Imaging the Past to Experience and Reshape the Present More Fully: APUSH as Social Science

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I tend to come at the same issues from a different approach in part because I usually pick up on all the terms that have quietly acquired a non-dictionary meaning. The real definitions completely change what people are actually admitting they intend to do. When it comes to history now, at whatever age, approach all courses or activities, even for elementary students, with a recognition that “Personal Transformation on our Minds” is the motto crooned to the tune of “Georgia on My Mind”. You will never be far off from what the real goals are. Facts are really only important in this view of history if they can be used to shift how we see ourselves or others in the present.

Did you know that historian Thomas Bender (he actually seems to prefer the term Humanities professor) from the previous APUSH post and another NYU historian (now Harvard) Walter Johnson, also at La Pietra, have each been fellows at the Center for Advanced Studies in the Behavioral Sciences since the Conference and before the formal relationship with the College Board began? History as a tool for altering human behavior in the present certainly puts the purposes of that otherwise mystifying Conceptual Framework in a new light, doesn’t it?

Did you know that back in 1934 the American Historical Association issued a Carnegie-financed report (remember they are now sponsoring Competency-Based Learning and so much more) called the “Report of the Commission of the Social Studies.” My thanks to the reader who read the previous post and directed my attention to this report on the american deception website. All the way back then, the AHA announced that “the American people are part of Western Civilization now merging into a world order.” Schools therefore needed to modify any coursework that would encourage “the traditional faith in economic individualism.” The US would be “embarking on vast experiments in social planning and control which call for large-scale cooperation on the part of the people.”

Compliant is probably a more apt description for the new desired attitudes, but the soothing PR sales pitch in the report is that “education so conceived is concerned with the development of rich and many-sided personalities capable of co-operating.” Education that continued to focus on subject-matter content would simply “intensify the conflicts, contradictions, maladjustments, and perils of the transition.” Just thinking of us then is why we have been lied to about what has been really going on. The view that school could become primarily a matter of social adjustment and experiences while the real purposes hid behind continuing use of Academic Course Names has been on the record for a very long time.

When I said in the last post that the La Pietra Conference immediately made me think of the World Order Models Project, the original book that I reached for was the 1990 Contending Sovereignties: Redefining Political Community. That book was essentially the post-Soviet Blueprint of how to proceed to ‘reform’ the West as if it actually did not ‘win’ anything at all. It grew out of a 1988 Moscow Workshop that launched the Global Civilization Project. I know. Another lost invite. The essential premises going forward were that the era of the nation-state was over and that the historic state form was insufficient as a “political community.” Instead, the locality should be the focus of the political community and politics should now be reconceived as “purposive social action directed at the conditions of social existence.”

If you redefine “democratic theory” going forward as “a theory of social movements rather than states” and you do not want to tell the masses in case they do not want to go along with such an oligarchy power play, you hide the shifts in education. You create a Common Core and use Close Reading to foster the desired perceptions of “which human identities are crucial, what forms of social action are necessary, what political communities have to be created.” You use the school to create classroom practices that involve “politics as an everyday experience” and never disclose why. You create an APUSH Framework that is missing most of the crucial facts, but is full of activities and concepts offering students a means for “working out new understandings of themselves and bringing those understandings into the world.”

That’s because it’s the Flyv Social Science definition of understanding as grounded in subjective experience and how the student learns to perceive it using the provided concepts and disciplinary Big Ideas. I will pull one more nerdy word out of Robin’s Magical Glossary of Pertinent Education Terms: phronesis. Every time you see the word ‘understand’ from now on having to do with what students are to ‘know’ it means grounded in experience and perception and not logic or facts. A phronetic, Arational understanding is what the social scientists and educators intent on fundamental transformations call it and we should appreciate it is not a fact-grounded, analytical sense of the word ‘understanding.’ Is APUSH making more sense now?

How about if I add that Bender’s 1978 book Community and Social Change in America explained the now close relationships between sociologists and historians to create a means to “illuminate the dynamics of a complex society.” To use historical data and sociological ideas to examine “the ways in which the roles, statuses, and identities held by individual Americans changed over time.” Now that’s a view of the purpose of history that would fit right in with a Global Civilization Project interested in bypassing the factual history that might preserve the legitimacy of the nation-state. Instead we quietly build up senses of entitlement and grievance in social movements.

Bender acknowledged that “ideology can create a national community held together by emotional bonds similar to those associated with the social experience of community” that we are discussing here. What Bender seems to want to focus on as history is the “network of social relations in which the individual is embedded” and what the “structure of social experience is.” He wants to look for and hopefully use history coursework to start a course back towards relationships and interactions grounded in the “qualities of mutuality and sentiment associated with community.”

If that sounds like Bender is interested in fostering the kind of communitarianism we just keep stumbling across in the actual Common Core implementation, I think that is exactly right. It would also explain all the foundation sponsorship of the La Pietra Conference. It is history as a social practice of students and teachers acting as a community to explore the past to better appreciate what is wrong with the present.

I have one more place I want to look to put APUSH into perspective while once again encountering the communitarian emphasis that never seems to be far away from what will be imposed on students in a K-12 school or classroom. The goal always seems to be to accustom each student to a more communitarian, interdependent approach in society and the economy. This book from 1992, Responsive Schools, Renewed Communities, is by Clifford W Cobb, a co-author of the very troubling for the common good, with a Foreword by famous communitarian prof Amitai Etzioni. It actually advocated for vouchers and charter schools and school choice generally as a more reliable vehicle for achieving the communitarian focus. That surprise would suggest I am not the only one who understands that accreditation is the monkey wrench that undermines genuine choice for parents.

So beware what remedies we advocate for without reading the footnotes and small print. My purpose for using that book is how well it fits with the template from both the 1934 Report and the methods for transformation of political community laid out in Contending Sovereignties. That 1992 book wanted schools that depend on “fostering concrete experiences of commitment to an immediate community. Those experiences can then be generalized into a devotion to the common good.” School becomes a means to “generate allegiance to core values,” which would of course put it in line with the global education template UNESCO and Pearson are quietly pushing.

Relevant to our igniter of social movements goal as the new actual purpose of history coursework (or Civics or English or STEM…) is the desire that Multiculturalism and Diversity be seen as goals that will allow the “continuing distinctiveness and autonomy of subcultures, particularly those based on ethnicity.” Well, let’s face it, not all ethnicities qualify. A few sentences further is the real point of cultural pluralism. Those “ethnic nuclei” that are to be respected are those that can constitute “enduring centers of social action.” Oh, that will go well with the new, post nation-state emphasis. The next page, revealing that our prying eyes were never meant to read that book and really grasp all the Diversity hype, “stresses the tactical value of limited separatism.”

Especially in our new world with its focus on the locality and everyday experience. Whatever the intentions of individual advocates today, please be aware that back in 1992 School Choice was being pushed by some as yet another means to get back to:

“the context of a community of personal affiliations that imposed moral expectations and sanctions on its members. That tradition can be revived by shifting from devotion to an abstract national community to reliance on particular, local communities. In other words, rather than expecting the state to resolve our disagreements with each other on moral issues, we should learn to rely on participatory communities to guide the behavior of individuals.”

I think that is what all education at every level globally is now geared to if, like me, you know where to look. We have been looking at an astonishing consistency of aims now from a huge variety of starting points and assumed affiliations.

Next I will walk us through how history is actually to be used before APUSH to get to the Global Civilization Project goals.

Ready for the assessment to be a class quilt?