13 August 2015

Scholars Concerned About The Teaching of American History

The opening paragraph of the linked Washington Post pretty much sums up much of what has been discussed here over the last 10 years:
Dozens of academics, calling themselves “Scholars Concerned About Advanced Placement History” have published an open letter opposing the College Board’s new framework for the AP U.S. History course, saying that it presents “a grave new risk” to the study of America’s past, in large part because it ignores American exceptionalism. . . . The letter was signed by historians and others from a wide range of schools including Harvard, Stanford, Yale and Princeton universities, as well Lynne Cheney,  former chair of the National Endowment for the Humanities and the wife of former vice president Dick Cheney.
And my friend and historian, Kent Masterson Brown, was a signatory to the letter. I have to admit, it is quite gratifying to see your own assertions regarding American Exceptionalism (and the current Southern heritage debate) and how the teaching of American history has been politicized heavily to the left, affirmed more and more each day after so many years of being lampooned by the bubble dwellers and the complicit. Let's consider a couple of quotes from the WAPO piece and open letter:
Critics complained that the framework does not mention important American historical figures, such as Benjamin Franklin and Martin Luther King Jr., but focuses on some of the darker episodes in American history. [Kinda like what Jerry Springer does. The operative word here is focus.]
See, I TOLD you that Confederate icons are just the low-hanging fruit. It's open season on the more glorious episodes of American history. That part of our history doesn't fit the agenda of the "enemies of American Exceptionalism" and the "activist historians."

The critical letter opens with:
We wish to express our opposition to these modifications. The College Board’s 2014 Advanced Placement Examination shortchanges students by imposing on them an arid, fragmentary, and misleading account of American history.
And this:
the new 2014 framework, the College Board has put forward a lengthy 134-page document which repudiates that earlier approach, centralizes control, deemphasizes content, and promotes a particular interpretation of American history. This interpretation downplays American citizenship and American world leadership in favor of a more global and transnational perspective.
Call it a "we are the world" perspective. Patriotism is so passe, don't you know? Can't you just see these intellectual elites turning their noses up in the faculty lounge as they discuss the more traditional aspects of the study of American history.
The new framework is organized around such abstractions as “identity,” “peopling,” “work, exchange, and technology,” and “human geography” while downplaying essential subjects, such as the sources, meaning, and development of America’s ideals and political institutions, notably the Constitution. Elections, wars, diplomacy, inventions, discoveries—all these formerly central subjects tend to dissolve into the vagaries of identity-group conflict.
Of course - identity/group politics is all the rage these days. This confirms EXACTLY what Professor Gordon S. Wood has said:
The new framework scrubs away all traces of what used to be the chief glory of historical writing—vivid and compelling narrative—and reduces history to an bloodless interplay of abstract and impersonal forces. Gone is the idea that history should provide a fund of compelling stories about exemplary people and events. No longer will students hear about America as a dynamic and exemplary nation, flawed in many respects, but whose citizens have striven through the years toward the more perfect realization of its professed ideals. The new version of the test will effectively marginalize important ways of teaching about the American past, and force American high schools to teach U.S. history from a perspective that self-consciously seeks to de-center American history and subordinate it to a global and heavily social-scientific perspective.
Wow. I may have to check to see if the authors have pulled quotes from my blog - they may owe me some attribution. 
There are notable political or ideological biases inherent in the 2014 framework, and certain structural innovations that will inevitably result in imbalance in the test, and bias in the course. 
Well of course. That is the intent. There is a palpable anti-American bias throughout modern American historiography already. This just codifies it. So much for the (lying or ignorant?) academics who used to come here and say such charges were absurd. Will we see a mea culpa? No, the deniers are on board with all this. They're cheering it. It advances their agenda.
the new framework is so populated with examples of American history as the conflict between social groups, and so inattentive to the sources of national unity and cohesion, that it is hard to see how students will gain any coherent idea of what those sources might be. This does them, and us, an immense disservice.
Of course it does a disservice. This is the goal. This is social justice, not history. They want conflict and chaos. Look around you today. No surprise here.

You can read the complete WAPO piece here, along with the full content of the open letter.  

I don't know about you, but I'll take the analysis of *historians like Gordon Wood, Eugene Genovese, Forrest McDonald, Kent Brown and Steven Woodworth (for starters) over the Jerry Springer historians of the blogosphere any day. 

*Woodworth and Brown were the only ones mentioned here that signed the letter, but the other historians referred to have made similar observations and criticisms in recent  years.

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