Monday, October 6, 2014

Exceptionally Exploitative

As the survivor of a southern public school system whose idea of teaching the Civil War War of Northern Aggression was repeated showings of "Gone With the Wind," a movie I have ever since hated with the heat of a thousand supernovas, let me just say that anyone who thinks this country ended slavery "voluntarily" is not only wrong, not only not fit to sit on a public school board, but should be stripped of her rights to vote, drive, and speak to actual human beings.

Erik Loomis at Lawyers, Guns and Money:

In the recent battles over the new AP U.S. History standards, standards that center nothing more than the standard narrative of most American historians in 2014, one of the right-wing critiques is that they don’t celebrate American exceptionalism, while instead instilling in our young people that they should question authority (the horror!). Among the many problems with these assertions is that the idea of American exceptionalism in service of whatever right-wing agenda is currently popular means forgetting the many ways that exceptionalism has operated in the past. Kevin Levin:
Part of the criticism of the revised AP US History curriculum revolves around the assumption that it undercuts and even contradicts a narrative of America’s Exceptionalism. I don’t believe it does and I base such a conclusion on the fact that I’ve read through it. More accurately, it doesn’t say anything one way or the other. I suspect that the vast majority of critics have yet to read it through.
What I’ve never understood, however, is if some people expect me to teach American history through such a lens, whose understanding of the concept should I teach?
Baptist’s slaveowners fully embraced capitalism. Despite the Panic of 1837 slavery resulted in enormous profits throughout the first half of the nineteenth century and helped to push the nation west on its course of “Manifest Destiny.” Americans celebrated this expansion and the wealth created as a sign of its exceptionalism. I suspect that this is one of the reasons why there is such a need to argue that American slavery was not profitable and that it was on the decline by the eve of the Civil War. Better to see it as positioned in sharp opposition from the kind of post-Civil War capitalist surge than as the engine that pushed it forward. We should ignore the fact that it was John Calhoun’s theory of “Due Process” that was later embraced by pro-big-business legal thinkers during the Industrial Revolution.
No, no, stop with that version of American exceptionalism. We just need to teach that America is awesome. Enough said.

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