The Liberal Historical Agenda

10 Feb

Yesterday I was surfing around the Barnes and Noble website, dreaming of books I will buy when I get back to the U.S., when I noticed the top-selling book is a history book.  It’s called A Patriot’s History of the United States: From Columbus’s Great Discovery to The War on Terror.

Well it was clear to me from the title of the book that it was written by  conservatives and the book’s description only confirmed that.  It says, “…many history professors have allowed their biases to distort the way America’s past is taught. These intellectuals have searched for instances of racism, sexism, and bigotry in our history while downplaying the greatness of America’s patriots and the achievements of ‘dead white men’…. [this book] corrects those doctrinaire biases… This book offers a long-overdue acknowledgment of America’s true and proud history.”  So basically, the authors believe most collegiate history professors are liberal and try to spread their agenda to America’s youth by finding obscure examples in history of injustice.

As a historian, I have several problems with this book, though I will admit I have not read it.  I’ve seen their argument before and I find so many holes in it.  The description of the book implies that professors of history have had to search hard to find examples of racism and sexism in history and have then used those examples to downplay the importance of the “dead white men” such as George Washington who founded this country.  The author of A Patriot’s History wants readers to believe that the liberal agenda, found frequently amongst college professors, has caused them to reshape history for their own beliefs.  The fact of the matter is the authors of A Patriot’s History are trying to do the exact same thing, just to the opposite extreme.

I disagree with their assertion that history professors have had to search for examples of racism and sexism.  One doesn’t have to look far at all to find such examples.  It would take me days to list examples from each era in American history (just from the top of my head without any research as the author suggests would have be done to find examples), so I’ll focus on the colonial era and the early years of the United States history.  Slavery is a huge part of the history of this country and one doesn’t have too look through the history books at all to find it.  If slavery wasn’t racist, I don’t know what is.  Nor does one have to look far to see instances of sexism.  Women in colonial American were strongly discouraged from having political opinions, from working outside of the home, and when they did work outside of the home it was in fields that are traditionally kept by women such as millinery.  It was often believed that a woman did not have the ability to understand politics.  BAM, sexism.

I also disagree with their belief that the focus of history should be on it’s major players, such as Christopher Columbus and George Washington, rather than the every day people.  I’m not denying that these men were important, but focusing solely on the major players, the “dead white men,” gives one an incomplete view of history.  Could our presidents have been elected with out the support and votes of the every day people?  Absolutely not.  Could the government be run without the help of common people?  Not at all.  Could Martin Luther King, Jr. have championed civil rights for African-Americans all by himself?  No, it was the hard work of the Freedom Riders and those who staged lunch counter sit-ins who helped the civil rights movement on a local scale and those were every day people.  Martin Luther King, Jr. could not have accomplished what he did without the support of his followers.  When we think about Hurricane Katrina in the history books, will we focus on George W. Bush’s response or the response of the millions of people who donated money, food, goods, and time to help the city rebuild itself?  Much of the time it is the common citizens of the United States who make the history, not the major players themselves.

I can tell you, having studied history with these supposed liberal professors, their teachings do not often change the political views of their students.  I have never witnessed an instance where a student listened to a history lecture and their political views were changed.  Most college students arrive as Freshman with their own political beliefs in tact.  Even when I was in high school, the most liberal of history teachers (she was not shy about being liberal and often quipped that she couldn’t be elected dog catcher) could not sway the most conservative of students in their political beliefs.

Ultimately, history should be based on fact and I think the majority of college professors base their lectures on fact, not their own political agendas, whatever they may be.  But the fact remains that while the authors of A Patriot’s History blame professors for propagating a liberal agenda, they are in fact trying to spread their conservative agenda.  Simply stated: they are hypocrites.

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