Thaddeus Russell investigates an interesting part of American history that is often ignored. He argues that the Founding Fathers disapproved of the revelry on display in eighteenth-century America. “On nearly every block…there was a public place where one could drink, sing, dance, have sex, argue politics, gamble, play games, or generally carouse with men, women, children, whites, blacks, Indians, the rich, the poor, and the middling. Rarely have Americans had more fun.”
I have not read the book, but his summary at Alternet is noteworthy. However, to come to his conclusion it seems that he has relied too heavily on John Adams and on Puritan leaders to make his case. It would have been more accurate to say “some early U.S. leaders.”
11 Freedoms That Drunks, Slackers, Prostitutes and Pirates Pioneered—and the Founding Fathers Opposed | Alternet.
Rick Perlstein argues that it is a streak of optimism that is at the heart of the opposition to the new AP History guidelines. While his insight points to a significant driving force in the “history wars,” I think that it is misleading. Those who are optimistic look to the future and predict good things. By contrast those who oppose so-called “liberal” history are concerned with the controlling the past and see threats to their worldview lurking everywhere. It is about the identity of the U.S. and thereby their own. They equate perfection (as they define it) with exceptionalism. To admit mistakes or failures is to claim that America is not exceptional. And by association it is also a blow to their own self-esteem. This is why they react so viscerally to any challenge to their version of U.S. history. Anyone who dares challenge their “exceptional” version of history must be driven by malicious intent and is automatically un-American. What they fail to realize is that what makes the U.S. exceptional is the willingness to reflect on the past honestly so that we can become an even better America, one that is prosperous and just.
The Powerlessness of Positive Thinking – In These Times.
Students in Colorado protested against the conservative school board’s attempt to impose an ideologically driven U.S. history on students. One of the conservative school board members, Julie Williams, complained that the current Advanced Placement curriculum emphasized “race, gender, class, ethnicity, grievance and American-bashing.” In a History New Network article, Peter Dreier, the chair of the Urban & Environmental Policy Department, at Occidental College, is calling on “The American Historical Association (AHA) and the Organization of American Historians (OAH) should honor these students for standing up to their school board’s effort to distort U.S. history around a blatantly political agenda.”
History News Network | Historians Should Honor Protesting Colorado Students.
see also this Associated Press article on the Colorado student protest.
The anthropologist Peter Wood wrote an article last week on the History News Network (“Why Conservatives Are Up in Arms at the College Board’s Advanced Placement Course in History”) charging the College Board with politicizing the new Advanced Placement History standards. He claims that the new standards are “a radical interpretation of American history—one in which figures such as Franklin, Jefferson, and Madison play a drastically reduced part.”
Fred Anderson, a professor of History at the University of Colorado, participated in the creation of the new standards. In a new article, he challenges Wood’s interpretation of the new standards. Instead of politicizing the course, Anderson explains, they “hoped that future AP students would emerge from the course not just with a fund of facts at their disposal, but knowing how to ask productive questions about the past, and understanding why historical arguments must be governed, always and only, by the evidence.” And concludes that “Dr. Wood’s tortured reading of the Framework and his blanket denunciation of academic historians suggests that he, too, might pause to reflect on the values of rigor, impartiality, thoroughness, and intellectual honesty that were, in the end, all we hoped to foster.”
I admit, I find the charges that historians are “out to deconstruct American claims to exceptionalism” troubling. Historians are not in the business of myth-making and most teachers would rather teach their students history not myth. The kind of black and white thinking that only admits of two choices (either we are perfect or we are malevolent) is dangerous. To indoctrinate our children in myths of perfection is to create a culture of arrogance and stagnation. We should learn from our mistakes, not ignore them. The willingness to admit mistakes and learn from them is not un-American it is what makes America great.
“Without debate, without criticism, no Administration and no country can succeed–and no republic can survive.” JFK Presidential Library and Museum