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Politicizing History

Yesterday I got into a brief Twitter fight with a self-described Christian conservative woman who did not like one bit, no she did not, my pointing out that there was a time not too long ago in the history of our country when we publicly executed black people as an act of terror. We even burned them and distributed their body parts as souvenirs. The woman accused me of “sympathy” for ISIS. She said it didn’t happen here. When I tweeted photos, she said it was a long time ago, and besides, all those things weren’t so bad. I tweeted back that I believe I saw her standing next to me in the crowd yelling, “Crucify him!” She thought that was rude. We ended the conversation.

People have a hard time confronting history that doesn’t tell a propagandistic story. A committee of the Oklahoma House of Representatives just did a stupid thing, in my view. From the Tulsa World:

The legality of teaching Advanced Placement courses in Oklahoma public schools was raised Monday during a House Common Education Committee hearing on a bill aimed at the AP U.S. history guidelines.

That measure, House Bill 1380, by Rep. Dan Fisher, R-Yukon, would direct the state Board of Education to review those guidelines and bar the use of state funds for AP U.S. history courses.

More:

Fisher, who has been active in a church-and-state organization called the Black Robe Regiment, said the AP U.S. history course framework emphasizes “what is bad about America.”

Larry Krieger, a teacher who spoke to the committee via conference call, implied that the AP framework was created by some of the same people responsible for Common Core.

Both said the framework omits the concept of “American exceptionalism.”

What do we know about the Black Robe Regiment? Well, let’s consult its website:

The Black Robe Regiment is a resource and networking entity where church leaders and laypeople can network and educate themselves as to our biblical responsibility to stand up for our Lord and Savior and to protect the freedoms and liberties granted to a moral people in the divinely inspired US Constitution.  The Regiment had its historical beginnings during the Revolutionary War when Pastors from across the colonies arose and lead their congregations into the battle for freedom.  Unlike today, the church during this time served as the center-point for  political debate and discussion on the relevant news of the day.  Today’s church leaders have all but lost that concept of leading their congregations in a Godly manner in all aspects of their worldly existence and are afraid to speak out against the progressive agenda that has dominated our political system for the past century.

Uh oh. More, from its History page, in which the group deifies the United States:

These folks who now inhabited this New Jerusalem (this New Eden that Christopher Columbus saw), were living out what they saw as a life and a country that was fashioned entirely by their Creator.  The Constitution (Part 1–the Declaration of Independence, and part 2), was and is a covenant between the people of America and their Heavenly Father.  It was written for a Christian people….who are fully able to internally govern themselves.  Thus, the meaning of a Republic that was inspired by God’s Word and spells out the mission of God’s children and Christ’s ambassadors on Earth.

Well. As a Christian and a conservative, I could not possibly object more strongly to this idolatrous view of the nation and its Constitution. And I would not want my kids to learn this view of history in school, or to have AP classes, which are optional, denied to them because the College Board, which is responsible for AP classes, does not reflect this fringe theocratic view of US history. Note well that the bill passed out of the committee on a party line vote; all 11 Republicans voted for it, and all four Democrats voted against it. Good for the Democrats.

It should be said that those who are suspicious of the creeping progressivism in AP History courses may not be entirely wrong at all. I mean, you don’t have to believe that America is the New Israel to be concerned. Stanley Kurtz wrote last year:

It is true, of course, that as on much else, Americans are divided about how best to teach and understand U.S. history. This is precisely why the new, lengthy, and detailed AP U.S. History Framework is such a bad idea. The brief five-page conceptual guideline the Framework replaced allowed sufficient flexibility for teachers to approach U.S. History from a wide variety of perspectives. Liberals, conservatives, and anyone in-between could teach U.S. history their way, and still see their students do well on the AP Test. The College Board’s new and vastly more detailed guidelines can only be interpreted as an attempt to hijack the teaching of U.S. history on behalf of a leftist political and ideological perspective. The College Board has drastically eroded the freedom of states, school districts, teachers, and parents to choose the history they teach their children. That is why this change must not stand.

So, you don’t have to be a Black Rober to object to the new AP Framework, it seems.

This seizing the historical narrative as a means of exercising political power is by no means a right-wing thing. California is notorious for using state law to compel the teaching of history to progressive ends. In 2011, the state passed a law requiring public schools to include LGBT contributions in their history courses. From the NYT’s report:

California will become the first state to require public schools to teach gay and lesbian history.

As expected, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill on Thursday that mandates that the contributions of gays and lesbians in the state and the country be included in social science instruction and in textbooks. School districts will have until next January to begin implementing the new law, which was also promoted in part as a way to combat bullying of gay and lesbian students.

It’s not simply a matter of teaching about LGBT people in history class. As with other minority groups, teachers are only allowed to say good things about them (and everybody else). From an official state education department document explaining the law:

The bill added language to Education Code Section 51204.5, which prescribes the inclusion of the contributions of various groups in the history of California and the United States. This section already included men and women and numerous ethnic groups; the expanded language now includes (additions bolded):

“…a study of the role and contributions of both men and women, Native Americans, African Americans, Mexican Americans, Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders, European Americans, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans, persons with disabilities, and members of other ethnic and cultural groups, to the economic, political, and social development of California and the United States of America, with particular emphasis on portraying the role of these groups in contemporary society.”

The legislation also added some requirements with regard to instructional materials.

Education Code Section 51501 outlines prohibitions on material included in textbooks or other instructional materials. This section already included prohibitions on matter “reflecting adversely upon persons because of their race, sex, color, creed, handicap, national origin, or ancestry”; this bill added “sexual orientation” to the list. Education Code Section 60044 includes a similar prohibition; the language was added there as well, along with a prohibition on materials that contain materials that reflect adversely on persons on the basis of their occupation.

So we have the sanitized progressive version of history, where everybody participated equally in the building of America, and no group ever did anything bad. This is better?

American history as theology. History as ideology. History as therapy. Is it possible to have a reasonable balanced, neutral approach to teaching history?

 

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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