Some of you are, no doubt, familiar with the story out of North Carolina involving H.K. Edgerton and Councilman Cecil Bothwell, who refused to cite God in his oath of office. Apparently, the good state of North Carolina has a provision that outlaws atheists from public office. Please correct me if I have the details wrong. To be completely honest I don’t really care about the details. What I find hilarious is that H.K. and others have decided to make this an issue. Of course any provision along these lines violates the U.S. Constitution which explicitly rejects any religious test for public office. That seems reasonable enough to me. Anyway, I didn’t think much of it at the time until I came across this wonderful cartoon that appeared in one of the local newspapers in Asheville, North Carolina.
Answers from left to right: No / Yes / Perhaps
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.
Ever since South Carolina’s Rep. Joe Wilson insulted the president and his office during Wednesday’s Health Care speech, the newspapers can’t get enough of his connection with the Sons of Confederate Veterans as well as his outspoken support for the public display of the Confederate flag and “Confederate honor.” Today’s NYT’s column by Maureen Dowd takes this news thread to drive home an essentially reductionist connection between Wilson’s nutty little outburst, his personal past, and the broader history of his home state of South Carolina:
The congressman, we learned, belonged to the Sons of Confederate Veterans, led a 2000 campaign to keep the Confederate flag waving above South Carolina’s state Capitol and denounced as a “smear” the true claim of a black woman that she was the daughter of Strom Thurmond, the ’48 segregationist candidate for president. [Therefore] Wilson clearly did not like being lectured and even rebuked by the brainy black president presiding over the majestic chamber.
Others have tried to situate Wilson into a broader historical narrative that includes the likes of John Calhoun, Preston Brooks, and South Carolina’s own place in the story of secession, Civil War, and Massive Resistance. These narrative memes are so predictable, but ultimately tell us next to nothing about what motivated Joe Wilson’s outburst. Oh…I get it. Because Calhoun, Brooks, and Thurmond are so easily lumped together in some vague reactionary category we might as well throw good old Wilson in there. Dowd and others draw much too close of a connection between between Wilson’s past and the broader history of the state that he represents. It’s almost silly that it even has to be pointed out. SCV members are not necessarily card carrying racists; in fact, I read plenty of news reports of members who voted for Obama back in November. It also doesn’t follow that those who identify with the Confederate past by flying a flag on private property are engaged in racial commentary or attempting to role back the clock to the Jim Crow Era. How much do you think Dowd and others know about the SCV to be able to imply such a connection? Please don’t get me wrong, this is not meant in any way as a public statement of support for the SCV or a signal that a Confederate flag is going up on my front porch. I’ve made my position clear on both the SCV and the flag on this blog.
I get the sense that the many reports that have implied such connections present Americans with another opportunity to play with our Civil War memory.
I apologize beforehand, but I can’t help but comment on the controversy surrounding President Obama’s planned address to the nation’s student body this coming Tuesday. I got a taste of the strong opinions on both sides this morning when I updated my Facebook profile with a quick word of approval for the planned speech.
As a high school history teacher how could I not voice approval for the fact that our highest elected official has decided to take a few minutes from what must be a busy schedule to address the future of this country. Instead what I was shocked to find was a deep-seated paranoia over what such an address may lead to. One comment included the suggestion that since Obama is losing popularity with adults that he might be trying to make up for it by rallying children to his support. Others actually believe that his goal is to brainwash or “indoctrinate” our children. You can find such sentiments all over the Web. What is one to make of all of this and what does it say about our country now that there is a significant portion of the population that actually believes that our students ought to be afraid of the president?