidents have told -- it was in an op-ed piece that he had. Is it important for students to understand the background for the different wars that we've been going into and the kind of deceptions that have been done by previous presidents?
GV: I think we should be taught that, yes, and why they did it. Roosevelt was anti-British and totally indifferent to Jews -- which is at least better than most in his class
who tended to be anti-Semitic. But, he was slow to react to what was being done to the Jews. And, never really did react. He was busy in the war to bring down Hitler which in the long run was far more important than going in with some raiders and trying to save a few people.
Well, it would be nice to know the motivation for all our wars. I can do it off the top of my head, since I've written about all of them. But I don't think most people carry that knowledge around with them.
We were approaching a depression at the end of the 1890's. I think it was Henry Cabot Lodge, who was a senator from Massachusetts, who wrote a senator from the Midwest, he said,
"Looks like another financial panic is on the way. I must tell you frankly that I think a war would be a very good diversion."
LS: Would that be in your book Empire?
LS: Do you think that teachers would do better by using more of what we call the historical fiction kinds of things in other to interest…?
GV: They've got to be careful. Be careful about the word "fiction." When I'm writing history, I'm writing history. I have minor characters who are fictional, and they are there to give other points of view. I don't think the author should, or too few historians are severe as I am on that subject. I don't want a writer of a book about Lincoln just to be cheerleading Lincoln or cheerleading his opponents. You tell it as straight as you know how. By and large, our fiction writers are pretty lousy to begin with, and our historians are not much better.
I try every year to go through the new high school history textbooks. There's one, The American Pageant, I think it's called. It sounds like a law firm-- it's Kennedy, Levy, and something else. They've got one of everybody among the authors. It's very good--- and very grown up. I was surprised and delighted. And actually kind of useful if you could teach it. The kids will come out knowing a good deal about their country. So, that's a good step. I bet it's run into trouble already.
LS: They have a new adoption this year.
GV: A new what?
LS: A new adoption. That's when they have the four publishers that publish all the textbooks in the country present what they're going to be showing, and basically California and Texas lead the way in terms of who gets the contracts for these books.
GV: Is the adoption based upon excellence of text or what?
LS: One would hope, one would hope. We still hope. But teachers actually have not that great amount of input.
GV: Well, nor should they because most of them have not studied history. So, they only know what they were taught, and which was probably not worth knowing. No, it's really who teaches the teachers in the long run that's essential to make things change.
LS: And who should be teaching the teachers at this point?
GV: People who have refused to become teachers.
LS: Like yourself?
GV: Like myself.
LS: Why I'm here.
GV: There are a lot of freelance people out there. There's quite a few, there's a whole new genre of people, of journalist historians. They try to be some succeed strict when they write history about current events as a real historian, and then they have to put it in a palatable way for their readers. We need a lot more of those.
LS: Gore Vidal, you have said that quote, "There is no human problem that could not be solved if people would do as I advise."
What is your last piece of advice for those in education today?
GV: Well, not to take seriously that statement of mine which was a joke. We live in the most literal country, irony is something odious to most Americans when they even get it. Ironic statement. I think that's quoted to me as though I had hand on heart. Of course I don't.
My advice today is to any school, make history from kindergarten to graduation day of high school, history. Start with American as it's easiest. We live here. Try and incorporate China, Europe, Latin America, Japan. These are all nations we have to live with. The more we know, the better we'll do.
LS: Thank you, Gore Vidal, for your comments on the state of education in America.----- This is Linda Sutton, your host in this exploration of important current topics in education.
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