statue of liberty

A-PUSH from patriotism

A nationwide fight has erupted over Collegeboard’s new AP U.S. History curriculum. Some critics have charged that the new curriculum does not adequately “promote citizenship, patriotism, essentials and benefits of the free enterprise system.” That’s due to, the critics say, the implementation of “a radically revisionist view of American history that emphasizes negative aspects of our nation’s history while minimizing positive aspects.”

Larry Krieger, a noted former US history teacher, also denounced the new curriculum, charging that it failed to highlight what made America great and ignored core values such as American exceptionalism.

But I want to learn about the good, the bad, and the ugly – especially the ugly, because when we see the ugliest sides of ourselves, that’s when we’re most inspired to change. I’m proud of my country and the values of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” But I’m not just interested in how democracy and freedom make our country great, as I am perhaps even more so interested in what keeps America from being greater. Real progress comes from challenging our current values and continuing to innovate, not from clinging to what we have already.

If we constantly look into the mirror and tell ourselves how great we are, it’s an ego-boosting exercise rather than an educational one. What makes America great, in my opinion, is the ability to self-reflect and continue to make changes, and we cannot abandon that mindset when it comes to teaching history. Our greatest strength has been the ability to be candidly self-critical and improve. Seeing our past failures, alongside our triumphs, grounds us and motivates us to keep going.

When people say “We’re the greatest country in the world.” it bothers me a little. It implies a sort of contentment with having reached the top of the mountain, when what we should be communicating to our youth is that the top of the mountain is still yet ahead. Why can’t we ask “How can American be a greater country?”

The US is seventh in literacy, 22nd in math, 22nd in science, 46th in infant mortality and 49th in life expectancy, according to the CIA World Factbook and Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development . We currently have the highest number of incarcerated citizens per capita. We rank 47th in press freedom and 10th in economic freedom, according to Reporters Without Borders and the Wall Street Journal.

Certainly, some may argue, not bad. And compositely, it may just put us at the top. But it’s a constant reminder that we could, and definitely should be better. We need to tackle the roots of the problems, no matter how uncomfortable the truths are. We need to examine past examples and find out what went wrong and why, so that we can apply those principles to the here and now. If we can find a way as a country to improve our students’ literacy, math and science skills, then we won’t have to look back and wonder whether we are “positive enough” in telling the story of our history.

But for the moment: should we run and duck from these facts and never include them in our history books because they’re too “negative”?

If we do, I’d say we’re not half as great of a country as we say we are.

By Ted Zhu, Editor-in-Chief


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