Only Half of History

Led by Republican legislator Dan Fisher, state politicians in Oklahoma have drafted a bill that will erase state funding for the Advanced Placement United States History course in public schools. The largely-conservative lawmakers justified the bill as a reaction to an overly-negative portrayal of the United States in the course’s current curriculum and described in the draft of the document a new syllabus that emphasizes American exceptionalism and the brighter spots of this nation’s history. We believe this proposed law to be problematic for two main reasons: first, for the lack of balance it would introduce to the course and, second, for the prioritization of patriotism and American exceptionalism over truth and accuracy.

The bill includes a list of materials deemed appropriate to serve as the foundation of a newly-designed advanced U.S. History course. This new selection of texts presents a skewed perspective on American history. Notably, it contains three speeches by former President Ronald Reagan, one by former President George W. Bush and none by any Democratic president since Lyndon B. Johnson. Also included in the proposed sources for the new syllabus are “founding documents of the United States that contributed to the foundation or maintenance of the representative form of limited government, the free-market economic system and American exceptionalism,” according to the current draft of the bill. The new curriculum, then, would suffer from a deep-rooted bias towards Republican politicians and values — such as small government — rather than offering a balance of liberal and conservative views and figures.

Beyond this Republican bias, the proposed syllabus offers severely limited examples of what it means to be a citizen of and a leader in the United States. Among suggested texts, only three are written by women, four by blacks and one by an American Indian (a short surrender speech by Chief Joseph, acknowledging his people’s defeat to their white opponents). Gone too are any extended examinations of topics like slavery, the Trail of Tears or the women’s suffrage movement. Instead, students will spend their time internalizing only the obviously noble or inspiring aspects of American history. They will study John Winthrop’s “A Model of Christian Charity” without acknowledging the framework the 1630 sermon set for white self-righteousness and excessive American exceptionalism; they will read about the “holy cause of liberty” in Patrick Henry’s “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death” speech without discussing the marginalized groups to whom the same liberties did not apply.

The history of the United States is undeniably complex. Indeed, the country’s tale contains inspiring examples of virtue, heroism and the quest for freedom, but the story has also been marred by hatred, violence and cruelty. Furthermore, while the primarily-white, primarily-male authors and speakers whose work the new curriculum would include almost exclusively played, without a doubt, vital and admirable roles throughout American history. We need to read the Declaration of Independence and Winthrop’s sermon. But we also need to read about the more painful parts of our history. It is as important to learn about the stories of marginalization and exclusion within the United States as it is to learn about the country’s emphasis on freedom and heroism. For students to develop into valuable and moral citizens, an understanding of the unvarnished truth of American history is key. Reformulating academic curricula, therefore, into what seems to resemble a propaganda machine more than an advanced American history class is incredibly detrimental to and dangerous for our growth and improvement as a society.

*This editorial represents the views of* The Phillipian *Editorial Board CXXXVIII.*