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Red-Blue America: Liberal-conservative battle over history books continues

The new writers of America’s history seem to be interested only in the nation’s warts

Let’s not kid ourselves. Liberals and leftists have been politicizing American history since at least the 1960s. Radical and social historians are in the mainstream of university history departments today. Who do you think writes the textbooks? Who wrote the AP history frameworks?

Hint: Not right-wingers.

This isn’t about conservative “fear.” It’s about truth. To hear the framework’s designers tell it, they only want to present American history “in context” and free from sentimentality and cant. But the frameworks themselves tell a different story. “The idea of America as a nation founded on the pursuit of freedom and equality is presented mainly as a myth ever in need of more repudiation,” writes Peter Wood, president of the National Association of Schools.

Perhaps the new AP history frameworks should be called the Howard Zinn history frameworks. Zinn, a hard-left Boston University historian who died in 2010, wrote “A People’s History of the United States.” The book peddles what one wag properly described as “a victims’-eye panorama of the American experience.”

Zinn’s United States is a nation built on uninterrupted exploitation, greed and racism. His history is a blinkered history. So, too, is the College Board’s.

The framework’s defenders assert that America’s founding does not get short shrift, contrary to critics’ claims. “The Declaration of Independence stands front and center alongside the Constitution in the section devoted to ‘experiments with democratic ideas and republican forms of government,’ including those of France, Haiti and Latin America,” wrote James Grossman, executive director of the American Historical Association, in the New York Times.

But Grossman misses the point. All republics are not created equal. The French, Haiti and Latin American “experiments” were all failures. The United States is not just another nation among many.

A proper study of history is one of the key foundations of American citizenship. Did America’s founding have defects? Of course. But when it comes to studying our history, “warts and all,” the new historians seem only to be interested in the warts.

Ben Boychuk (bboychuk@city-journal.org) is associate editor of the Manhattan Institute’s City Journal. Visit him on Facebook: www.facebook.com/benandjoel.