Why We Should Teach The Truth About American History by Patrick Wang

The New York Times conducts an annual student editorial contest.  Following is an entry that argues for the teaching of an unfiltered version of American history.

Why We Should Teach The Truth About American History
by Patrick Wang , 16

The bell rings, and I barely make it into my AP U.S. History class. I look up at the board: “Today’s Topic: Slavery.” I do not think much about it because slavery has been a part of the Georgia curriculum since elementary school. What more could I possibly need to learn about? Yet, as I read through sickening excerpts of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” and watch clips of “Twelve Years a Slave,” I can feel the horror building up inside me. I am confronted by my own ignorance, the cruel reality of history clashing with my own sugar- coated understanding. I realize that I have been fed a filtered version of history all my life. In the end, however, I am thankful for the opportunity to learn the truth in my AP U.S. history class, because for millions of other students, the truth is a privilege denied in the name of “patriotism.”

In 2015, College Board’s AP U.S. History course came under fire for “painting American history in too negative a light.” Conservative critics charged that the framework of the course was “biased and unpatriotic,” with GOP presidential candidate Ben Carson even calling the course “so anti-American that students who completed it would be ready to sign up for ISIS.” Many states such as Texas and Georgia even threatened to pull the course all together. Caving under pressure, the College Board changed the AP U.S. History framework to include a new emphasis on “American exceptionalism.”

This controversy brings to light the U.S.’s inability to own up to its past. Whether we like it or not, the U.S. is a country built upon not just democracy but exploitation and injustice. Events like the My Lai massacre and the slave trade are scary and real. We can not casually sweep the ugly pieces of history under the rug and hope that our rosy facade continues to fool the next generation into being “patriotic.” Patriotism is not the pride you feel when you believe that your country has done no wrong. Patriotism is the pride you feel when you know that your country is on the present journey to righting its past wrongs and preventing future wrongs. By indoctrinating students with the idea of “American exceptionalism” rather than teaching them the truth about American history, the only people we end up fooling are ourselves. As the Yale professor of American Studies Jon Butler puts it, “America emerged out of many contentious issues. If we understand those issues, [only then can we] figure out how to move forward in the present.” Thus, knowing the truth about American history should not be a privilege. It is a right.

Sources

Ganim, Sara. “Making History: Battles Brew over Alleged Bias in Advanced Placement Standards.” CNN, 24 Feb. 2015.

Quinlan, Casey. “College Board Caves to Conservative Pressure, Changes AP U.S. History Curriculum.” Think Progress, 30 July 2015.

Schlanger, Zoe. “Revised AP U.S. History Standards Will Emphasize American Exceptionalism.” Newsweek, 29 July 2015.

Simon, Cecilia Capuzzi. “Taking the Politics Out of American History (and Out of A.P.).” The New York Times, 8 Apr. 2016.

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