As many of you know the state of Texas in the process of redefining its social studies/history standards. [See here and here] This will impact the rest of the nation since the textbooks that will be ordered to meet the agenda of this curriculum will likely be distributed throughout much of the rest of the country. The ongoing debate about what to teach has little to do with understanding the past or training students to think critically about historical studies. Rather, the debate is being driven by political hacks who know next to nothing about what it means to study the past. Consider the following short video.
It’s hard to take seriously the notion that what should drive our study of the American past is the overarching assumption of its “exceptionalism” and “how unique it is”. According to this Texas Board of Education member, the solution is to simply delete those aspects of our history that detract from this exceptional image. It’s certainly one way of going about it, but than what are we to make of her call to get rid of the word “propaganda” from the curriculum/textbooks? What else should we call this approach to history?
I don’t mind admitting that I am an enemy of the notion of ‘American Exceptionalism.’ It’s not simply that I fail to see how it applies to American history, but that it has nothing to do with my role as an instructor of history. I’ve said before that I do not consider it my responsibility to influence students in how they judge the collective moral status of the United States through its history and current policies. In addition to the concept of exceptionalism I also steer clear of any notion of America as “God’s Chosen People” or the notion of an inherent “Evil Imperial Empire” that is espoused by some on the extreme Left. That said, I do deal with the historical roots of the idea of American Exceptionalism going back to the Puritans’ notion of a “City Upon a Hill” through Manifest Destiny as well as its later manifestation in the form of the “White Man’s Burden.”
Can someone please tell me what is gained by teaching American history this way? How does it help our students to engage with the rest of the world on a level of cooperation and mutual respect? All I see is a curriculum that promotes arrogance along with the biases of a cultural exclusivist.