American Exceptionalism is Equal to Dumbing History Down According to SOME!

To many educators teaching something that is positive about American history is considered to be intellectually dishonest. Today Kevin suggest that to teach our history in any way that is “positive” is to teach in a vacuum free of “critical thinking.” Whatever. His idea of “critical thinking” is hard to imagine, but I can guess. To teach the American Revolution intellectually and to challenge students students to “think critically” Kevin probably thinks that the emphasis would be on Women, Blacks, and Indians. Are they to be left out? Of course not, but the spirit and heart of the Revolution was unique and dare I say… um, “Exceptional.” No, TRUE, few women, blacks or  Indians participated (as very few owned enough land to vote), but the fact that so many white males were at a time when Monarchies and Aristocracies dominated the globe, it was radical, revolutionary and “Exceptional.” I contend that Kevin and others simply cannot crawl out of that “Presentism: box they exist in.

But it is about emphasis that we as educators take. Educators do not lie (well I hope not) they simply pick and choose what is important. I do it, we all do. Am I saying my way is best? No. To teach something from a limited point of view is exactly that, limiting. I agree with Kevin that teaching solely American Exceptionalism leaves much to be desired. However, for today’s educational biases where the opposite is the norm, I wish to pull a Howard Zinn and say that since we have a significant majority who teach American History from the left, as if American Exceptionalism is the Boogie Man, I want to emphasize that we did establish something good and that we did create a Republic that was unique and at that time, 1789, something exceptional. We have enough educators ranting about much the opposite. Too much.

So therefore, if its okay for some to claim that they can be an “activist” as there is a need or a void as Zinn has argued, than I say so be it and I will do the same.

By the way, the very first reading I gave my APUSH students was the introduction to Zinn’s “A People’s History…” and along with it the introduction to “A Patriot’s History.” It resulted in wonderful and “critical thinking” level synthesis from the students for an opening to the class.

PS-  I’m sure some of you are thinking, “Sure it was!” I did not say a word, I let them discuss and in the end, some valued Zinn and some did not. I was the “guide on the side” and that was best. Sure I had an opinion, but I stayed out. I doubt most teachers do.

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13 Responses to American Exceptionalism is Equal to Dumbing History Down According to SOME!

  1. G Lowrey says:

    Your teaching method sounds much more acceptabe than someone who refuses to teach anything positive about our country. I am appalled at the thought! No wonder our country is in the shape it’s in. Edcuators should allow their students to think, instead of steering them toward the politically correct version.

    Thank you for teaching history the way it should be taught.

  2. Naim Peress says:

    I remember the anti-war propoganda I got in middle school. It continued into college. Education in this country has turned into a great deal of indoctrination. In the meantime, I encountered a high school kid headed for an Ivy League school several years ago who did not know the date or significance of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

  3. Chris:

    I agree wholeheartedly. I’ll be posting something on the same subject soon. I mentioned AE in some comments at my blog a week or so ago.

  4. Larry Cebula says:

    You attribute to Kevin Levin a lot of opinions that he has not, to my knowledge, ever expressed. Could you cite specifically, for example, what statements of Levin support your charge that “To teach the American Revolution intellectually and to challenge students students to “think critically” Kevin probably thinks that the emphasis would be on Women, Blacks, and Indians.”

    Thank you.

  5. Chris says:

    Everyone than you for your comments, you know who is at it at his blog! I used to try and understand Kevin, but with what is at stake today, I simply can’t. But you know, he is an intellectual who just is so darn smarter than I!

    C

  6. Chris says:

    Also, Kevin claims to have left a post, I never received it. I have ALWAYS posted responses. He lies or it did not make it. Chris

  7. toby says:

    Kevein Levin has one of the most articulate history blogs on the web, and you completely misrepresent him. I think Kevin would completely agree with this teaching method:

    “I did not say a word, I let them discuss and in the end, some valued Zinn and some did not. I was the “guide on the side” and that was best. Sure I had an opinion, but I stayed out. I doubt most teachers do.”

    You should invite your readers to read Kevin’s original post, follow what you preach here, and let them make up their own mind:

    http://cwmemory.com/2009/09/18/teaching-history-without-the-negative-stuff/

  8. Chris says:

    Both sides are missing the other which is not uncommon. His articulateness has nothing to do with this. Levin is of course, articulate, intelligent, accomplished, ect. I did not misread him in my opinion. I never said Levin does not teach well. I am talking about the belief that some have concerning their approach to U.S. history. I did call Levin out a bit and perhaps that was overreaching. But I stand by my comments.

  9. Toby:

    “Kevin Levin has one of the most articulate history blogs on the web”

    That’s subjective Toby and your opinion. Kevin often raises interesting points and provokes thought and debate, there’s no question about that, but his arguments very much align with a liberal academic template and are rather predictable. That’s my opinion.

    Moreover, your taking Chris to task for “sarcasm” (in the next post) would have a little more credibility if you ever did the same thing on Kevin’s blog in calling him and some of his followers for the same offense. Someone recently chastised me on my blog for an alleged offense while that same person has NEVER made any similar objections on Kevin’s blog for the same thing, though he comments there often. KL seems to get a pass on these things for some reason and then his followers show up on other sites to call down those bloggers. Sorry, no sale.

  10. toby says:

    The problem with the sarcasm is that it is so pointless.

    Here are two bloggers who should be having a stimulating and probably enlightening discussion on how to teach history without ramming a stereotypical approach down the throats of the students.

    Instead of that, it has gone straight to the statge of posturing and flaming. How boring! The discussion is about the (lack of) discussion.

    Let those who want to join in with their own gripes & grudges.

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  12. Toby:

    But have you called KL down for his sarcasm in regards to interpretations with which he disagrees? That was the point I raised. The sarcasm (which does serve a purpose at times) cuts both ways.

  13. Michael Schack says:

    What would “American exceptionalism leave out? Slavery, the labor conflicts, Wounded Knee the peonage period, McCarthy, Vietnam World War 1 or 2. I have become confused I teach history as driven by events and people within a context that I expect my students to develop ideas about. During the Revolutionary War the British move an army to the Southern states with one in 5 of the population in slavery there are a number of strategies both the British an Americans can take. How might this have affected the slaves in the northern states? For me democracy is an on going experiment that even when actions hurt one group of people how has the country responded?

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