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?