Donald Yacovone shows us the clear and damning evidence of white supremacy's deep-seated roots in our nation's education system in a fascinating, in-depth examination of America's wide assortment of texts, from primary readers to college textbooks and other higher-ed course materials. Sifting through a wealth of materials, from the colonial era to today, Yacovone reveals the systematic ways in which white supremacist ideology has infiltrated American culture and how it has been at the heart of our collective national identity.
Yacovone’s thesis is a compelling and convincing one: that Northern publishers, universities, religious authorities and social activists were more responsible than Southern ones in disseminating an enduring ideology of white supremacy and Black inferiority ... Yacovone ably surveys the deep wells of racism within Northern progressive movements during the 19th century ... While such scholarship is not new, it is useful to document how these strains of thinking were present in textbooks. A problem throughout Yacovone’s book, however, is that textbooks are almost the only evidence he calls upon from the sphere of schools ... Yacovone also makes some puzzling choices as to which thinkers and writers to emphasize.
Yacovone examined hundreds of texts held in the library of Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, published from the early nineteenth century to the 1980s—a heroic effort that few historians are likely to wish to emulate ... For those who have studied the evolution of American historical writing, Yacovone’s account will not be unfamiliar ... . But there are surprises as well ... Yacovone deserves thanks for undertaking the task of reading through all these textbooks. Unfortunately, he does not really subject the idea of white supremacy, so crucial to his narrative, to careful examination. He fails to make clear what exactly it means, whom it benefits, and how it may have changed over time ... The distinction between slavery and freedom sometimes fades into the background. They become simply different manifestations of an ideology equally dominant in the North and South. Indeed, a number of times Yacovone asserts that racism was more extreme and more deeply rooted in the pre–Civil War North than the slave South, where, he claims, without elaborating, white supremacy had a 'patchwork quality' and Blacks enjoyed 'more freedom' than in the 'nominally' free states.
Essential ... Amid the current culture war with its battles over public school boards, curricula, and libraries, this accessible, thoroughly documented, and well-reasoned work is essential reading for all interested in truly understanding America’s past and the systemic distortions to repress and restrict the historical narrative with an insidious ideology.