The New York Times editorial board has taken on Stanley Kurtz and other critics of the new AP U.S. History curriculum, alleging that they would rather cling to a “comfortable” version of events rather than one that is “more complex, unsettling, provocative and compelling.” Curiously, the Times hardly bothers to contest the criticism that the new curriculum is too left-wing. If so, so much the better, the Times editorial writers suggest.
“Fewer and fewer college professors are teaching the United States history our grandparents learned–memorizing a litany of names, dates and facts–and this upsets some people,” the Times concludes, adding: “This is work that requires and builds empathy, an essential aspect of historical thinking.” That word–“empathy”–is a key term in the Obama era, supplying the rationale for many of the president’s policies.
Used in that way, “empathy” means something other than its dictionary definition–“the ability to understand and share the feelings of another”–and specifically means concern for the oppressed classes that preoccupy left-wing politics and ideology. While classical “empathy” might apply equally to poor and rich, weak and strong, the Times and the left more broadly use it to mean support for one side only–and a revisionist historical narrative.
The Times thinks it sufficient that the new history acknowledges American “exceptionalism” by recognizing the cultural contributions of the U.S., as well as “the world’s first modern mass democracy.” The Founders would have been horrified to learn they were responsible for something called “mass democracy”–an achievement shared equally by the Soviet Union and the other so-called democracies that governed on behalf of the “masses.”
As Kurtz and others note, one of the aims of the new curriculum is to minimize the Founders’ role, as well as their ideas. The point of teaching that history was not to encourage rote memorization of dates and facts, but to teach students about civics as well as history. Instead of lessons in constitutional liberty, however, the new AP curriculum aims to impart lessons in victimhood and redistributive redemption–to replace civics with statism.
There is still one remedy: the states. As Kurtz noted earlier this summer: “Texas makes up about 10 percent of the College Board’s market. Were Texas to reject the new AP U.S. History Exam, the entire project could be put into doubt.” Ken Mercer, who sits on the state’s school board, is leading the effort to oppose the revisionist AP curriculum, with the help of scholars nationwide. The outcome could shape the future as well as the past.
The Times suggests what American children will be taught if the new curriculum is permitted to stand. “This fall, whites will constitute a minority of public-school students in the United States,” the editorial board notes, as if race determines historical facts. “‘Our'” past is now more diverse than we once thought, whether we like it or not.” Such racial determinism is what passes for enlightened historical scholarship among the liberal elite.
The editorial’s authors do not seem to care that by substituting politics for facts, they are condemning the very children they claim to be helping–poor and minority children–to ignorance. The so-called “paper of record” itself has long since given up on “names, dates and facts” in favor of political screeds posing as news, and radical op-eds masquerading as serious and sincere argument. Our country deserves better, as well as our children.