The Teaching of U.S. History and “American Exceptionalism” Thomas Ostrom KROC-AMAmerican historians have advocated the traditional nationalistic, exceptionalist premise that America is a source of opportunity and force for good at home and abroad; and conversely, the opposite radical-Progressive view that America exemplifies greed, income inequality, evil, and oppression at home and abroad.

Social scientists coined the terms “cultural relativism” and “moral equivalence” to be “nonjudgmental” about other cultures and nations, but tend to judge the U.S. past and present harshly. and if our adversaries behave badly, America caused it.

Challenged by Russian president Putin’s strategies, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said, “Even a super power (the United States) cannot solve all the world’s problems anymore,” which earned Obama’s uncharacteristic exceptionalist response: “The United States is and will remain the one indispensible nation in the world. No other nation can do what we do!”

Students should be taught about America’s shortcomings and achievements to make them proud of their nation, not despise it. Progressives and radical leftists realize this is the best nation on earth to which immigrants want to come, given their “open borders” politics.

Students should be exposed to the allegedly anti-American perspectives of the Marxist-Socialist historian of class warfare, Professor Howard Zinn and his popular textbook, A Peoples History of the United States.

Students should also read the nationalistic, traditional narrative of the bestseller, A Patriots History of the United States (Professors Larry Schweikart and Michael Allen), and A Patriots History of the Modern World (Schweikart and Dave Dougherty).

From Zinn, students read deconstructionist descriptions of a war mongering, racist, sexist, bigoted, violent America whose international interventions and wars have been fueled, not by pragmatism and idealism, but corporate greed and the preservation of power of elites.

To his credit, Zinn admits his intellectual “bias, tendency toward anarchism,” early pro-Communist proclivities (the FBI classified him as a “security risk), political activism, dismissal of academic “objectivity,” and his intention to use history as an instrument of social justice and political reform.

Zinn brings communications skills and civil rights activism to his mission. His writings are criticized for omitting specific citations, but he extensively quotes his historical characters. Zinn was a World War II bombardier, an experience that influenced his post-war pacifism and criticism of U.S. bombing missions in World War II Europe and Japan, and later, the Middle East.

University professors Larry Schweikert and Michael Allen write from traditionalist perspectives, and contend America is exceptional (special, unique) because of the democracy crafted by our Founders in the U.S. Constitution, and its framework for governance, human rights, capitalism, traditional religious values, individualism, and social mobility, rule of law, and the separation of powers that facilitate socio-economic stability and reform.

Paul Mirengoff, of the Minnesota based Powerline blog, wrote about the threat posed to the teaching of traditional history and American exceptionalism by the College Board of the Advanced Placement (AP) U.S. History testing. The company produces the SAT test and Advanced Placement examinations.

Mirengoff claims the co-chairs of the committee (Suzanne Sinke and Ted Dickson) reshaped the AP U.S. History Survey Framework with Professor Thomas Bender to “internationalize the History curriculum at every educational level,” eliminate concepts of “American exceptionalism,” and describe America as simply “a province among the provinces that make up the world.”

Education writer Stanley Kurtz contends the AP framework will “force high schools to teach U.S. history from a leftist and radical perspective,” teach a negative view of the United States, and ignore the Founding Fathers, while claiming to “provide balance” and “streamline the curriculum.”

The AP board’s objectives include a Zinn-like emphasis on the interests of entitlement and grievance groups; and to describe conservative opposition to big government and deficit spending as obstructionist. Conservative arguments about failed progressive and socialist ideas, pacifism, in foreign policy, and anti-American perspectives are portrayed as mean-spirited, racist, and anti-intellectual.

20th century diplomatic historian Ron Radosh noted that the AP history guide lines positively assess Democrat president Truman’s policies to contain Communist expansion, but the Cold War hawkishness of Ronald Reagan and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher) that placed missile defense systems in Europe to thwart Soviet expansion was provocative.

European historian Jeffrey Herf counters the Cold War AP history theme, contending the strategic and economic arms race led to the fall of Communism, disarmament agreements, better relations with the Soviet Union, and European stability. Herf didn’t know any historian critical of Reagan’s European foreign policy to subsequently acknowledge its success.

History is inherently a political subject filled with contested facts, interpretations, and biases. The history curriculum should feature interpretations across the political spectrum. America’s shortcomings should be taught, along with its achievements. The faults and virtues of other cultures and nations should also be critically assessed.

George Orwell said, “He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present, controls the past.”