Education Matters: Learning from the past

Editor's Note: Numerous instances of plagiarism have been discovered in Dan Kimber’s “Education Matters” column, which ran in the News- Press from September 2003 to September 2011. In those columns where plagiarism has been found, a For the Record specifying the details will be appended to the piece.

Next year on Dec. 7, it will be 70 years since the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

I remember first studying about it in high school and then again in my second year of college. In terms of the aftermath of that attack, there was one significant difference in the two versions. Nowhere in the high school texts that I studied or in any class discussions I was part of was the subject of Japanese relocation raised. I first learned of that bit of American history in a survey course in college.

When I brought this up to my father, who fought in World War II, his first reaction was, "You weren't alive then. You don't know how it was."

I couldn't argue with that, but I did with what followed and often got thrown into our discussions.

"__________, I knew that they'd fill your head with left-wing ________ in college," my dad would thunder away.

That began a lively, sometimes heated dialogue between me and someone who I dearly loved and respected but whose views I no longer automatically accepted. I think he was right about college changing me, but not in the way he had supposed.

He was convinced that higher education was more about indoctrination than education, and that I was a victim. I contended that I was just beginning to think for myself. It was a difference that was likely expressed in many households in the 1960s with its growing generation gap, and more and more young people asking more and more questions.

Back then, our argument was about the rightness or wrongness of the decision to imprison more than 100,000 Japanese in this country. That discussion will likely occupy space in textbooks for all time, which I believe is a good thing.

The greater question that remains with me is why textbooks 20 years after Pearl Harbor were largely silent on the issue of Japanese relocation camps. Today, with the possible exception of Texas, virtually all state textbooks examine the issue in depth.

But why was I presented a sanitized version of our country's history in the '50s and '60s? Perhaps 20 years following Pearl Harbor was not enough time for a more reasoned, dispassionate judgment that historical perspective allows. My father's generation understandably views Dec. 7, 1941, differently from later generations who did not live through the "date which will live in infamy." Future generations will no doubt have a different look at 9/11 than we who lived through that infamy and question more critically our subsequent response of invading Iraq.

Following the invasion of Pearl Harbor, there were many in this country who agreed with statements like that of Gen. John DeWitt, West Coast commander, who urged removal of all Japanese to internment camps, many of whom were born in the United States.

But just as there were other voices of the day that attempted to draw a distinction between a hostile government and an entire race of people, today there are descendent voices that draw a distinction between terrorists and an entire religion.

Speaking as a teacher of history and a proud citizen of this country, I am grateful for those voices. In my view they are the true patriots for not clicking their heels together declaring, "My country, right or wrong." We have enough blind adherents in this world whose unquestioning loyalty is more a basis for their own enslavement than an expression of devotion.

By all means let's celebrate the greatness of America in textbooks, in literature, in song and in our collective gratitude for a legacy of freedom and democracy. But let's also not gloss over or edit out the darker chapters of our history, or insist upon ascribing only pure motives and favorable outcomes to every American undertaking.

In relating our country's history, textbooks and teachers have an obligation to tell the whole story. It is a story that merits praise and celebration, and it is also a story that demands reflection and the firm commitment to learn from the past.

DAN KIMBER taught in the Glendale Unified School District for more than 30 years. He may be reached at

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