I will admit that motivated students who get a chance to engage in historical discussions in my classes are fortunate. My students discuss slavery in the textbook, as well as the historiographical arguments and debates that shapes textbooks. Again, textbooks are for students. It gives them a basic narrative to follow. Great teachers introduce students to the complex arguments that shapes their historical thinking skills. This matter changes nothing for my teaching nor what my students read. Give this article a read: AP US History Caves to Conservatives, Will Down Play Slavery and Focus on American Exceptionalism. I am not sure where to start with the problems found in the title.
I first encountered this subject while reading an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education. In sense, it states that:
The report by the National Association of Scholars and its affiliate, the Texas Association of Scholars, examined the textbooks and other readings for 85 sections of lower-division American history courses at the two schools in fall 2010. All too often, the report concluded, the readings gave students “a less-than-comprehensive picture of U.S. history,” with the situation “far more problematic” at UT than at A&M.
The article goes on and contends that:
At UT, 78 percent of the faculty members who taught the freshman and sophomore classes were deemed “high assigners” of race, class and gender readings, meaning that more than half of the content had such a focus. At A&M, 50 percent of faculty members were deemed high assigners of such material.
This topic is problematic it that it is being advanced by the National Association of Scholars, which is a conservative watchdog group that monitors the actions of educational institutions. My issue with this topic is one of suspicion: Why point out and criticize key categorical arguments used to analyze historical problems in American history? I realize they are saying schools assign too much work on race, class, and gender, but they fail to discuss the reasons why we historians do this. The United States has evolved, however, the process of evolution has faced a great deal of resistance.
The study of United States history is ugly. Discriminated racial minorities, voiceless and impoverished homeless, as well as exploited women were all change agents in helping progressive academics rethink the teaching of U.S. History.
I think back to two excellent quotes that define what is most troubling about this topic. James Baldwin once noted:
What passes for identity in America is a series of myths about one’s heroic ancestors.
W.E.B. Du Bois draws an excellent conclusion regarding the teaching of American history by referencing…
One is astonished in the study of history at the recurrence of the idea that evil must be forgotten, distorted, skimmed over. We must not remember that Daniel Webster got drunk but only remember that he was a splendid constitutional lawyer. We must forget that George Washington was a slave owner … and simply remember the things we regard as creditable and inspiring. The difficulty, of course, with this philosophy is that history loses its value as an incentive and example; it paints perfect men and noble nations, but it does not tell the truth.
Their recommendations below are most troubling. It appears that the one and only dominate figure in US history seeks a return to the center stage: White Anglo-Saxon Protestant men (WASP).
The National Association of Scholars offered 10 recommendations for improving American history offerings:
1. History departments should review existing curricula, eliminate inappropriate overemphases, and repair gaps and underemphases.
2. Administrators or governing boards should convene an external review if history departments are unwilling.
3. Hire faculty members with a broader range of research interests.
4. Ensure that survey and introductory courses give comprehensive overviews.
5. History department members should collaborate to develop lists of readings that students are expected to study.
6. Design courses that contribute to a robust, evenhanded and reasonably complete curriculum.
7. Diversify graduate programs to ensure that they don’t unduly emphasize race, class and gender themes.
8. Other states should enact laws similar to the Texas requirement that students complete two courses in American history, but better accountability is needed to ensure that colleges’ teaching lines up with legal provisions.
9. Publishers should publish textbooks and anthologies that more adequately represent the full range of U.S. history.
10. Historians and professors of U.S. history should counter mission creep by returning to their primary task of handing down the American story, as a whole, to future generations.
….You bet the Party does. It is not a mystery that black Americans constitute the largest single voting block in the United States. Blacks contend that voting Republican is not an option; it is a party largely deemed racist by blacks. I will admit this is a gross generalization; however, it is one that has prevailed since party realignment during the 1932 election of FDR.
Blaming the Democratic Party for this trend is not the right approach. Fault is clearly on the Republican Party. Since the election of Dwight Eisenhower, Republicans have marginalized the black vote. They have largely been seen as an anti-New Deal Party. And as of late, there has been a shift in the Hispanic vote, too. Thus the Republican Party can only blame themselves for alienating racial minorities, as well as gay and lesbian populations. So, what does this have to do with Democrats exploiting the vote?
Black Americans feel as though they have no choice but to endorse the Democratic Party. If one were to listen to the Republican platform, it is clear that Republicans are in bed with the Christian right and the wealthiest segment of the country. If Republicans hope and care to be relevant to blacks, they must change their language. If not blacks will continue to vote in a very solid block. And joining them in this block will be Hispanics and white allies to blacks, gays, and lesbians. In the 2012 election, Asian Americans joined both blacks and Hispanics in guaranteeing Obama a second term. Some political scientist once thought that younger populations of blacks might gravitate toward the Republican Party; however, with a candidate like Obama and a sense that the Republican Party is out of touch with 21st century realities, younger blacks endorsing Republican candidate Mitt Romney or other members of the party did not come to fruition in 2012..
Another population exploited are gays and lesbians. Why would a gay person or his/her allies endorse a party that clearly campaigns against them? You might recall during the 2004 election, the Republican Party made gay marriage part of its national platform. In a comical fashion, conservative Americans clearly forgot about a crumpling economy amidst two global conflicts. The only thing that concerned many of them was gay marriage. Thus, a number of states made gay marriage a part of state-wide referendums. Recently, as I have noted on this blog, NBA player Jason Collins came out as being gay. I am sure it will not surprise you to learn that his calculated move earned him national praise; and not just from many Americans who endorse gayness and gay marriage — but by two Democratic presidents. If the Republican Party wanted to change its message some, it would have encouraged members of its leadership to endorse Jason Collins’ actions. Maybe have George W. Bush or H.W. Bush call Collins and congratulate him for being brave. But that did not happen. When Republicans are mentioned in the gay category…it usually has something to do with promoting anti-gay marriage legislation, or a member of the Republican Party came out of the closet as being gay.
Collins’ actions earned him a political future. Many are calling him a rising political star within the Democratic Party. He has been asked to take part in party fundraising, and possibly, be an invited keynote speaker at the Democratic National Convention. Boy those Democrats are quick.
I am sharing a two-part piece from a paper I wrote entitled Getting Real About Whiteness in Independent Schools. I broke away from script just a bit in the reading of this primarily due to length. The goal of course is to show a historical relationship dating back to the 1960s about why many African-American teachers are pronounced liberal in their construct. In this segment, I start in a more philosophical fashion denoting a mere semblance of black identity. In the second segment, I will delve into the more recent elements of the shaping of the black faculty member.
While a graduate student, I wrote a paper entitled A Marxist Synthesis to Educational Analysis. In this paper, I addressed a shift promulgated by neo-Marxists vis-à-vis culturalist theory. Aspects of cultural theory shaped my educational and pedagogical premise that students must be free thinkers. Furthermore, if they are to become free thinkers, they must construct their own synthesis toward ideas and ideals… not a mere synthesis of their academic environment. Much of my conclusion is shared by Stanley Fish, a wonderful leftist academic who always looked to empower the well prepared student through Socratic discussions. His post-modern analysis toward radical theory, queer theory, and deconstruction has continued to revolutionize education.
As a student, I recall on a number of occasions challenging the status of my campus. Often frustrated by the same white protestant male espousing the same political, ideological, and religious beliefs. From class to class, I watched my anger grow as I sought to understand my own learning and identity from the likes of Richard Wright and W.E.B. Du Bois. I knew they would not sing the same old company lesson plan articulated by one-dimensional institutions. I asked more than once: Why the preachy lessons on moral abstract construct espoused by ONE ideological thought? or, What does the black teacher think? or Where are the black, Asian, American Indian teachers? How about ONE Jewish teacher? Maybe a pro-Palestinian professor? Creating institutions that inculcate the same values and norms does not allow students to become critical thinkers. It is a lie. We (including myself) recycle the same language but, each time we do, we ask students to think critically. Here is what Fish has to say:
…the Academic Bill of Rights, the Student Bill of Rights and the Princeton Student Bill of Rights all speak of the importance of promoting and protecting the academic freedom of students. What could this possibly mean? The only freedom students rightly have is the freedom to vote with their feet if they do not like the syllabus in a particular course. They are not free to demand on the basis of an intellectual diversity or balance or pluralism or some other specious abstraction that the syllabus be changed to suit their personal or ideological inclinations. Nor are students free to introduce into a classroom issues or perspectives that are judged by an instructor to be beside the point he or she wishes to explore. Instructors are free to say to a student, that may be an interesting question, but it is not one we shall be asking here.
The rhetoric of academic freedom for students is a subset of the rhetoric of student rights. But students have no rights, except the right to competent and responsible instruction. They certainly do not have any right to be instructed by a conservative teacher or a liberal teacher or a religious teacher or a white teacher or a black teacher or a teacher of any color. The idea that students have rights often accompanies the idea that students are customers and teachers, providers. Students are not customers and if we survey their preferences and alter our product accordingly, we will not only have betrayed our professional responsibility; we will have betrayed them
As noted before, there are black Americans frustrated with Obama; however, their frustration is greatly different from that of white America. Blacks have made the mistake of claiming Obama to themselves. Many assumed that he would arrive and eradicate the injustices placed on them with his New Deal thinking. In return, blacks now realize that Obama cannot be that savior. The president of the US is a weak man. His powers are limited. Obama is the voice of all people, not just blacks. During the arrival of Jesus Christ, the Jews had been highly anticipating this great savior who would unleash His wrath. Yet, much like Obama, Christ was not what the Jews anticipated. Both are viewed as weak and passive by the very people that had been calling for them. In the case of Obama, he will not face being crucified by his own people — like that of Christ. Obama knows that he is the chosen one for a race of people that cannot depend on the conservative anti-New Deal thinking that exists within a Republican Party that ushers to a certain class and race.
One of the many academic journals I receive is the Intercollegiate Review. It is published by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute. I believe they have been publishing this journal since 1953 — but I could be wrong. The institute is pretty conservative. Case in point: The above issue that just arrived on my campus desk ran a piece on the changing tide of academic studies. The author noted that schools — particularly universities — once served as the model for academic excellence. Students sought to be more well-rounded. They had a greater investment in their education and were intellectually curious. Thus, it was not unheard of for a business major to study the American Revolution; psychology majors took courses in the studies of Shakespeare and Milton; future politicians thumbed through the King James Bible. I will admit, I agree with the author in that a tide has shifted students away from being seekers to just being done. A few years ago, I was asked to be the keynote speaker at Houston Christian’s National Honor Society Induction Ceremony. In my speech, I stated that W.E.B. Du Bois used the term “the talented tenth” to describe the likelihood of one in ten blacks becoming leaders of their race in the world, through methods such as continuing their education, writing books, or becoming directly involved in social change. He believed they needed an education to reach their true destiny as what would in the 20th century be called public intellectuals. Du Bois stated:
We shall have only as we make manhood the object of the work of the schools — intelligence, broad sympathy, knowledge of the world that was and is, and of the relation of men to it — this is the curriculum of that Education which must underlie true life. On this foundation we may build bread winning, skill of hand and quickness of brain, with never a fear lest the child and man mistake the means of living for the object of life.
I do sense that society has shifted away from training people to be thinkers; in truth, it appears that we are training people to make money. And, I suspect that is the direction of the modern economy. Here is where I disagree with the premise of the article: It blamed the radicalism of the 1960s for destroying the traditional cannon of knowledge taught on campuses across the country. It ridiculed the notion that single-sex schools vanished. Now, in this new age, schools are teaching courses on gender and sexuality. Race and culture courses now dominate history, English, and political science departments. I suspect the author feels that the academy should reflect the white man theory on education. Forget about changing demographics and pluralism. Though the author makes a number of great points…as I noted above, I feel the attack on changing group dynamics as reflected in academic curricula is silly.
Here are a few courses being taught at various universities that the author took aim at:
Yale University — Humanities and Arts Requirement: US Lesbian and Gay History
University of Texas — Science Requirement: Animal Sexuality
College of Holy Cross — Religion Requirement: Gardens and World Religions
I must point out that I do not know if the above courses are really required; I am simply stating what I read in this journal piece. I would not be shocked to learn that this is all for shock value.
I would love to get your thoughts on this.