I would like to commend S. Rachel May ’78 for a very well written response (May issue) to the “The Politics of History” (April issue). My personal story was on the other end of the high school history textbook spectrum in that same decade. I was a student in Texas at the time. I was fed a version of American history that was 100 percent great deeds by great white men. My father, knowing that I would be getting a more well-rounded version when I got to college, wisely gave me a college history textbook for my summer pre-read. (He was always a man ahead of his time.) I was stunned. And, more important to today’s debate, I came to the logical conclusion that something must be very wrong about all of the aspects of our nation’s history that had been hidden from me for those years.
I would suggest that a better long-term approach would be to teach students that the United States of America was founded on an aspirational document that we have been steadily working on bringing into existence, but is still a work in progress. It is then possible to emphasize the positive nature of the entire enterprise in the context of the world history surrounding this unfolding, radical experiment in democracy.
It is my view that the rejection of Guelzo’s ideas by many of his peers is not a rejection of a more conservative explanation of historical events, but a rejection of the idea that we would benefit from hiding (or at least, trying to hide) the less honorable portions of this great nation’s history.