Revising history

Stanley Kurtz explains: Why the College Board Demoted the Founders

What is the core of the American story? What is American history about? For a long time, Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address was thought to offer the most succinct and profound reply to these questions.

More recently, revisionist historians have developed a different answer to the question of what America’s story is about. From their perspective, at the heart of our country’s history—like the history of any other powerful nation—lies the pursuit of empire, of dominion over others. In this view, the formative American moment was the colonial assault on the Indians. At its core, say the revisionists, America’s history is about our capacity for self-delusion, our endless attempts to justify raw power grabs with pretty fairy-tales about democracy.

What Anderson does not say is that “current practice” in early American history is to indict the Founders for oppression, privilege, and racism.

Anderson’s proposed new narrative of American history vacillates between ignoring core events of our political history and dismissing them as delusional window-dressing for America’s imperialist ambitions.

In other words, Anderson’s proposed new narrative of American history closely matches the narrative of the new APUSH Framework, and is clearly political in character.

Anderson’s contribution to the new Curriculum Module highlights the work of Francis Jennings, the most famous critic of “the myth of the vanishing Indian.”

Anderson’s target in The Dominion of War is the American conviction that liberty and equality are the “core values of the Republic.” Believing this, says Anderson, Americans find it difficult to see their actions as imperialistic, as motivated by anything other than a legitimate defense of liberty.

American exceptionalism is out and America as a self-deluded imperialist power is in.

Jennings and Anderson are able to place Native American influence and white imperialism at the center of American history only by treating the acquisition of territory as what matters most.

Defenders of the redesigned APUSH Framework deny a political agenda. All we’re doing, they say, is teaching students how to “think like historians,” how to deploy critical thinking skills and analyze primary sources with the cool detachment of an objective and mature professional academic. Sadly, teaching students how to bring our forebears up on charges of war crimes is what “thinking like a historian” has been reduced to in this age of the leftist Academy. It’s got little to do with detachment.

We must conclude that what the College Board presents as objectively based historical revisions and politically neutral pedagogical techniques are nothing of the sort. Critical thinking skills are deployed only against the traditional American narrative. Leftist pressure groups elicit cheerleading. America’s Founding is demoted, not because revisionists have proven it marginal, but because they dread and abhor its political legacy. In sum, the College Board’s pretensions to political neutrality are a sham.

This is ‘mainstream academic history’ on parade. The real question is why such a warped and twisted viewpoint gains such credibility. What is this obsession about imperialism that ignores so much? What is this obsession to tear down and destroy what have given so much?

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