It’s certainly been a banner week or so for kulturkampf in the historical field. The most visible example is the Oklahoma legislature’s movements toward banning AP US History, because that course’s curriculum does not hew sufficiently to the “American Exceptionalism” creed that’s de rigeur in Neanderthal Right circles. Not as far down the spectrum, but still very much in the same spirit, was Gordon Wood’s baffling and grumpy essay in the Weekly Standard, which alternated between being a screed against the last thirty years of historical scholarship and a battle cry for privileged white men who are feeling a bit out of sorts about having their hegemonic narratives challenged. There have been plenty of good responses to these rear-guard actions of the cornered and desperate culture warriors. Jezebel’s takedown of the Oklahoma legislators is scathing and on point, and Kevin Levin has a trenchant piece on Wood’s get-off-my-lawn manifesto, to cite just two of the best examples. But there will be more diatribes coming, you can bet on it.
Los Leones, Colorado, was the site of a longstanding Mexican settlement in the upper Rio Grande Valley, until it disappeared from the map in the 1870s. The town itself remained, physically at least, but when this area became part of of the US in the 1848 Mexican Cession, Anglo settlers moved into the region. After the discovery of gold near Pike’s Peak in 1858, immigration increased exponentially. In Los Leones, Fred Walsen opened a shop on the central plaza, made a lot of money, bought more real estate, started an Elks Lodge, built a Victorian-style house, and had the town renamed Walsenburg. So Los Leones and what it was became Walsenburg–and everything Walsenburg was instead.
Lately, I’ve been a part of several discussions where faculty colleagues have lamented our students’ unpreparedness for college. And by ‘lately,’ I mean ‘my whole career,’ and by ‘several,’ I mean ‘mind-numbingly constant.’ But recently, though, these discussions seen to have acquired an extra edge of frustration, whether it’s in the articles I’ve been reading online or the meeting and hallway conversations at my own institution. Some of that I can chalk up to end of the semester angst. LOOK AT THESE FINAL ESSAYS DID THEY NOT LISTEN TO A THING I SAID WHO ARE THESE ILLITERATE HEATHENS. Some of it comes from external stressors, like budgetary climates that are only slightly less hostile than Syria. And maybe I’m just in the middle of a weird cluster of anecdotal data. Whatever the reasons, though, recent opinion seems clear: our students are deficient. They don’t know stuff. They’re unprepared. Their high school education blows. They don’t even have basic, functional literacy in math/composition/science/history/whatever field my degree is in and thus is most vital.
I’m not sure if it’s an empirically-verifiable trend, or just anecdotal evidence on my TV and various social media timelines, but it seems like we’ve reached peak whining about “playing politics.” My state is the site of some closely-contested congressional elections. Thus, we’ve been bombarded with foreboding intonations that ruefully cluck “candidate x is just playing politics,” as if a politician playing politics is somehow surprising and out of character. WHEN DID THIS HAPPEN? I’M SO CONFUSED. I’ve also been following the GamerGate goings-on*, wherein these poor delicate snowflakes–when not trafficking in self-righteous, whiny misogyny–decry the influence of those they call SJWs (social justice warriors) in the gaming scene. Gaming used to be its own awesome place, they say, before these interlopers made everything all “political” with their feminism and stuff. And hardly a day goes by when we don’t hear someone lamenting the fact that everything was OK until someone “made it political,” or started to “play politics,” or “brought politics into it”–like someone peed in the pool. THANKS, LOSER. NOW WE CAN’T SWIM ANYMORE.
One of the most contentious issues in pedagogy, at least in my experience, has been the proper use and place of technology–both in and outside of the classroom. Enthusiastic proselytizers of All Things EdTech argue that we should ALL be using these KILLER TOOLS to ENGAGE STUDENTS because DIGITAL NATIVES INTERACTIVE PEDAGOGY CONNECTED CLASSROOMS. On the other end of the spectrum is the anti-EdTech crowd that argues that all this emphasis on technology detracts from the Real Work of the Teacher, that it’s all smoke and mirrors that dilutes effective pedagogy (Full disclosure: I am a recovering Luddite, and made that argument repeatedly earlier in my career). Of course, these opposing ends of the spectrum eventually degenerate into self-caricature, but there is a rousing debate in between these two poles. Yet, it’s become a debate that generates more heat than light.
So I’ve been reading a lot of pushback against the new AP US history curriculum lately, much of it from the political right, and almost all of it lamenting the lack of emphasis on “American Exceptionalism” or “what made the country great.” A good amount of it is the standard hand-wringing along the lines of “Where are all the famous white people? George Washington was more important than Harriet Tubman, for Crissakes!” and “We’re the good guys [and it is always ‘we’ in these screeds]! Democracy, freedom, and [insert platitude here] are our gift to the world.” Most of this stuff is easy to ignore because it’s so predictable, and it descends into unintentional self-parody quicker than you can disprove the Laffer Curve. Continue reading ““American Exceptionalism,” Teaching Patriotism, and Other Lazy Fallacies”