Levin writes [link]:
I don’t mind admitting that I am an enemy of the notion of ‘American Exceptionalism.’ It’s not simply that I fail to see how it applies to American history, but that it has nothing to do with my role as an instructor of history. I’ve said before that I do not consider it my responsibility to influence students in how they judge the collective moral status of the United States through its history and current policies. In addition to the concept of exceptionalism I also steer clear of any notion of America as “God’s Chosen People” or the notion of an inherent “Evil Imperial Empire” that is espoused by some on the extreme Left. That said, I do deal with the historical roots of the idea of American Exceptionalism going back to the Puritans’ notion of a “City Upon a Hill” through Manifest Destiny as well as its later manifestation in the form of the “White Man’s Burden.”
Can someone please tell me what is gained by teaching American history this way? How does it help our students to engage with the rest of the world on a level of cooperation and mutual respect? All I see is a curriculum that promotes arrogance along with the biases of a cultural exclusivist.
First, I would agree with Levin that I too am an “enemy” of his overtly SIMPLISTIC description of “American Exceptionalsim.”
The comments above by Levin expose several things that I have taken issue with and why I dare to speak out against him. The association Levin makes connecting such things as “White Man’s Burden,” “God’s Chosen People” and Manifest Destiny with the teaching of American Exceptionalism is laughable. Teaching American Exceptionalism is not about me teaching that the Puritans were right!
No one in their right mind would teach history as if these ideals of the past were just or exceptional. But like my concern over Berkin in my previous post, by presenting the argument in such a context allows him to declare himself “an enemy” of American Exceptionalism. No one in their right mind would teach American historical movements such as the one’s Levin associates with the idea of American Exceptionalism. Teaching American history is not about leaving out the “negative stuff”– it’s about emphasis. Nothing should be left out and THAT INCLUDES the exceptional aspects of our history. That is my point. (I know Levin will say he does not exclude that, somehow I doubt it, call me crazy!) I very much doubt many current educators are fair in their presentation of history.
What is American Exceptionalism? For me it is about (among other things) the principles of egalitarianism that permeated during the founding of this country — from the Mayflower Compact to the declaration of Independence and especially when considering that this all took place in an age of Monarchy and Aristocracy. White men were able to vote, and on a vastly wider scale than anywhere else and ever before. It was a radical and incredible evolution that took place and is unique to our history. It was marvelous and on so many levels.
Levin wrote, “I’ve said before that I do not consider it my responsibility to influence students in how they judge the collective moral status of the United States through its history and current policies.”
Yet here is the same educator who openly acknowledges that it is appropriate for him to express his political beliefs in his classroom; which is loaded with very impressionable young people. I try to avoid such discussions as I know that I have a point of view and that it might come out!
I don’t know how ANYONE can engage their class with their own political beliefs and do so in any historical context and not be biased. We are all biased and there is no way to avoid this, no matter how intelligent and “intellectual” anyone is. Students look up to their teachers, they will absorb every word and be significantly influenced by that educator.
So, finally, and in a round about way I have also addressed why I posted this comment that Levin seems to think I should have censored. I felt this person, though I disagree with him in some respects, has a perspective so I posted it. Besides, last time I checked this was my blog! I will post what I want.