I’ve been following the story out of Colorado surrounding the Board of Education’s concerns about the revised AP United States History curriculum. Earlier today and following protests by both teachers and students the board backed off from any plans to challenge the curriculum in the classroom. From the beginning it was clear that the position of the board had little to do with history education, but, rather, a perception that the revised curriculum does not deliver a narrative that frames our history around the concept of American Exceptionalism. As I suggested before, it is likely that most of the critics of the new curriculum have not read it or even the version of the course it supplants.
The question of whether our past ought to be taught around such an interpretive framework concerned me less than what I knew lay just behind these suggestions, which I suspected to be a deficient understanding of the history itself. Thankfully, board member, Pam Mazanec, has confirmed my worst fears. Here is her understanding of the end of slavery.
As an example, I note our slavery history. Yes, we practiced slavery. But we also ended it voluntarily, at great sacrifice, while the practice continues in many countries still today! Shouldn’t our students be provided that viewpoint? This is part of the argument that America is exceptional. Does our APUSH Framework support or denigrate that position?
It’s not simply that this elected official doesn’t understand basic American history, but that it reveals the incoherence of the concept of American Exceptionalism. For many Americans before the Civil War slavery was the sine qua non of America’s greatness. It created immense amounts of wealth, helped to push the nation on its inevitable course west, and framed the very idea of freedom for many white Americans.
Hopefully, the good people of Colorado will vote these bums out of office before they decide to challenge the curriculum of another subject that they know nothing about.
It’s easy to see how Mazanec could believe what she believes. Probably few Americans learn in school history about the abolition of serfdom in Russia, about the revolt in Haiti, about how slavery ended in the British West Indies and in Brazil.
Probably few Americans learn in school history about the abolition of serfdom in Russia, about the revolt in Haiti, about how slavery ended in the British West Indies and in Brazil.
Right. Or even that the trend toward emancipation, which had peaked in the immediate period following the Revolution was moving in the opposite direction by the end of the antebellum period.
Ending it voluntarily?! Seriously? The south definitely didn’t let slavery die voluntarily. The only thing exceptional about U.S. slavery is that the controversy surrounding it caused a sanguinary war that ended it. That unique aspect of U.S. history does not seem to be the kind worthy of pride. You know which countries did it voluntarily? Great Britain, three decades before the Civil War, was one. Another was Czarist Russia, which abolished serfdom in 1861, two years before the Emancipation Proclamation. The nobles did not have an equivalent of a Pugachev that rose up in revolt in protest. Both did so bloodlessly (unless you count the influence of the Crimean War, but that conflict was not internal and ended five years before Alexander II’s edict).
It may be reasonable to say the United States ended slavery voluntarily, even though abolition was involuntary for those who opposed it; the law forced them to accept the end of slavery. It took many governmental actions to end slavery. These actions were unforced by nature, and no foreign human power forced them upon the United States. We have to remember that a big part of the population of the slave states aided the aboltion–that would be many of the enslaved themselves. It was slavery that was involuntary–first of all to the enslaved, secondly to great numbers who opposed it actively, thirdly perhaps even larger numbers who acquiesced in it only because they thought abolition inachievable on practical grounds. Those who resisted the end of slavery had no choice but to accept it, because slavery requires compulsion, and the tools of compulsion were broken by changes in the law.
But other nations didn’t have to fight themselves to end it entirely. Also, the Emancipation Proclamation, let alone the proposed Thirteenth Amendment, would mean nothing without the force of arms. Yes, the northern and border states abolished slavery voluntarily, but they are not the whole country. However, the rebellious states did not acquiesce until they were defeated on the battlefield, hardly what you would call “unforced.”
It’s actually worse than ignorance.
Several commentators at Little Green Footballs pointed out that the “sacrifice” Mazanec seems to be referring to is the loss of “property.” Words fail me . . .
Ignorance, pure and simple.
Did you happen to see Ben Carson ‘ s comments about the APUSH standards?
Yes. The revised curriculum could lead to young Americans joining ISIS. Would love to know exactly what in the curriculum poses the greatest danger, but I won’t hold my breadth. We could, however, have some fun and guess.