People Are an Abstraction, American Exceptionalism is Not?

Liberals have killed Christmas and are killing Christians and Christianity, and by God if now they haven’t killed American history too, says Fox News. According to Fox & Friends host Steve Doocy, the College Board, the folks behind the Advanced Placement United States History (APUSH) course, have ruined history for white folks like him.

Doocy warned that “U.S. history may be history,” because U.S. history isn’t U.S. history if it isn’t about American Exceptionalism and about the people that made America so exceptional – the white Europeans.

Lis Power at Media Matters for America explains that,

Fox News has spent the week hyping an open letter published by the National Association of Scholars (NAS), a conservative group critical of the Advanced Placement (AP) U.S. History Course framework that the College Board released last year. Fifty-five scholars signed the letter, which claims the revised guidelines focus on “the conflict between social groups” rather than “sources of national unity and cohesion.” An NAS press release about the letter says the new framework “ignores American exceptionalism.”

According to the NAS press release, “American history as taught in the new APUSH course, according to the letter, focuses on “the conflict between social groups,” and does not pay enough attention to “sources of national unity and cohesion.”

Oh no! Sounds to me like actual history is being taught. We can’t teach actual history when we could be teaching conservative ideology (i.e. the primacy of the white male) instead.

Fox News supports the idea that the College Board has an agenda to push, and that, of course, religion has been pushed aside (apparently in favor of studying ethnic groups), leading to Doocy’s shocked exclamation, “So they’ve left the religion part out?”

No, they haven’t left religion out. In fact, if you look at the curriculum framework you find,

CUL-4 Analyze how changing religious ideals, Enlightenment beliefs, and republican thought shaped the politics, culture, and society of the colonial era through the early Republic.

Yet according to Whitney Neal, of the Bill of Rights Institute, “It’s there … almost like as an afterthought, right? It’s kind of like down the page a couple.”

If religion is an afterthought, so is the Enlightenment, and without the Enlightenment we would have no Declaration of Independence, no Constitution. Traditional religion went into the writing of neither.

We are told in the NAS letter that the 2014 guidelines will lead to “imbalance” and “bias” in the test, as though “imbalance” and “bias” were not already inherent in the previous presentation of American history.

According to the NAS,

The 2010 framework treated national identity, including “views of the American national character and ideas about American exceptionalism” as a central theme. But the 2014 framework makes a dramatic shift away from that emphasis, choosing instead to grant far more extensive attention to “how various identities, cultures, and values have been preserved or changed in different contexts of U.S. history with special attention given to the formation of gender, class, racial and ethnic identities.”

So the problem here is, unsurprisingly, “multiculturalism,” the idea that people other than the mighty white Europeans had some influence over what America was to become. The idea that women actually did something more than make babies and cook their men’s food is offensive to the scholars of the NAS.

Even the use of the term “ethnic identities” betrays bias, as though everybody on these shores, including white Europeans, were not ethnic. They might as well out and say they only want the AP test to focus on white Europeans.

At least then I could respect them for their honesty, if not their bigoted views of history.

I well remember my first exposure to the idea that American history was more than a history of white men: Red, White, and Black: The Peoples of Early America (1974) by Gary Nash. I was not introduced to it until taking a college history course. I should not have had to wait so long to be introduced to the idea that America was more than white people. No one should have to wait that long.

The NAS letter objects that,

The new framework is organized around such abstractions as “identity,” “peopling,” “work, exchange, and technology,” and “human geography” while downplaying essential subjects, such as the sources, meaning, and development of America’s ideals and political institutions, notably the Constitution.

I would argue that there is nothing abstract about people. We are the “reason for the season,” so to speak. It is American exceptionalism that is the abstraction.

Yet you can see why conservatives would object to “Peopling.” The AP Course and Exam Description tells us,

This theme focuses on why and how the various people who moved to, from, and within the United States adapted to their new social and physical environments. Students examine migration across borders and long distances, including the slave trade and internal migration, and how both newcomers and indigenous inhabitants transformed North America. The theme also illustrates how people responded when “borders crossed them.” Students explore the ideas, beliefs, traditions, technologies, religions, and gender roles that migrants/immigrants and annexed peoples brought with them and the impact these factors had on both these peoples and on U.S. society.

Any time a course of study is not narrowly focused on the mighty Europeans, there are going to be problems. But vital as their contribution was, United States history was not limited to the intrepid Jesus Body Double – the Northern European male – blazing his way from sea to shining sea, musket in one hand, Bible in the other.

The Spaniards were already here before the first English settlers set foot on the New World. And before them, the indigenous inhabitans. Borders did cross peoples and everything that came with each succeeding wave of migrants and immigrants changed America.

As the description says, national identity was influenced by migration.

Key Concept 3.3: Migration within North America, cooperative interaction, and competition for resources raised questions about boundaries and policies, intensified conflicts among peoples and nations, and led to contests over the creation of a multiethnic, multiracial national identity.

It is why we refer to ourselves as a nation of immigrants, rather than as a nation of mighty white Northern Europeans.

If you want to know how conservative these people – the NAS – are, who oppose changes to the APUSH course, William Donohue – Bill Donohue of the Catholic League, the guy who has said non-religious people are insane, that Muslims and artists must become Catholic to stop further terrorist attacks, that Church abuse victims were active participants, was a member.

By no means are all the scholars identifying themselves as members of the NAS as extreme as Bill Donohue – Victor Davis Hanson is a respected military historian and I have several of his books on my shelf – but do not be fooled into thinking that NAS opposition to the 2014 guidelines are not supporting a conservative agenda where American history is concerned.

As a general rule of thumb, if they oppose something, that something, whatever it is, should be seriously considered. It is true that America is changing, and that changes in how we study history reflects, to some degree, those changes. But the real changes – the substantive changes – are in recognizing, as College Board has done, that what we now know about the past has changed, and that belief in an abstraction like American Exceptionalism is perhaps less important than concrete things like people – wherever they’re from, whatever their religious beliefs, whatever their gender, and, perhaps most importantly of all, whatever their skin color happens to be.

14 Replies to “People Are an Abstraction, American Exceptionalism is Not?”

  1. Hate to tell fox that their dumbing down of gulible Americans causing hate, lies, violence, and the creation of widespread Christian hypocrisy. I guess sticking half dressed women on the screen spewing lies is GREAT for our country. Their hatred of an amazing black man is the issue due to their lack of respect. Fox has been pushing hate and lies about Obama since 2008. Did they do that to Bush who murdered 4,577 of OUR own Americans? NOOOOOOOO. Its clear, fox is trying to discredit America so they can turn it into Murdoch, Bush, Koch, Halliburton, Rove, Norquist, Romney Ville. They even tried to put a complete idiot into the vp position in ’08 who is was willing to kneel before them and be their lying pawn.

  2. Pox News, Propaganda, Inherent Superiority of Christianity, Manifest Destiny, Aryan Jesus; his(her)story is indeed (re)written by the so-called victors.

    Grunt! Growl! Snort! – translated: Don’t interrupt me when I’m talking to myself.

  3. The ignorance that FOX Noise spews and likes to play on is partly the result of teaching watered-down pablum as American history in schools. They have a distorted view of this country, especially when they push this idea that only white Europeans contributed anything of value. The truth is that this is a country of immigrants from all over the world, voluntarily or otherwise, and every group has made its mark. It’s truly sad, because there are people in all parts of the world who have a much better grasp and knowledge of our collective history than these loons do.

  4. My mom died last year. The last 2 years she was alive, I took her to Dr. after Dr. appointments to Many different Docs. One thing I noticed, in each case, every Docs office had Faux News playing on TV. Every damn one of them. And these elderly folks sitting there gobbling it up. It was sickening to see.

  5. My condolences, John, and I know what you’re saying
    about NC’s overall political climate. My 87 year old mom
    said last week that women shouldn’t run for POTUS. Her
    reason for that is based on hormones and emotions. Old
    school logic still survives. Jah bless.

  6. I’m not sure why Fox is going after AP courses since it’s likely very few of their viewers have taken any. Unless this is just another part of the GOP’s calculated destruction of the American Public Education System.

  7. Thanks Rastalari, She was one month shy of 91 when she passed. A bright note I might add, She was a Liberal. She had converted many years earlier.

  8. Yes, Christianity is superior to other religions. I vote Democratic because I’m for worker rights, high minimum wage, voting rights, civil rights, environmental issues, and unions, but as a Christian, some of you people really make me want to stay home on election day. Get the rag off about Christianity and move on to something else. I used to be an atheist, so I understand the mindset of hate against religion. I don’t hate atheists at all, but I do wish they would show a bit of religious tolerance to Christianity that they seem to show to every other religion, especially islam, which is out to destroy Western civilization. The muslims have said it again and again, but who do you people attack? Christians.

  9. My car dealership has two waiting rooms for shorter appointments. One has a TV tuned to Fox and the other is a reading room. The TV room had every older white person there at that time. The reading room ( not that much reading actually )was filled with the young and minorities….. and me an old white guy.

  10. I have suffered verbal, mental, emotional and physical abuse at the hands of Christians. I have been told I have no rights to my body by Christians. My cousin, who is a gay male, has been attacked and beaten by Christians. Half his family disowned him because they were Christians. All I’ve ever received from Christians is judgement and hate.

    And yet I’ve encountered one Muslim, that I was aware of since most non-Christians don’t run around announcing their faith, and she happens to be one of the kindest, warmest, most loving and giving person I’ve ever known. She also happens to be an American and one of my best friends.

    Sorry, who is the biggest threat to me again?

  11. And what in the hell is this supposed to mean: “Yes, Christianity is superior to other religions.”? If you really believe that, then I think the person I should fear is you. What an ignorant, hateful, egotistical thing to say.

  12. The abuse suffered by the Irish (white) at the hands of the English who tried to starve them to death at the time of the potatoe famine, makes it worthwhile to remember that not all Europeans were privileged.

    The Irish went on to join the Mexicans in the Mexican-American war as they saw it as their struggle, and as un unfair war.

    The Native peoples contributions need to be recognized, and maybe the Lewis and Clark expedition be re-named after Sacajawea, because without her, there would have been no good end to that trip.

    The borders DID Crossed the Native peoples in more than physical ways, yet the people still know their roots and contributions, and those need to be valued and remembered.

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