Thursday, August 6, 2015

The Powell Manifesto comes of age: Conservatives rewrite history books

Here's a summary article by Steve Benen at MSNBC/Rachel Maddow Show with which I will take issue. The facts are correct but, in my opinion, the framing is off.

The first national salvo in the fight caught many off guard. Exactly one year ago next week, members of the Republican National Committee gathered for a regularly scheduled meeting, and took up a fairly obscure resolution: RNC activists voted to condemn Advanced Placement U.S. History classes for presenting a "consistently negative view of American history."

Actually, this has been in the works for 40 years. What is now different is that GOPlins are wielding power and have inserted themselves in school boards as well as the RNC. They are in a position to make Lewis Powell's recommendations in his memo a reality.

... Vox's Libby Nelson explained yesterday that the right’s attacks had their intended effect.

Now, after nearly a year of uproar, the College Board, the group that writes the AP exam, has made major changes to the framework – and it’s won conservatives over, in part by putting less emphasis on racism.

The earlier frameworks, before the 2014 version, had been a long list of events in American history. The goal of last year’s framework was to replace that with a more coherent, specific narrative of American history, framed by a few central questions. The new version has abandoned part of that sweeping narrative, getting more specific in some areas and toning down some of its most stark historical judgments.

The new version is nicer to Ronald Reagan, to the delight of GOP partisans, but even more important is the way in which AP History will explore the issue of race.

Newsweek published a good report on this last week:

Though the number of mentions of the word "slavery" remains roughly the same, the new document significantly alters the original framework’s tone around slavery, racism, and Native American relations.

Passages that previously cited racial attitudes, stereotyping, and white superiority in early American history have been rewritten or deleted, and some passages that previously implicated early European colonists in racism and aiding in destructive Native American warfare have been softened and replaced with more passive language.
As if that weren’t quite enough, the history of the New Deal also received a touch-up. Whereas the old document read, "Although the New Deal did not completely overcome the Depression, it left a legacy of reforms and agencies that endeavored to make society and individuals more secure," the new version says, "Although the New Deal did not end the Depression, it left a legacy of reforms and regulatory agencies."

How subtle.

It was disappointing to see the right go after American history with such zeal last year, but it’s vastly worse now that conservatives have produced the changes they sought.

Subtle indeed. Trying to get rid of AP History would be ham-handed and likely to stir up a hornet's nest. Instead, rewriting history will have a much more telling and enduring impact. The next generation of school children will grow up believing that white supremacy was not so bad, and that the New Deal was not so good.

I'll say it again. Violent, sudden revolutions often fail. Instead, the GOPlins have shown amazing patience in playing a long game over the last 40 years. The rewriting of history books, for example, is a slow process but one that will be just as revolutionary, indoctrinating new generations of conservative voters and insuring the continuance of Republican rule.

(h/t Nathan Hicks)

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