The Danger of Politically Correct History
November 23, 2015
It is increasingly difficult to find any topic — especially a controversial one — on which 71% of Americans agree, but that’s the number who think that political correctness is a serious problem in our country, according to a recent Rasmussen poll. Perhaps that’s not as surprising as it may seem. At almost every school, college campus, and workplace, there are indications that political correctness is out of control.
The danger of this trend is that it tries to force facts into a political agenda, whether they fit comfortably or not. It’s an attempt to control not just what we can say, but also what we can learn about the world. In a free society, this is a very dangerous path.
The instinct to control is threatening enough when it’s applied to the news — when the day’s events get drafted into political narrative. But it is even more threatening when applied to our history — our understanding of who we are and where we’ve come from. If political correctness prevents us from learning the truth about our past, in a real way, the past disappears.
Unfortunately, the tendency to teach revisionist or politically correct American history has trickled down into our schools at every level. Parents of students, K-12, have good reason to worry about the substance of what their children are being taught about America. In many places today, students are learning a version of our history that encourages them to doubt the very things that make us American. Some academics, for instance, have promoted the idea that our Founding Fathers risked their lives out of greed or self-interest, and that they intended our interpretation of the Constitution to “evolve” over time.
These ideas are as untrue as they are damaging, and they’ve made their way into our textbooks as well as our classrooms. So it’s important that we pay close attention to the curriculum in our schools — and especially the curriculum in American history, a subject that goes to the very heart of what it means to be American.
Indeed, the failure to pass our nation’s history on to the next generation of Americans is a fundamental challenge because many of our children today are failing to learn the basics about our history. The essentials of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence — ideas like limited representative government, the balance of power, and the principle that “all men are created equal” are critical parts of what unite us as a nation. They are in essence what make us American.
As a result of our failure to teach American history in our schools, our national memory is beginning to slip away, along with the values and principles that bind us together — which of course is exactly what the proponents of politically correct history are aiming for.
Recent results of a Department of Education National Assessment of Educational Progress survey suggest how great a challenge we face in correcting this problem. Just 20 percent of fourth-graders, 17 percent of eighth-graders and 12 percent of twelfth-graders are at grade-level proficiency in American history.
Only one in three fourth-graders can identify the purpose of the Declaration of Independence. Fewer than half understand why George Washington was an important leader in American history. And most fourth-graders don’t know why the Pilgrims left England.
These are alarming findings. They suggest that we’re letting our shared understanding of what it means to be American fade. They also suggest that educating young people about our nation’s past is an urgent task for all of us who care about our future.
It is in this spirit that I have written a series of bestselling children’s books to help young people learn American history with Ellis the Elephant. In this series Ellis learns about American Exceptionalism, Colonial America, the American Revolution, the Lewis and Clark Expedition, and much more. In my latest book, Christmas in America, Ellis discovers the joy of Christmas and how this special holiday has been celebrated throughout our nation’s history.
Visits to historic sites like George Washington’s home at Mount Vernon or Independence Hall in Philadelphia are also wonderful ways to inspire a love for American history. And of course, interactive online courses, television programs like Liberty’s Kids, and educational games like Oregon Trail can teach important history lessons too.
Our children often form their ideas about our nation’s history in the classroom. Let’s make sure our schools aren’t turned into mere platforms for political advocacy.