Timothy Egan is the kind of guy you’d think I could agree with: He thinks history is important! He thinks we should write history to engage and fascinate our readers! He thinks assaults on high school Advanced Placement history classes are foolish, as he states in his recent essay on the misguided attempts in Oklahoma to control the A.P. American history curriculum!
I agree with him on all of the above, but then he goes and writes something just as dumb and as dishonest as any opportunistic Okie legislator would write:
With the latest initiatives, the party of science denial is now getting into history denial. On the academic front, they have a point, indirectly. Much of the A.P history framework is boring, bland, and sounds like it was written by committee, which it was. There’s little narrative, drama, heroics or personality — in other words, the real-life stuff that makes for thrilling history.
Here’s a sample “learning objective” from the current national course and exam description from the College Board: “Analyze the role of economic, political, social and ethnic factors on the formation of regional identities in what would become the United States from the colonial period through the 19th century.” And you wonder why the humanities are in trouble.
That’s right: “a sample ‘learning objective’” apparently must be just as thrilling and as full of “narrative, drama, heroics [and] personality” as Barbara Tuchman’s The Guns of August, otherwise it’s just further proof that historians and educators are just as bad as the Oklahoma legislators who want history to be all happy talk about the Founding Fathers.
Egan pretends not to know that there’s a difference in the ways that educators communicate with each other, and the ways in which they communicate with their students, readers of history, or the general public about their work. He writes as though an internal process document or a sample exam question exactly describes what is taught in A.P. high school classrooms. He writes to suggest that classroom educators aren’t smart enough to know how to talk to their own students about history, and implies that they’re smart enough to communicate in professional shorthand with one another about the boring (but necessary) stuff. Continue Reading »