This time in Minnesota.
John Hinderaker supports John Fonte's criticism of the new Minnesota social studies standards. Michael Lynch, writing at his blog Past in the Present, responds to the whole mess. Here is a taste of that response:
Lawyer and commentator John Hinderaker is upset
because the new standards emphasize the different impacts that the
American Revolution and the Civil War had on various groups. He writes,
“One might have thought that events like the American Revolution and
the Civil War would affect Americans generally, but such a concept is
foreign to today’s academics."
Well, certainly the Revolution and the Civil War did affect Americans
generally, but it didn’t affect all of them in the same way. If you
were a white male living in Pennsylvania, the Revolution probably
resulted in a greater exercise of political power. If you were a white
woman living in Massachusetts, you took on new roles as a republican
mother and citizen. If you were an enslaved black male who managed to
hitch a ride with the British as they evacuated the seaboard cities, you
got freedom. And if you were an Indian of any gender living in the
Ohio Valley, the Revolution wasn’t exactly a bonanza. There’s nothing
wrong with teaching kids about the varied effects of important events.
Indeed, history teachers need to introduce the complexity involved in
significant events like the Revolution.
Hinderaker also charges the standards with attributing
“institutionalized racism” to big business. But that isn’t exactly what
the relevant passage says: “As the United States shifted from its
agrarian roots into an industrial and global power, the rise of big
business, urbanization and immigration led to institutionalized racism,
ethnic and class conflict, and new efforts at reform. ” The standards
are clearly dealing with a number of transformations in the U.S. during
the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, of which the rise of
big business was only one.
The rise of big business, the growth of
cities, and immigration resulted in a number of changes in American life, including racism, class conflict, and
reform efforts. And, of course, shifts in immigration patterns and
urban growth in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries did
result in institutionalized racism, as evidenced by the emergence of
measures like the Chinese Exclusion Act and the restrictions on Asian
immigration in the Immigration Act of 1917.
Perhaps, then, the problem isn’t with the standards, but with the
reading comprehension of the people criticizing them. Or perhaps the
problem is something else. Hinderaker writes that when he saw Joseph Brandt’s name on the standards’ list of “historically significant
people” from the American Revolution, he had no idea who he was and had
to look him up. He notes only that Brandt was “a Mohawk Indian,” which
is sort of like saying that Stonewall Jackson was “a guy from Virginia.”
Since Hinderaker had to look up the name of one of the most important
figures of the Revolutionary frontier, might I suggest that he isn’t the
person to be assessing standards for teaching history in Minnesota’s
As I wrote several times (click link and scroll down) during the entire Texas social studies debate, citizenship is one reason, but not the primary reason, that history should be taught to school children. I am not denying the fact that history can teach kids civic literacy. We certainly want our kids to know the century in which the American Civil War took place or the name of the first president of the United States. But history offers so much more. It provides students with a new way of thinking about the world that allows them to see themselves as part of something bigger. As my colleague Joseph Huffman says in this video, it adds an extra dimension to the way we understand our lives.
History cultivates humility and empathy and intellectual hospitality--the kind of skills necessary for democracy to thrive. While the choice of topics that student's study is important, it would seem that these kinds of skills can be gleaned from learning how to interpret primary documents from any people group or movement in the American past.
The study of history is less about teaching kids what is good or bad about the United States and more about teaching them to function in a democratic society.
But I have said this all before and I am sure I will be saying it again.