Truthiness and U.S. History

In the past few days, my Facebook newsfeed has been flooded (I’m looking at you, friends and relatives involved in education!) with links to stories about Oklahoma’s Legislature apparently trying to ban A.P. U.S. History.  Apparently, the reason seemed to be that this class only teaches the negative, lamentable parts of our nation’s history.

APUSH, as we called it, was one of my favorite classes in high school — so why on earth would someone try to get rid of it?  Could this bill really be as shameless as it sounds?  And, most importantly, how could anyone possibly study American history without devoting serious time, thought, and soul-searching to its darker chapters?

Author with pal | photo courtesy of Danny Gustafson SJ

Danny & Friends | photo courtesy of author

My old pal Stephen Colbert once coined the word “truthiness.”  When something feels true in your gut, even if that feeling of truth might not be grounded in anything resembling facts or reason, it has truthiness.   It felt “truthy” that my imagined version of the Oklahoma Legislature would want to get rid of a rich educational experience that also offers their students a step up in preparing for college.  So I decided to check what is actually happening with this bill.

It turns out that the bill’s supporters’ main concern is that APUSH doesn’t sufficiently emphasize American exceptionalism and that instead dwells on “negative aspects of the country’s history.”  But they don’t want to get rid of the class entirely.

It feels similarly “truthy” that we, and our high school students, should simply beat our chests and dwell on American exceptionalism.  It’s true that the United States of America is a great country, as evidenced by this t-shirt.  But it’s also true that our past (and present, sadly) is marked with serious racism, sexism, classism, and systemic oppression and violence against any number of minority and marginalized communities.

So what do we do with that?

Thanks to APUSH, I learned that we’re called to take the good with the bad, to learn from the mistakes of those who have gone before us, and to move from truthiness to truthfulness.  Just like any of us individually, America’s got a whole bunch of good and bad qualities.  Like any meaningful educational experience, APUSH teaches students to think critically, to grapple with the good and the bad, and to apply that thinking to the problems we see in our world today.

 

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Cover Image:  “New Arrivals October 2012: 5 Steps to a 5 AP US History 2012-2013 and Princeton Review AP US History 2013” | Flickr user The Unquiet Library | Flickr Creative Commons, available at https://flic.kr/p/djX5a1

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