Edit­ing out an en­light­ened his­tory of Amer­ica

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - By David A. Keene

In the early days of the Amer­i­can Repub­lic, Thomas Jef­fer­son was per­haps the staunch­est ad­vo­cate of pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion. Jef­fer­son au­thored a plan for pub­lic pri­mary and sec­ondary schools and is fa­ther of the Univer­sity of Vir­ginia. He would be ap­palled at the state of pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion to­day.

Jef­fer­son loved read­ing and knowl­edge for its own sake, of course, but be­lieved the suc­cess of the Amer­i­can ex­per­i­ment de­pended on an ed­u­ca­tional sys­tem that would in­still a knowl­edge of his­tory and val­ues in the cit­i­zenry. He was not alone among the Founders in this be­lief, but few ex­pressed them­selves bet­ter. Jef­fer­son was elo­quent on the study of his­tory as es­pe­cially im­por­tant be­cause, as he put it, “ap­pris­ing [stu­dents] of the past will en­able them to judge of the fu­ture.”

En­e­mies of free govern­ment have al­ways rec­og­nized this sim­ple truth and have tried to re­cast his­tory to lead the next gen­er­a­tions to be­lieve as they do. Kings and em­per­ors, Sovi­ets and Nazis of the past, and ex­trem­ist Mus­lims to­day em­ploy court his­to­ri­ans, for­ever min­gling his­tory and pol­i­tics. They know they can shape the poli­cies of to­day and to­mor­row by cre­at­ing a past of their own.

Howard Zinn, per­haps this coun­try’s most suc­cess­ful rad­i­cal or pro­gres­sive his­to­rian, put it best when he said he wrote his­tory “to change the world.” He un­der­stood his­tory as in­doc­tri­na­tion and felt it vi­tal that the next gen­er­a­tion be in­doc­tri­nated, or ed­u­cated by learn­ing his ver­sion of his­tory.

Like Jef­fer­son, Zinn knew that the val­ues passed on to fu­ture gen­er­a­tions through the ed­u­ca­tional sys­tem shape the fu­ture by dic­tat­ing po­lit­i­cal choices. There the sim­i­lar­i­ties end — Jef­fer­son and his con­tem­po­raries were prod­ucts of the En­light­en­ment, as­sum­ing ed­u­ca­tion to be a search for truth rather than a means of dic­tat­ing the fu­ture. Zinn in­tended — and to­day’s lib­eral pro­gres­sives seek — to re­place the tra­di­tional view of Amer­i­can his­tory with a dark view of a na­tion built on ag­gres­sive racist im­pe­ri­al­ism, theft and geno­cide. They would drive those who do not agree from the pub­lic square, or at least from the class­room.

David Horowitz and oth­ers have sounded the alarm about our col­lege cam­puses for decades, but the bub­bling con­tro­versy is now fo­cused on the Col­lege Board. Headed by David Cole­man, who most con­sider the ar­chi­tect of Com­mon Core, the Col­lege Board is a pri­vate, non­profit that for more than a century has set stan­dards for col­lege ad­mis­sions. It es­sen­tially dic­tates what high schools need to teach their best stu­dents in dis­ci­plines from math to his­tory to English in pre­par­ing them for col­lege. Teach­ers who used to teach from a five-page frame­work, now re­ceive a 98-page, de­tailed set of in­struc­tions on what his­tory should be taught.

Zinn might have writ­ten the frame­work. Gone are most of the Founders and their ideas, as is their vi­sion of a coun­try ded­i­cated to free­dom. Ma­jor his­tor­i­cal fig­ures such as James Madi­son and Ben­jamin Franklin are ig­nored. As James Rob­bins and Larry Krieger of the Amer­i­can Prin­ci­ples Project put it, the frame­work dis­torts his­tory and ad­vances a con­sis­tently neg­a­tive view of Amer­ica.

They claim with jus­ti­fi­ca­tion that the Col­lege Board in ad­vanc­ing an ide­o­log­i­cal frame­work is op­er­at­ing as a “de facto leg­is­la­ture for the na­tion’s pub­lic and pri­vate high schools” with the power to es­sen­tially dic­tate what will be taught to stu­dents study­ing Amer­i­can his­tory. Mr. Rob­bins and Mr. Krieger call it a “coup.” The Na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion of Schol­ars es­sen­tially agrees with them, call­ing the frame­work a “dispir­it­ing doc­u­ment.”

The As­so­ci­a­tion study points out that while de­fend­ers of the new frame­work ar­gue that high schools can go be­yond the frame­work and teach stu­dents about Madi­son and oth­ers or ex­pose them to dif­fer­ent per­spec­tives on the na­tion’s his­tory, few will. They will “teach to the test” to make sure their stu­dents do well on col­lege ad­mis­sions tests with­out re­al­iz­ing that in the process, they will be in­doc­tri­nat­ing gen­er­a­tions of col­lege­bound stu­dents.

Lo­cal con­trol of pri­mary and sec­ondary ed­u­ca­tion has been steadily wrested from the hands of par­ents and lo­cal au­thor­i­ties in the name of stan­dards and qual­ity by a federal govern­ment sus­cep­ti­ble to pres­sure from ide­o­log­i­cal spe­cial in­ter­ests. Those same in­ter­ests dom­i­nate sup­pos­edly pri­vate groups more fo­cused on in­doc­tri­na­tion than ed­u­ca­tional ex­cel­lence.

The Founders’ grand ex­per­i­ment is be­ing put at risk by lib­eral pro­gres­sive ed­u­ca­tional ide­o­logues in­tent upon cre­at­ing a cit­i­zenry ig­no­rant of its real his­tory, but in­doc­tri­nated to hate its coun­try, its his­tory and those who founded it. David A. Keene is opin­ion edi­tor of The Wash­ing­ton Times.

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