A-B-C-Don’t Indoctrinate Me

Bored State Legislators + Education + Inconvenient “Facts” = Nothing Good

In Oklahoma, a legislative committee recently passed a measure that would ban Advanced Placement (A.P.) U.S. History courses in high school. House Bill 1380, introduced and supported by Representative Dan Fisher, will ban the use of state funds for these history courses.

The reason? Well, as Rep. Fisher put it, the courses teach only “what is bad about America.” They omit the idea of “American exceptionalism,” or the theory that the U.S. is unique in its place and role in human history.

The measure passed overwhelmingly, with 11 in favor and only 4 opposed.

This isn’t the first time that A.P. U.S. History courses have come under fire. Colorado, South Carolina, Georgia, and Texas, among others, have seen debate regarding their high school history classes. In most of these cases, at issue is the idea that teachers have “too much wiggle room” and may teach things considered “un-American.”

Now, longer ago than I care to admit, I was a student in such an A.P. history class. I confess, upon reading this story, my head tilted, my brow furrowed, and from my lips escaped an elongated, “what?”

My A.P. U.S. History course was nothing but American exceptionalism (save the one unit on the treatment of Native Americans). In my courses I learned that Andrew Jackson’s opposition to a federal bank was the most insane idea in the history of mankind. According to my history course, I should have a gilded bust of FDR on my fireplace, as his New Deal policies and World War Two brought us out of the Great Depression (cue Robert Higgs’s damning critique of this popular fallacy). Moreover, benevolent public actors conduct foreign interventions and construct U.S. policy for the “greater good.”

Note that this had only a small amount to do with my teacher. In fact, she was one of my favorite teachers in high school. Her lectures were entertaining, she knew the material, and she tried her best to prep us for the dreaded A.P. exam, the monster at the end of the year that would determine if we received college credit for all our blood, sweat, and tears.

Perhaps my experience was unique–though I doubt it.

The lawmakers in Oklahoma and elsewhere claim that their children are being indoctrinated. These “un-American” history classes are tainting young and impressionable minds.

I’ll be blunt—they must think the kids in their state are pretty stupid. If one course can completely sway a 17- or 18-year-old in his opinion, he has been taught to have the critical thinking capacity of an Orwellian sheep.

What these laws are essentially saying is that students are incapable of coming to their own conclusions about historical events and policies. In order to get them to come to the “right” conclusions, we need to stack the deck in favor of a particular way of thinking. It’s imperative to play up some things and omit other details so that students come out with a particular worldview.

Essentially, these public servants argue, instead of indoctrinating our children with facts that may make them critical of U.S. policies past and present, we should be indoctrinating them with the idea that America has always been and always will be a force for good.

At the end of the day, this whole debate is really clouding a much more fundamental issue. That is, why are we discussing whether a course should be “more American, less American,” etc.? The fact of the matter is, history is always written and discussed through someone’s lens. What’s important is teaching students how to think critically, how to recognize what is fact from what is opinion, and how to have intelligent discussions based on the knowledge at hand.

The solution to this problem seems to be the exact opposite of what is being proposed. The answer isn’t more censorship; it’s more history classes from more perspectives. It’s allowing students the chance to take classes from multiple political, cultural, and ideological perspectives. It means giving students the opportunity to learn African American history, Mexican American history, women’s history, and so on. It’s all history. Each has its unique perspective.

By effectively censoring what students learn in history courses, we do them a grave disservice. Rather than eliminating historical facts and “protecting” our children from those awful things called, “alternative perspectives,” let’s teach our children to think critically, be independent, and argue articulately for what they believe. That’s what’s truly American an indicative of a free society.



Abigail R. Hall is a Research Fellow at the Independent Institute and an Associate Professor of Economics at Sykes College of Business at the University of Tampa.
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