The Clare Spark Blog

May 3, 2012

Index to blogs on education reform

ad for Spinoza toy

This series of blogs not only reviews  recent work on the reform of our education system, but points out disagreements in what is wrongly considered to be a unified establishment. Some of the blogs also insist upon the materialist epistemology of the Constitution. Culture warriors take note!

https://clarespark.com/2010/09/22/links-to-arne-duncan-blogs/

https://clarespark.com/2009/10/01/perfectly-progressive-parenthood/

https://clarespark.com/2009/09/06/the-hebraic-american-landscape-sublime-or-despotic/

https://clarespark.com/2010/01/02/jottings-on-the-culture-wars-both-sides-are-wrong/

https://clarespark.com/2010/06/15/the-classics-as-antidote-to-science-education/

https://clarespark.com/2011/08/03/jobs-program-for-education-reformers-or-the-new-prometheus/

https://clarespark.com/2012/01/21/the-persistence-of-white-racism/

https://clarespark.com/2011/08/31/review-steven-brills-class-warfare/ (Read this one first)

https://clarespark.com/2011/05/12/the-great-common-goes-to-the-white-house/

https://clarespark.com/2011/05/16/questions-for-education-reformers/

https://clarespark.com/2011/06/23/the-u-s-history-establishment-divided-and-failing/ (my correspondence with Ravitch, contrasting Ravitch with Gary Nash)

https://clarespark.com/2011/05/28/who-is-a-racist-now-2/ (retitled Diane Ravitch and the higher moderation)

https://clarespark.com/2011/07/17/literary-criticism-ravitch-variant/.

https://clarespark.com/2011/10/09/vox-populi-vox-big-brother/ (A review of Terry M. Moe’s new book)

https://clarespark.com/2012/01/28/popular-sovereignty-on-the-ropes/.

https://clarespark.com/2012/03/22/3760/ (On the great dumbing down)

https://clarespark.com/2012/01/15/prometheus-bound-but-good/

https://clarespark.com/2012/09/19/bullies/

https://clarespark.com/2012/11/09/race-and-the-problem-of-inclusion/

https://clarespark.com/2013/01/05/american-fascism-and-the-future-of-english-and-american-literature/ (On Common Core curriculum)

https://clarespark.com/2013/02/27/american-exceptionalism-retold/

https://clarespark.com/2011/01/26/obama-and-the-rhetoric-of-the-political-family/

https://clarespark.com/2014/02/01/harvard-ed-school-leads-in-vaguely-dumbing-down/

https://clarespark.com/2015/07/09/harvards-advocacy-of-simplicity-as-remedy-for-failing-schools/

https://clarespark.com/2015/07/14/depraved-indifference-to-education-reform/

Arne Duncan and Obama at play

Advertisements

October 30, 2011

Collectivism in the history establishment

Gordon S. Wood, prize-winning historian

I have spent the last week trying to read Gordon S. Wood’s first book, The Creation of the American Republic (U. North Carolina Press, 1969), perhaps an expanded Harvard U. dissertation written under Bernard Bailyn. It was the beginning of Wood’s stellar career in writing the history of the early Republic, and an example of what was called in graduate school “the republican synthesis” as put forward by the most left-liberal professors in the field. If Wood is correct, then my prior enthusiasm for Alexander Hamilton’s bow to popular sovereignty in the Federalist Papers, is sorely misplaced. Rather, I am to view the Federalists as confidence-men, who cunningly adopted the time-worn phrase “popular sovereignty” (a feature of monarchies too) to install a fundamentally aristocratic government that did too much for individuals and the meritocracy, while betraying the “out of doors” “mobs” that had not only fought for liberty in the Revolution, but legitimated a Constitutional Convention in 1787 (319, 363, 382).

Although to read the Federalist papers, one might think that the Constitution advocated a government that was grounded in the House of Representatives, complete with separation of powers and checks and balances, in Wood’s reading, natural aristocrats (562 and passim; i.e.,  Alexander Hamilton, crypto-Jew*) sneaked in a government that made the Presidency tantamount to a monarchy and the Senate an aristocracy, while the judiciary would ever thwart the will of the truly democratic, public-interest-minded People, who were only apparently in control of the House of Representatives. This is populist reasoning that would find its apotheosis in the New Left that identified “corporate liberalism” as the enemy (big business and the state in cahoots at the expense of the little guy), and in the popularity of Noam Chomsky and in the OWS movement that has roiled the media for the last month. (i.e., corporations are NOT people).

I am not sure that I fully understand Wood’s argument. I certainly do not agree with one statement that seems to be crucial. After a long paragraph on the luxury debate (republican simplicity is threatened by pomp/consumerism, hence the source of decadence), Woods writes, “Like Puritanism, of which it was a more relaxed, secularized version, republicanism was essentially anti-capitalistic [what?** C.S.], a final attempt to come to terms with the emergent individualistic society that threatened to destroy once and for all the communion and benevolence that civilized men had always considered to be the ideal of human behavior. Right from the beginning of the Revolution there had been some Americans who had doubted the ability of any people, including the Americans, to surrender their individual interests for the good of the whole.” (418-419)

Here is another quote that suggests that the Federalists had cunningly co-opted the [indescribable, who were too diverse to put into one bag] Antifederalists: “Considering the Federalist desire for a high-toned government filled with better sorts of people, there is something decidedly disingenuous about the democratic radicalism of their arguments, their continual emphasis on the popular character of the Constitution,*** their manipulation of Whig maxims, their stressing of the representational nature of all parts of the government, including the greatly strengthened executive and Senate. In effect, they appropriated and exploited the language that rightfully belonged to their opponents. The result was the beginning of a hiatus in American politics that was never again closed. [He goes on to say that “the real social antagonisms of American politics” were masked. The Federalists should have said that they were really aristocrats.] (562)

So is republicanism a good thing or a bad thing? This seems to be the double-talking voice of agrarian radicals, such as  Jefferson and Jackson, then the Progressive movement and of the New Deal, appealing to present-day “out-of-doors” democrats, massed to complain of “inequality.” It necessarily looked backward to an imagined medieval polity, where the Good King unified the people in a healthy body politic, one that had happily delegated the power to speak and act for themselves. It is a strange construction of Liberty, but also an awkward attempt to see nothing but “communion and benevolence” in a reinterpreted, truly “living Constitution” that ostensibly protects capitalism, unlike its pseudo-democratic pseudo-capitalistic predecessors in the 18th century. Think of FDR and his foiled attempt to pack the Supreme Court.

*Stephen F. Knott quotes Wood: “…Hamilton led a faction in the 1790s that ‘was promoting the interests of financiers and monarchists at the expense of the general public'”(208). Knott’s chapters 5 and 6 take up the Hamilton as Jew theme, citing such as Father Coughlin, Ezra Pound, and (subliminally) William Carlos Williams. See Alexander Hamilton and the Persistence of Myth (U.Kansas Press, 2002): 112, 128ff. A particularly offensive line from Pound, writing in 1954: “Hamilton was a kike, a red headed scotch chew.” Knott also emphasizes throughout that Henry Adams was the origin of the fourth-hand rumor (taken to be fact by all the subsequent Jeffersonians) that Hamilton stated that the People was a great Beast. Henry Adams’s opposition to modernity and to Jews is not in dispute.

**Perhaps Wood was thinking of John Winthrop, who is often quoted by left-leaning liberals as a model for the New Deal. I laid out the Antinomian Controversy (1636-38) here in a four-part essay: https://clarespark.com/2010/05/15/blog-index-to-anne-hutchinson-series/. Winthrop wanted medieval-type wage and price controls, while Hutchinson foreshadowed market economies.

*** When I was in graduate school at UCLA, Gary Nash pointed to the Pennsylvania Constitution of 1776 as the model of direct democracy. I suspect that Gordon S. Wood also compares more complex governing models to this example of popular radicalism. For instance, Pennsylvania at that moment had a unicameral legislature elected every year; also the state militia enlisted men elected their officers. This type of democracy harkens back to the Levelers of the 17th century English Civil War, and Wood makes the comparison himself. But I should not single out Gary Nash. The “republican synthesis” referred to the anticapitalistic Country party in England, that opposed Walpole’s economic measures, and was espoused by Joyce Appleby and her graduate students. Nash and Appleby were the chief organizers of the much contested National History Standards, and are both left-liberals. For a contrast, see Forrest McDonald, Novus Ordo Seclorum: The Intellectual Origins of the Constitution (UP Kansas, 1985): 67, and fn25. Republicanism, he argues, contradicting Wood, commonly signified representative democracy. Not that FM discounts the penetration in America of Country party Opposition in Britain. Republicans in b0th North and South feared selfishness and effeminacy, though FM distinguishes between Northern puritan republicans and Southern physiocrats; the corrupters were “Standing armies, priests, bishops, aristocrats, luxury, excises, speculators, jobbers, paper shufflers, monopolists, bloodsuckers, and monocrats….” (77). McDonald is a self-described “paleoconservative” and also an indefatigable researcher.

July 17, 2011

Literary criticism, Ravitch variant

John Martin’s Satan in Council, the engraving owned by Melville

[Before you read this, see https://clarespark.com/2011/05/28/who-is-a-racist-now-2/, retitled “Diane Ravitch and the higher moderation.”]

Here is a quote from Diane Ravitch’s The Language Police (Knopf, 2003). She writes “Most state standards say that literature is to be read by students for a social or political message, as though every poem or novel is meant to be a social or political commentary rather than an expression of the writer’s emotional, spiritual, or aesthetic concerns…The study of literature as knowledge and as art is either missing from the standards or has been supplanted by utilitarian concerns.” (p.124)

Such statements make me tear my hair. Every author, no matter the subject matter, is situated in some particular relationship with the dominant cultural and political trends of a specific historical context; they may affirm or reject dominant values, but they do not stand above the fray, with the affected neutrality of state-appointed mediators. If a writer’s book or poem is heavily influenced by a previous author from a different period, as, say, Melville was responding to Milton’s Paradise Lost in Moby-Dick, it is not because of aesthetics alone, but because a certain unresolved philosophical issue remains current and problematic to Melville. In his case, it was the matter of moral accountability and the limits of human agency: were his actions predestined or chosen freely? The question of moral action could not have been more relevant to the period of composition for Moby-Dick: the slavery question was already dividing the Republic, along with Melville’s own family as the decades wore on. And then there is the issue of patronage, irrelevant to Ravitch’s declaration of war against extra-aesthetic or extra-“literary” readings. In the case of Melville, writing his Supplement to Battle-Pieces during the intial year of Reconstruction, patronage was everything, for his support group was entirely conservative Democratic (though a very few of his relatives stood with the Radical Republicans like Sumner and Stevens, but the sprinkling of “radicals” did not affect his pocketbook; see https://clarespark.com/2008/05/03/margoth-vs-robert-e-lee/).

Ravitch is complaining about bowdlerization and abridgment as perpetrated by “puritan” “perfectionists” of both Left and Right, and I am with her as she complains about pervasive censorship in textbooks and speech codes. But to throw in this plea for literariness is reactionary, but it does line her up with the moderates I dissected here: https://clarespark.com/2009/11/22/on-literariness-and-the-ethical-state/. So, in spite of her oeuvre standing athwart the general protocols of moderate progressives,* Ravitch is revealed as an organic conservative, unwilling to open literary texts to students, not matter  how much she may complain about the language police,  heading her chapters with epigraphs from George Orwell and Ray Bradbury. She has her own axe to grind, and it doesn’t serve young readers, though she would like to introduce them to our “common humanity,” speaking to us today across the vast reaches of “time and space.”

What are the implications for teachers of English or any other language that delves into the literary inheritance? It is impossible to teach literature as an artifact plucked from history and held up to scrutiny in the classroom, wiped clean of its historical referents. Teachers at every level need to be well-grounded in the humanities, with an understanding of competing ideologies at the time of the artwork’s production. It is hard to find such persons today, for the Left has captured the relevant terrain.  Will classical liberals meet that challenge and develop their own objective, courageously analytic approach to the teaching of our literary and cultural heritage? Or will it abandon the field to censors from the Left, Right, or Middle? How will they teach Milton’s Paradise Lost, if at all, for it remains one of the seminal texts of modernity. For most of the 20th century, Melville’s annotations to Book IX, approving of some of Satan’s arguments in the seduction of Eve, remained sequestered from scholarly and public eyes. These lines had to do with the accountability of rulers to the ruled, as viewed by a radical puritan, as Milton undoubtedly was. (See https://clarespark.com/2012/12/15/sandy-hook-massacre-and-the-problem-of-evil/; some of Melville’s annotations to Paradise Lost are described at the bottom of the blog.)

Now teaching kids about that controversy would be a blow for artists and everyone else.

*Compare to this statement on p.163: ” The schools should be the great agencies of social and intellectual equality. This they cannot be unless they can give all children access to great literature and teach them the joy of reading. Reading is the key to future success; it builds vocabulary, it enriches the imagination, it opens new worlds. …What literature offers is a common denominator for understanding human experience; it allows human beings to recognize one another across time and space.” These are the banalities of the progressive movement: the religion of humanity (a kind of leveling and internationalism) has removed the stark differences of people in societies that do not allow dissent or the development of individual rights with those democratic republics that do encourage individuation, innovation, and critical thought. Although Ravitch is hostile to Gary Nash’s notion of European, Amerindian and African convergence in colonial America, she has her own version of community. It is a distinction without a difference.

June 23, 2011

The U.S. History establishment: divided and failing

Gary Nash, my teacher in colonial history at UCLA

This blog continues my survey of the U.S. history curriculum as taught in both public and private schools. Professor Diane Ravitch has given me permission to quote her correspondence with me today, June 23, 2011. Also included are statements on recent testing in U.S. history conducted by the NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress, or National Assessment Governing Board). These materials are followed with some comments of my own.

[My first email to DR:] Dear Prof. Ravitch, I have just been reading a publication for which you were “principal writer”, publ. 1990 and copyrighted by the California Department of Education. I also have been studying a 1994 curriculum developed by the NAEP, reflective of the Gary Nash-Joyce Appleby efforts in establishing national history standards.
I am wondering if either of these publications is representative of your current thinking about curriculum K-12? It is not irrelevant that I received my Ph.D. in history at UCLA and am acquainted with both professors Nash and Appleby and know first-hand how they think about U.S. history and politics in general. I do know that the multicultural curriculum was strenuously opposed in the 1990s by conservatives, but it appears to have prevailed, if History News Network is any indication. (They are currently lamenting low scores in the NAEP tests.)
Also, since I see Revel’s _How Democracies Perish_ in the 1990 bibliography and was amazed, I am wondering if that was your idea, and if not, who put it there? (I admit that I greatly enjoyed that book.)
Thanks in advance for any response. I have now read four of your books and have learned a great deal about education reform. In my young adulthood I was a science teacher at the high school level, and was warned when I was at Harvard (Gr. School of Ed.) to be prepared to trash Arthur Bestor! [Bestor was a sharp critic of progressive education. CS] They offered me a second fellowship, this time in guidance, possibly because I fit their child-needs-centered aspirations for the schools. [end first email to Diane Ravitch]

[Ravitch response:] “I was not a member of the National Assessment Governing Board when the US history framework was adopted. I never liked that “3 worlds converge” theme as the opening of US history yet there it was in the NAEP framework. [See http://members.scope.oakland.k12.mi.us/docs/SS/SS050200/SS050200_Unit.pdf].

[In a follow-up letter, I asked Prof. Ravitch if she referred to this convergence model, that I characterized as “vintage Gary Nash” (with whom I had studied at UCLA). Her response: “It was vintage Gary Nash. The three worlds are: Amerindian, Africa and Europe. Traditional histories had started in Europe, looking at the ideas that informed the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Founders.” (My emphasis)]

Gary Nash's famous book, cover art

[First Ravitch email, continued:] As a member of the CA framework committee, I tried hard to strike a balance between demands for representation of every imaginable group and a coherent recapitulation of the evolution of American society. It was my contention that the US has a multicultural common culture. I had a large part in making sure that the world history was well-balanced and that students paid attention to human rights abuses in totalitarian countries. I probably did add that Revel book though frankly I don’t remember anymore. I was always very keen on the story of democracy as the unifying theme of US history. I think the CA framework has stood up well over the years.”
What follows is the results of recent testing in history, as conducted by the NAGB:  NAGB report (http://www.nagb.org/history/)

[excerpt:]
The history assessment, a mix of multiple choice and constructed-response questions, was administered by the National Center for Education Statistics to nationally representative samples of public and private school students, including 7,000 fourth graders, 11,800 eighth graders and 12,400 twelfth graders.
Questions were designed to measure students’ knowledge and analytical skills in U.S. history in the context of four historical themes: democracy, including basic principles and core values developed from the American Revolution through the present; culture, focusing on how different racial, ethnic and religious groups interacted and the traditions that resulted; technology, focusing on the transformation of America’s economy from rural frontier to industrial superpower and its impact on society, ideas and the environment; and world role, the movement of America from isolationism to worldwide responsibility.

At grade 4, students who scored at or above the Basic level (73 percent) were likely to be able to interpret a map about the Colonial economy; students scoring at or above Proficient (20 percent) were likely to be able to understand that canals increased trade among states; students scoring at Advanced (2 percent) were likely to be able to explain how machines and factories changed work.

At grade 8, the 69 percent of students scoring at or above Basic were likely to be able to identify a result of Native American-European interaction; the 17 percent at or above Proficient were likely to be able to identify a domestic impact of war; the 1 percent at Advanced were likely to be able to explain two differences between plantations and small farms in the antebellum South.

At grade 12, the 45 percent of students scoring at or above Basic were likely to be able to understand the context of a women’s movement document. The 12 percent who scored at or above Proficient were likely to be able to understand Missouri statehood in the context of sectionalism; and the 1 percent who scored at Advanced were likely to be able to evaluate Civil War arguments. [End, excerpt from NAEB report]

Here is what Diane Ravitch had to say about the NAEP findings in her press release on their website:

“I have been advocating for better history curricula and instruction for the past 25 years. So when I first saw the upward movement in some of the NAEP scores in U.S. history, I felt excited and gratified.

But when I took a closer look at the patterns and the sample questions, I saw less reason for joy.The improvement in fourth-grade U.S. history is concentrated among the lowest-scoring groups, which is good news. But I suspect that the gains reflect an improvement in reading skills, not an improvement in knowledge of history. Fewer than half of the students at this grade level have had more than two hours a week devoted to social studies, which may or may not mean history. More likely, they have learned about a few iconic figures and major holidays. When fourth-grade students were asked to identify a photograph of Abraham Lincoln and give two reasons why he was important in American history, only 9 percent were able to do so. I suspect that many children recognized Lincoln but were not too sure about why he was important.

When children in this grade were asked the meaning of President Kennedy’s famous line, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country,” about one-half correctly responded that it meant you should “use your skills to help the United States.” I am willing to bet that many more than half the fourth-graders have no idea who President Kennedy was, but about half were able to deduce the correct response by being able to read the question and the possible answers. Similarly, 43 percent of fourth graders correctly answered a multiple-choice question about a quote from Aung San Suu Kyi, the human rights leader in Myanmar. This probably happened not because the students had any idea who she was, but because the answer was contained in the question and the students could read well enough to figure it out.

It should concern us all that twelfth-graders’ knowledge of history has barely changed since 2001. This is found across almost every group that was sampled, including low-performing students, high-performing students, and those in the middle ranges. White high school seniors saw a score gain from 2001 to 2006, but not from 2006 to 2010. Among every other demographic group, average scores have been virtually flat over the past nine years.

History should inform our political decision-making and intelligence. In 2010, seniors were asked about the Brown decision of 1954, which is very likely the most important decision made by the U.S Supreme Court in the past seven decades. Students were given an excerpt including the phrase, “We conclude that in the field of public education separate but equal has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.” NAEP asked, “What social problem was Brown v. Board of Education supposed to correct?” The answer was right in front of them, yet only 2 percent of the students in the sample were able to give a complete answer, and another 26 percent offered only a partial answer. The rest gave an inappropriate response or didn’t answer. This is alarming. Bear in mind that virtually every student takes American history, usually in the eleventh grade.

It’s worth noting that of the seven school subjects tested by NAEP, history has the smallest proportion of students who score Proficient or above in the most recent results available. Among twelfth graders, for example, only 12 percent reach Proficient in U.S. history, compared to 21 percent in science, 24 percent in both civics and writing, 25 percent in geography, 26 percent in mathematics, and 38 percent in reading. As the report explains, Proficient on NAEP means “solid academic performance … [that] demonstrates competency over challenging subject matter.” It expresses the Governing Board’s judgment of what students should know and be able to do in a particular subject and grade, not the current weak averages for grade level performance.

Why does history matter? All of these students will be voters in a year, and almost 40 percent were already eligible to vote when they took the assessment. They will be making decisions in the voting booth that influence our lives. They should be well informed and capable of weighing the contending claims of candidates, especially when the candidates rest their arguments on historical precedent.

The results of this assessment tell us that we as a nation must pay more attention to the teaching of U.S. history. We should make sure that there is time for it in the school day, that those who teach it have a strong history education, that there is time for students to write research papers and to use primary source documents and documentaries, and that schools have the resources they need to engage students in this important study.” [end Ravitch press release]

[My comments on all the above:] In a recent blog on several of Diane Ravitch’s books, I criticized her for putting community cohesion above the search for truth. I honestly do not know where to locate her on the political spectrum other than in the moderate center, for though she is highly critical of the New Left and of black nationalism in The Troubled Crusade (as she was above in her rejection of Gary Nash’s formulation of early colonial history), she does not take her critique to its logical conclusion. In other words, she should be defending the Enlightenment without conceding any value to cultural nationalism. Ravitch is a hard-working historian and her detailed accounts of education history are very useful to me. But as is evident from her continued attempt to reconcile a “common culture” and “multiculturalism,” in a search for “balance,” she betrays the rationalism that she also defends. See https://clarespark.com/2011/05/28/who-is-a-racist-now-2/, retitled “Diane Ravitch and the Higher Moderation.”

To conclude with some of my own observations on the state-mandated California history curriculum as devised and published in 1990: The thorny historical problems that are presented from kindergarten through the twelfth grade are nowhere accompanied by the understanding of basic economics that would lift the study of U.S. history above the level of “culture”. (It is beyond the scope of this blog to mention the need for basic science as well.) Economics does not enter the curriculum until the second semester of the twelfth grade! Nor is it clear why history and social studies should be joined at the hips, unless it is indeed the objective of the curriculum is to privilege duties to the “community” over an agreed upon set of facts. And undisputed facts are the necessary basis of “rights.” If not, our entire legal system would collapse. Again, I believe that Diane Ravitch is sincere in her advocacy of human rights, but she has, in my view, caved in to the very forces she has criticized so eloquently in the past; e.g. militant black nationalism and/or “The Language Police.”

As Ravitch shows in her press release (reproduced above), her model for community obligation is John Kennedy’s famous inaugural address, in which he passionately reminded a national audience that they owed something (not specified) to their country. For a different model of liberal nationalism, see Charles Sumner’s writings on limited government and the need for a popular education of the highest quality. (See https://clarespark.com/2009/10/05/charles-sumner-moderate-conservative-on-lifelong-learning/.) See also https://clarespark.com/2011/06/16/the-antiquated-melting-pot/, especially the asterisk explaining “cultural syncretism.”

January 25, 2011

American Slavery vs. Nazi genocide

Paul Rusconi’s gloss on an Ed Ruscha image

[Added 2/13/11 and 2/18/11: I now have the book under review below, and it has an epigraph from Reinhold Niebuhr. The use of “evil” or “darkness” or “the Shadow” as a fundamental component of human personality is a notion from Manichaean religion (they also cite Jung) that strongly affected the corporatist liberal social psychologists tracked on this website. It tended to erase material motives for destructive behavior and “prejudice”, attributing such conduct as the projection of inner evil onto “the Other.” Moreover, the book (The Problem of Evil: Slavery, Freedom, and the Ambiguities of American Reform) is dedicated to David Brion Davis, who, following Niebuhr,  forthrightly has declared that it is the task of the historian to moralize about the American past. Furthermore, the editors (Steven Mintz and John Stauffer) say we not only confront our past, but we must overcome it. Given the approval of D.B. Davis to massive government programs, I must assume that a form of reparations is intended, and that this remedy is intrinsic to the social democratic teaching of American history and a sop to black nationalists. Added 2-16-11: In his polemic Moralists and Modernizers, Steven Mintz delineates two trajectories for antebellum reform movements. One trend encompasses the moralizing abolitionists and leads to the compassionate 20th century welfare state (presumably reducing “income inequality”); the other moralizers/modernizers are associated with laissez-faire capitalism and the Christian Right (hard-hearted Social Darwinists). Published by Johns Hopkins Press in 1995, the book is an intervention in the culture wars. I do not question the sincerity or remarkable accomplishments of these historians, but rather their implied acquiescence to the more extreme claims of the civil rights movement (in its black nationalist phase).]

[This blog is not about the Civil War or its causes, but about the hijacking of American history by some leftists, who write like the militant black nationalists I encountered at Pacifica Radio, and that David Horowitz described at length in his Hating Whitey. The year  2011 could see a huge upsurge in articles about whether that conflict could have been prevented by better statesmanship, the causes and objectives of the war, what exactly happened in the war, and what was the course of Reconstruction. I have already written a research paper on Reconstruction and its interpretation by Herman Melville in his poem on Robert E. Lee. The link is here: https://clarespark.com/2008/05/03/margoth-vs-robert-e-lee/.]

Here are two paragraphs from a book review by Miami University history assistant visiting professor Oleta Prinsloo, and posted on the NEH-funded Humanities-Net websites: “H-Civil War” and  “H-Slavery.” They are remarkable for their Doublespeak and unblushing partisanship. For while erasing historicism, they pretend to present examples of the historian’s craft. Instead of depicting the past as best they can using available sources, they proudly claim the role of activist scholars, specifically they aim to undermine the “conservative” idea of  American exceptionalism. Here are two paragraphs from the review:

“While the fashion in American history writing has been for historians to pretend to moral neutrality, (Steven) Mintz and (John) Stauffer argue that Americans cannot move forward (nor by implication can they honestly contemplate the significance of 9/11) until there has been a moral reckoning with the American past.  Mintz writes that “history without a moral dimension is antiquarianism” (p. 1).  Their undertaking is modeled on German writers since WW II who have tried to come to terms with the implications of Nazism on the past, an undertaking called _Vergangenheitsbewaltigung_.  Mintz defines the word as the “wrestling with the demons of German history through reflection, remembering, and moral reckoning” (p. 1).

“The editors chose the essays according to five criteria: the wrestling with a fundamental moral problem, the centrality of ideas or an ideology “to connect economic and political interests and the realm of ideas” (p. 2), . the recognition of culture as involving contests for power, the placing of the U.S. experience into larger processes of modernization, and the relation of slavery to an understanding of modernity.  Most of the essays contain themes prominent in history writing on slavery, abolition, reform, and freedom since the 1990s.  By historicizing evil, these essays work to undercut the conservative American exceptionalism interpretation of U.S. history.” [End, Prinsloo excerpt}

[Clare:] This entire project and its presentation as a foray into uncharted waters is simply astounding. American historians have been preoccupied with the problem of slavery from the inception of the discipline. To be sure, estimations of its character and the causes of the Civil War have been strenuously debated. But the first thing we learned in graduate school in U.S. history was not to allow our own distaste or horror at the institution (or any other individual or institution) to interfere with our representations of the American past. (The common tendency to project our own morality into past societies was described as “present-mindedness” and promoted by Howard Zinn.) However, not only are the historians mentioned in the review openly identified with the Left (another no-no for objective historians), they are 1. transmitting a well-known theme in post-60s history writing in a line suggested by Eric Williams and others that the filthy lucre derived from slavery made capitalism possible, that slavery, capitalism, and modernity are chained together and coterminous (as opposed to slavery being an archaic,  quasi-feudal institution, and its overcoming a triumph of the bourgeoisie that, in so doing,  laid the foundation for a prosperous new nation built upon free labor); and 2. entirely misrepresenting the theory of American exceptionalism.

What made America exceptional was the lack of a hereditary aristocracy with its rigid class system. After 1787-89, the U.S. could boast of  a “constitution of liberty” (Hayek)  that made it possible for any common person to rise in income and status. In other words, America offered a meritocracy that rewarded hard work and skill–it was a land of limitless opportunity for free white men, rights that were gradually extended to freedmen and women. Because America fought a civil war and then pursued an extended and still persistent civil rights movement, the sin of slavery was purified  by the blood of over 600,000 casualties (as some Christians saw it). And yet many “interdisciplinary” scholars continue to indoctrinate their students with the notion of “white skin privilege,” in some cases blaming the Jews for inventing the slave trade, a myth strenuously opposed by such as Yale professor David Brion Davis, a major scholar mentioned elsewhere in the review as if he were in their camp. This fashionable notion is further carried over in the post-60s representation of American national character, said to be imperialist, patriarchal, racist, genocidal, and ecocidal. Obviously, such crimes demand reparations or even revolution, and revolution is what I believe that some postmodernists/post-colonial scholars are advocating (I do not include D. B. Davis or his students in this group: they are likely strong supporters of the Obama administration). Do not delude yourself, dear reader, into thinking that such voices are only marginal in current history departments.

What the reviewer reports in the excerpt above is even more outrageous in appropriating the German movement to “work through” its Nazi past in order to propose a similar breast-beating here.  This is tantamount to claiming that American history is Nazi-like in its essential character. I understand  that not all readers of this blog will make the same leap, but then they may not read between the lines as strenuously as I do.  I would argue that American scholars have not, as a group, worked through the antisemitism that pervades our particular political culture, especially in its populist variant. In his show of Monday January 24, Jon Stewart presented a lengthy segment quoting various Fox News personalities who apparently were comparing certain leftists as resembling Nazis in their rhetoric. This as his riposte to Democratic Congressman Steve Cohen’s accusation that Republicans were spreading “the big lie.” These guys–all of them–should spend more time in the groves of academe where the destruction of history is perpetrated daily, with little notice in the blogosphere or in the presentations beloved by the hipsters among us.

[Added 1-28-11, my response to criticisms by two history professors who subscribe to H-Net’s History of Antisemitism discussion group:

Dear list, the two negative responses to my blog https://clarespark.com/2011/01/25/american-slavery-vs-nazi-genocide/, were instructive on several grounds. I was reproached for criticizing activist scholars, and for ignorance of the last three decades of historiography, but there was also a criticism that I had abused my source by claiming that the American history of slavery was being compared to the history of the Third Reich.

Just today, I received an email from the UCLA Department of History announcing a meeting with activist scholars whose knowledge of history would illuminate the current debates on same-sex marriage. This was the department that awarded me the Ph.D., and while there I was immersed in social history, a sub-field beloved by New Left, Stalinist, and Trotskyist activist scholars, because it enabled the would-be historian to stand with the oppressed and generally support revolt by the lower orders we exclusively studied. One of their number, the prolific and powerful Gary Nash told his students straight out that study of “literary sources” (i.e., the writings of decision-makers and leaders in general) was by its very nature “elitist.” Thus Nash’s seminar on colonial America completely ignored intellectual history in favor of the study of slavery and native American wars instigated by the invading “whites.”

Needless to say, antisemitism was never discussed in seminars or in the numerous conferences staged by the U.S. field. It was my own study after 1986 that instructed me in the propaganda disseminated by Nazis* and Soviets regarding the control that Jews exerted over the United States.  Here is one example of Soviet propaganda, penned by Dmitri Volkogonov in _The Psychological War_ (1986):

“The capitalist mass media are greatly influenced by the Zionist circles.  For example, Zionist organisations in the United States control half its magazines, more than half of its radio stations, and a large number of press and radio bureaus abroad.  In other capitalist countries the picture is very much the same.  In addition to that, various Zionist organisations run more than a thousand publications in 67 countries.  This is where the military-industrial complex draws its ideological support. The capitalist mass media spread outright lies about socialism, create a climate of fear for the future, of gloom and doom.  The main idea of this vast system of disinformation is to prove that “socialism is bad” and the “free world” is good. This is how the capitalist mass media are waging the psychological war against the Soviet people, also against their own people whom the bourgeois radio centres feed with disinformation.  This is how opinions in the West are shaped when people are unable to understand the true state of things, when they think and act only under the influence of the extraneous forces that manipulate them.”

I do not find it a stretch to say that the more powerful history professors at UCLA were as explicit as Volkogonov in attacking the notion of the “free world.” True, they were not explicit anti-Semites, though Harold Cruse’s famous diatribe against “Jewish” Communists (_The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual_) was assigned in the seminar that introduced new grad students to the various sub-fields of U.S. history, and when I wrote a paper complaining about the invidious distinction Cruse drew between Jewish and gentile Communists to be disturbing, Nash passed off Cruse’s book as typical 1960s overstatement, suggesting to me that I was oversensitive to anti-Jewish smears (though I kept this thought to myself). If one wanted to study antisemitism, one became a Europeanist and/or studied with Saul Friedlander or joined the [anti-Zionist] Jewish Studies program initiated while I was still a graduate student. The U.S. field in the Department of History was ideologically judenrein.

Notwithstanding Professor Nash’s preferred sub-field of social history (with its constant emphasis on inequality), he and his co-professor Mary Yeager warned the incoming students not to be present-minded by imposing current moral standards on the past. Still, by directing the students to resistance from below to the various oppressions that bedeviled them, Nash’s morality was expressed clearly enough.

So much for my ignorance of the historiography of the past three decades. As for my objection to comparing the German movement to “working through” the Nazi past to the call for the injection of morality into the study of American slavery (as if it still existed in this country, or perhaps as if insufficient reparations had been made to the descendants of slaves), I stand by my original message. Black nationalism was alive and well at UCLA where I received my training. It remains a powerful influence today. Ralph Bunche’s memoranda to Gunnar Myrdal warned him about the rampant antisemitism in black nationalist organizations. As I wrote about it in my published article on the Bunche-Myrdal dispute over _An American Dilemma_, Myrdal’s response was to frequently trash Bunche and “the Howard boys” as economic determinists and to hint in his endnotes that Jews were the worst exploiters of blacks. For a summary of my published paper, see https://clarespark.com/2009/10/10/ralph-bunche-and-the-jewish-problem/.

*Space does not permit me to cite examples of Nazi propaganda that viewed the U.S. as controlled by Jews.

For an outstanding article on the impropriety of comparing the slave trade with the Holocaust, see Seymour Drescher, “The Atlantic Slave Trade and the Holocaust,” in Is The Holocaust Unique?, ed. Alan Rosenbaum (Westview Press, 1996).

Blog at WordPress.com.