Editor’s Note: John D. Sutter is a columnist for CNN Opinion and creator of CNN’s Change the List project. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.
Oklahoma lawmaker proposes rewrite of U.S. history class
John Sutter: Such efforts are not only ignorant, they're dangerous
Oh, that pesky history of ours.
Always holding us back.
Why not just take a big ole’ eraser to it?
Smudge out the ugly parts.
That’s essentially what some Oklahoma lawmakers aimed to do this week. You may have read about it: An education committee in my home state – a place with plenty of historical blemishes and oodles of modern-day screw-ups – actually approved a bill that would rewrite advanced placement U.S. History classes, potentially eliminating them. The cause? They paint America in too negative a light.
To get a full sense of how ludicrous this proposal is, you need to hear straight from its sponsor, Dan Fisher, a Republican state representative from a suburb of Oklahoma City.
“In essence, we have a new emphasis on what is bad about America,” Fisher said in a committee hearing, according to a CNN report. “(The new framework) trades an emphasis on America’s founding principles of constitutional government in favor of robust analyses of gender and racial oppression and class ethnicity and the lives of marginalized people, where the emphasis on instruction is of America as a nation of oppressors and exploiters.”
Fisher’s bill, as it was proposed, bars state money from going to AP U.S. history courses, according to CNN. It also requires the replacement class to cover a number of “founding documents of the United States that contributed to the foundation or maintenance of the representative form of limited government, the free-market economic system and American exceptionalism.”
Oh, and speeches by Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush.
Sense a political slant there?
The proposal is a major sideshow in a state with some serious educational failings. Education Week ranked Oklahoma’s educational system 48th out of the 50 states and Washington, D.C., “with an overall score of 67.6 out of 100 points and a grade of D-plus.”
A D-plus! Hoo-rah!
Better cut back on those think-y classes.
The state’s teachers make, on average, about $44,000 per year, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, which uses stats from the 2012-2013 school year.
The national average is more than $56,000.
Fisher could use his time to focus on either of these issues – poor educational performance or low teacher pay – instead of distracting all of us with this heap of revisionist, partisan nonsense.
The AP history bill itself is being rewritten, The Tulsa World reported on Wednesday.
And Fisher apparently has backed off wanting to kill AP U.S. history altogether.
But, I’m sorry. That’s almost beside the point.
What bothers me is that Fisher had the gall to propose something so ludicrous in the first place.
Doing so makes my home state – a place I’m immensely proud of – look ridiculous.
It wastes my time and yours.
And, more to the point, it flies arrogantly in the face of history.
American history – despite what Fisher or those Republicans at the National Prayer Breakfast might say – is anything but crisp, clean and “exceptional.” This is one of the greatest countries on Earth, to be sure. We have freedoms of speech and religion that are unmatched worldwide.
But we are not perfect.
We have to acknowledge that. Embrace it.
It’s the only way we can move forward.
The only way we prevent history from repeating itself.
Oklahoma – Fisher and his fringe cohorts aside – has proven to be good at this. Oklahoma City was the site of one of the worst terror attacks in this country’s history, the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building. An American, Timothy McVeigh, was executed for that crime.
Now, the city has a beautiful memorial in tribute to the victims of that tragedy. It has a museum decrying hate. It cherishes the “survivor tree,” a beautiful American Elm, which withstood that 1995 blast and now serves as a symbol of the city’s and the state’s resilience in the face of hardship.
You can’t erase those memories, and Oklahomans wouldn’t want to.
You learn from them.
The same goes for the “robust analyses of gender and racial oppression and class ethnicity and the lives of marginalized people” that the Oklahoma rep seems so bothered by.
This is a country that remains ensnared by all those things.
We can’t close our eyes and plug our ears.
We’re still tangled in the awful legacy of slavery and the racism that’s followed. The Trail of Tears marched American Indians into present day Oklahoma, and it’s not such a distant cultural memory, especially there. Nationwide, women still aren’t paid as much as men for the same work. And there are still 13 states where gay and lesbian people aren’t allowed to be married – and 29, including Oklahoma, according to the Human Rights Campaign, where they can be fired because of their sexual orientation.
These injustices are historic – and they’re now.
You’d think we’d get that.
But apparently it bears repeating.
So, I guess, does this: We have to learn from these mistakes in order to move forward. Sweeping them aside in favor of preaching “exceptionalism” in the classroom isn’t just ignorant – it’s dangerous. Instead of rewriting history we should learn from it. And write a better future.