History is written by the winners. The losers’ narrative ends with the downfall of their civilization. Right now, the winners writing and teaching American history are setting up the next generation for failure. Instead of honing in on the structural landmarks that made the United States a shining city upon a hill, as most victors that would look to perpetuate prosperity would do, many institutions of higher education in charge of teaching our history imbue shame and skepticism of our past into our curriculum. By focusing on the atrocities of American history from an out-of-context modern perspective, we are teaching our young adults that monumental institutions deserve to be torn down, not venerated or improved for modern times. In my research for the Center for American Institutions, I have discovered that the winners that have captured academia and American history subscribe to corrosive tenets rooted in postmodernism and subjective victimhood. Postmodern American historians believe objective truth and knowledge collected over the centuries should be held in radical skepticism because of its origins in a society formed in oppressive systems of hierarchies. After discarding much of our history because progress did not happen fast enough, contemporary American historians believe in constructing a culture that emphasizes an equitable, multiracial democracy rooted in intersectionality, an ideology which has its proponents looking to align itself on vertices of identity—both real and perceived— in search for victimhood and offense. After examining syllabi that displayed this ideology in an empirical study, I examine evidence of this ideology worming itself into history, before spilling off college campuses and into our daily lives. Amplified by social media algorithms, extremist factions on both sides of the political spectrum have been empowered by our academic institutions to abandon the pursuit of truth and our history to construct the culture as they see fit. The casualties in this war over history and culture are too numerous to count, but perhaps the most the most costly one is the Generation Z. By teaching a history that shames instead of empowers, our newest generation enters the political fray unprepared for reasonable civil discourse, interprets such discussions as personal attacks, and feeds the polarized dichotomy destroying our political culture. Beyond our politics, the teaching of history—along with factors like the decline of freedom to play and a concerted focus to aim children towards higher education among others— has resulted in a generation of fragile, anxious, and unprepared individuals that stand ready to be hoodwinked by life, instead of embracing it. My thesis seeks to not only present these problems to you, but to present a model of a solution, a way to tell our history from a winning perspective. My model syllabus strengthens debate, encourages participation in our discourse, and strives to equip students with the tools they need to thrive in America’s vibrant civic culture. America is a winning country and idea, one which deserves to be perpetuated for as long as possible: we should teach our young people to embody this idea and succeed rather than confuse them with a pessimistic portrayal.
- Teach History as History Knew Itself: How the Focus on Presentism and Modern Politics in American History Indoctrinates Students, Divides Citizens and Erodes Our Civic Culture