Why I Hate Public School History Courses

I love history. In fact I’m writing this post after spending about an hour reading The Secret History of the Mongol Queens (it’s a great book and if you have an interest in Mongol history I highly recommend it). This love didn’t develop until well after I graduated. During my public career I didn’t give two shits about history. It wasn’t not because I was lazy, it was because none of the history we learned was interesting. The most interesting history is the controversial history but that’s what they avoid teaching in public schools like the plague (which, interestingly enough, was likely introduce to Europe by the Mongols). I believe this is because the people drawing up the history curriculum want to avoid dealing with the idiot politicians who chomp at the bit whenever something slightly different from their party’s ideology is taught.

Whoever wrote the history curriculum in Oklahoma is learning this valuable lesson. Apparently they decided to cover some of the more sinister, and therefore more interesting, parts of this country’s history because some of that state’s Republicans are flipping their shit:

State Rep. Dan Fisher (R) introduced a bill at the beginning of the month that keeps the state from funding AP U.S. History unless the College Board changes the curriculum. The bill also orders the state Department of Education to establish a U.S. History program that would replace the AP course.

Since the College Board released a new course framework for U.S. history in October 2012, conservative backlash against the course has grown significantly. The Republican National Committee condemned the course and its “consistently negative view of American history” in August. Numerous states and school districts have now taken action to denounce the exam.

Fisher said Monday that the AP U.S. History course emphasizes “what is bad about America” and complained that the framework eliminated the concept of “American exceptionalism,” according to the Tulsa World.

This pisses me off for three reasons. First, the idea of “American exceptionalism” is nationalistic bullshit. The United States, like every other country on the face of the planet, has done some terrible shit. Nothing it has done has been exceptional in regards to the world at large. It really is just another country in the long history of countries. And if you really dig deep enough the United States is little more than a discount Roman Republic.

The second reason this pisses me off is because sweeping the bad parts of American history under the rug prevents the next generation form learning from those mistakes. Slavery, genocide, mass incarceration, institutionalized bigotry, and many other rather nasty things populate American history. If all of those things are just swept under the rug then they won’t be discussed critically and the lessons learned will be forgotten. Forgetting past fuck ups is not smart.

The third reason this pisses me off is because it dissuades teachers from covering controversial history. Without controversy history classes are places where students go to learn names and dates just long enough to pass tests. A lot of people bitch that kids these days don’t know history. Well it’s not their fault. They’re fed a bunch of bland facts with no critical analysis. Since that’s their introduction to history they believe it’s a born area of study and avoid it. If you taught them some of the really good shit they would likely take a real interest in the topic and pursue it.

What makes history interesting are the stories. Interesting people doing interesting shit is the backbone of any story whether it’s fiction or nonfiction. But telling interesting historical stories is difficult in a political environment where one or the other major party will jump down your throat because the stories shine a negative light on their bullshit ideology.