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The Future of History

God once offered to spare the city of Sodom from destruction if He could find but fifty righteous men there, a figure that Lot shrewdly but to no avail negotiated down to ten, so there’s hope yet that modern America academia might also avoid His wrath. A full 55 well-credentialed scholars have signed a letter protesting the College Board’s cockamamie Advance Placement U.S. History framework, and even such less merciful sorts as ourselves can hope they’ll redeem all the rest of their profession.
There’s already a grassroots resistance to the framework, which dictates what will be on one of the two most important college admission tests and the most common advance placement examinations, and thereby effectively dictates what will be taught about American history to America’s most promising high school students, and dictates that it will be the anti-American Howard Zinn version that already predominates in public education, while a few of the Republican presidential contenders are already making an issue of the similar Common Core curriculum that the same dictators are hoping to impose on America’s schools, but it’s good to have some allies with elite academic resumes on board. Grassroots groups of concerned moms and dads and Republican presidential candidates are easily caricatured as jingoist know-nothing yahoos trying to “organize an educational system around what can’t be taught to children,” just like those Bible-thumping hillbillies in the Scopes Monkey Trial, so we’re happy to be able to appeal to the sorts of authority that usually are immune to such libel. It’s still 33 less than the “Gang of 88” faculty members at Duke University who signed on to that Ox-Bow incident involving the university’s lacrosse team, but it’s a start.
Among the signatories on that letter of protest from the National Association of Scholars are Charles Kessler of Claremont McKenna College, Jean Yarbrough of Bowdoin College, Ronald Radish of the City University of New York, Stephan Thernstrom of Harvard University, and Victor Davis Hanson of Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, a particular favorite of ours, along a couple of National Endowment for the Arts chairpersons and others familiar to right-wing nut-cases such as ourselves as the last bastion of common sense in American academia. There are also the likes of historian Robert Merry, a fierce critic of Bush-era foreign policy, the University of Oklahoma’s Wilfred McCLay, known for questioning the traditional individualist ethos of American society, and Harvey Mansfield, whose distinguished career has been accommodating enough to remain a fixture of Harvard’s Faculty since 1962, along with many others who can’t easily be accused of being know-nothing jingoist rubes. They’re an infinitesimal slice of academia, to be sure, but collectively they come out far more diverse and markedly superior to the academic average, and it can only help in the coming fight.
Someone or another –probably Winston Churchill or one of those smart English fellows — once famously remarked that academic disputes are so fiercely fought because they are so very petty, but the fight those 55 academics have joined is of the greatest consequence even here in the real world. The framework that the College Board hopes to dictate to America’s schools is a history devoid of heroes, any mitigating explanations for America’s actions over its long history, or any acknowledgement that this desultory tale has somehow culminated in the richest and freest and most powerful nation in that broader world history the College Board’s curricula purports to teach. Our own high school education culminated way back in the mid-to-late’-7s, but even then we were intellectually marinated in the academic skepticism of that post-Vietnam era. the inevitable result has been an American president who likens America’s exceptionality to that of Greece or Britain and who later insists that we are only exceptional to the degree that we comply with international restraints, and a world from China to Russia to the Middle East that suddenly realized that a post-American age has at long last dawned, and a moribund economy that no longer entices that risk-taking entrepreneur who is now told he didn’t actually build his life’s work.
Reversing course will require a generation or two of differently educated men and women, especially the most promising high-schoolers among them, and we’re grateful that a grassroots movement and a few Republican candidates and an infinitesimal slice of academia are among those manning the barricades.

— Bud Norman

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