Taking Back America By Taking Back Our Schools
April 2, 2014 The Report Card
Editor: www.thereportcard.org The highly respected National Association of Scholars is preparing the report to alert veterans that the liberty and principles they fought for is being expunged from school curricula everywhere in America. We are alarmed that American exceptionalism is no longer taught. We are deeply concerned that the NAEP only considers 12% of high school seniors proficient in history. Most of all we are concerned that students are being instructed that America is the source of much trouble and oppression in the world and not a beacon of liberty and justice. If the next generation accepts this teaching, then there will be little reason for them to support and defend America or the Constitution. The ramifications of this eventuality are frightening to contemplate. We believe that veterans have paid a great price so America can remain the land of liberty. We believe that they should have a voice in reforming education. Dr. Peter Wood is preparing a report for publication within the next 90 days, and The Report Card is pleased to publish a summary of that report).
A Report to Veterans: Schools No Longer Teach American Exceptionalism or America’s Sacrifice in Battle for Liberty and Human Rights
By Peter Woods, President National Association of Scholars
Field Marshal Bernard Law Montgomery, Commander of the victorious 8th Army in North Africa and Commander of ground forces at D-Day became post war commander in Germany. He realized he needed to change German education to rid that country of Nazi ideology:
“New school books must be printed which were not tainted by Nazi ideologies, and all Nazi teaching and idea must be eradicated from educational establishments…that matter must be tackled energetically.”
It’s hard for America veterans to understand the extent to which American schools have re-written history to depict America as the cause of trouble in the world, and not the citadel of liberty as was once taught. In the words of Montgomery, this is an issue that must be “tackled energetically.”
A “valediction” is a farewell speech. One of the most famous in American history was General Douglas MacArthur’s address to Congress, April 19, 1951, after President Truman fired him as commander of the U.S. forces in the Korean War. MacArthur quoted a sentimental World War I ballad, “Old soldier never die; they just fade away.”
In truth, MacArthur improved on the original, where the second part is, “They always fade away.” Fading away is a choice, and seldom the best one. But it was a good exit line for MacArthur.
The valedictions that we hear most often these days are commencement speeches by students graduating from high school and college. Often these “valedictorians” mistake the occasion, and instead of saying farewell to the chapter in their lives that is closing, they gush about the bright prospects that lie ahead. They expect to change the world. And they think it will be easy.
We can only smile at their eagerness. They’ll learn soon enough.
The trouble is that the valedictorians at the top of their classes are seldom much better informed about the real world than the sluggards who slept through history and social studies. That’s because our schools (and our colleges too) have been recklessly ignoring some of the most important things students should know, and even more recklessly teaching some things that aren’t true. To paraphrase General MacArthur: old history doesn’t die, but it sure enough fades away. The contemporary history curriculum involves a lot of fading.
Two years ago one of my sister organizations that is concerned with higher education did a survey of how much American history students graduating from top American colleges and universities actually know. You may remember some of the eyebrow-raising results. Ninety-six percent could identify Lady Gaga; 17 percent could correctly identify the Emancipation Proclamation.
Those aren’t figures pulled out of context. The survey focused on simple questions and gave easy multiple-choice options. Who was the American general at Yorktown? Fewer than half picked George Washington. Who was the father of the U.S. Constitution? Only one in five picked James Madison.
Surveys can be good wake-up calls, but to really understand something, you usually have to go deeper. That’s what my organization, the National Association of Scholars, does. We’ve been diving deep into how colleges teach history. Why colleges and not grade schools and high schools? Because grade school and high school teachers learned what they know in college, and the textbooks they use are written by college professors. College is the key.
In a study we published three years ago, The Vanishing West, we documented the near disappearance of Western history survey courses. Back in 1963, almost all college students were required to take these introductory surveys. By 1990, they had been reduced to electives, and by 2010, they were gone altogether except for a straggler or two. Does it matter?
That depends. If you think that the origins of democracy and self-governance in ancient Greece don’t matter, then you can probably skip learning about how the city states combined to fight off Xerxes’ Persian army. If you think the extension of law and commerce over most of the Mediterranean and Europe doesn’t matter, you can also skip the rise of the Roman Empire. The Middle Ages, the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, and so on, might be banished too, since all-in-all, that “history” is only about what “rich dead white males” did to each other.
The disappearance of Western history survey courses was just one step in reshaping what college students know and don’t know about the past. Another step has come in the narrowing of the history that is actually taught. The NAS did another study published last year, Recasting History, which looked at all the history courses for freshmen at the flagship public universities in Texas. We found that 78 percent of the assigned readings in these courses at the University of Texas focused on race, class, and gender. Whole divisions of history were ignored altogether. Economic, military, and scientific history were nowhere to be found, and other divisions such as political and diplomatic history were treated solely through the lens of race, class, and gender.
Our report prompted outrage among academic historians. No, no outrage that students were being shortchanged and the country ill-served. The outrage was that the National Association of Scholars had called into question a widespread practice that the majority of university historians approve. Emphasizing race, class, and gender as the key to American history is now the norm. We were seen as calling for the return of the bad old days when minorities and women were given scant attention and American history was all about glorifying the wealthy and the powerful.
Let’s take that off the table right now. My colleagues and I favor accurate history. That means history that gets the facts right. We favor comprehensive history. That’s history that doesn’t leave out essential events. And finally, we favor connected history. That’s history that puts important events in context with each other and with what came before and after. There is plenty of room in accurate, comprehensive, and connected history to present the history of race, class, and gender in America. But those topics need to be seen as part of a larger whole.
The NAS did one more study that says even more about how history is taught in college. Last year we released What Does Bowdoin Teach? which is an in-depth study of an elite liberal arts college in Maine. We wanted to see how a college with high admissions standards and a sterling reputation actually goes about its work. When it came to history, however, we were astonished. Bowdoin students are not required to take any history. History majors are required to take at least two courses in non-Western history, but no courses in American history. The history department, like its counterparts in Texas, is top-heavy with courses on race, class, and gender, but has nothing to say about the American Founding. Military history is scant. The one course that deals with World War II was titled “Women on the Home Front.” After we drew attention to it, Bowdoin renamed it, “The United States Home Front in World War II.” It deals with “government documents and propaganda, films, memoirs, fiction, and advertising [and] investigates how the war shaped and reshaped sexuality, family dynamics, and gender roles; race and ethnic relations; labor conflicts; social reform, civil rights, and citizenship; and popular culture.”
The Vanishing West, Recasting History, and What Does Bowdoin Teach? by no means exhaust the subject of what is going wrong in the teaching of American history in college. We’ve been shining our light on other questionable practices as well. An increasingly popular idea on campus, for example, is to urge students to think of themselves as “citizens of the world” rather than American citizens. A new form of “civics education” has emerged that emphasizes multiculturalism and diversity but is stone silent on America’s institutions of self-government, including elections and juries. And we’ve paid special attention to the adoption in numerous history courses of the book A People’s History of the United States, by the late Marxist agitator, Howard Zinn. The popularity of Zinn’s book—rife with inaccuracies and invective— is a barometer of the intellectual ill-health of the academy.
And when the academy sneezes, K-12 education gets a cold.
That cold has a name: The Common Core K-12 State Standards, which will bring to grade schools and high schools much of the disdain for America that is now a settled attitude in the colleges. But I’ll leave that for another day.
It’s time for my valediction for this essay. I am concerned that the ideas and commitments that have made America a great nation are eroding away at the base. Freedom, as Ronald Reagan said, “is never more than one generation from extinction.” When we leave the coming generation bereft of any real idea of the American past, we are risking our freedom. Who will defend something he never met and does not understand? And, of course, it not merely that we aren’t teaching accurate, comprehensive, and connected American history. Rather, we teaching a kind of anti-history aimed at emphasizing injustices, resentments, divisions, and loyalties to sub-groups. It’s a toxic combination.
These are matter in which American veterans could play a constructive role. Those who have sacrificed for their country understand what is at stake better than most. We need their voices now more than ever. It is no time to fade away.