Education, recent

A Professor Speaks Out: How ‘New Left’ Orthodoxy Is Failing a New Generation of History Students

I began teaching introductory U.S. history classes at the college level five years ago. These courses are always well-attended, as they fulfill a graduation requirement for other (presumably more worthwhile) majors. But the enrolment numbers are misleading: Across the United States, student interest in the Humanities is approaching all-time lows, with history, it seems, often faring the worst. In my classes, I frequently make the mistake of testing these trends, opening with surveys that ask students about history as a possible major. Excepting the occasional “LOL,” the answer is always no. Administrative fiat, not student choice, explains why our seats are full.

Rock bottom usually carries with it some opportunity, however. As schools begin to take the justifiable and entirely predictable step of officially shuttering humanities classes (and even whole departments) in response to this decline in student interest, these introductory courses—long the bane of professors everywhere (one of the best parts of making tenure is that you no longer have to teach them)—have taken on an increased importance, as they represent our best opportunity to change students’ minds about history; and, if the stars align, successfully recruit a new major to our field every once in a while. In fact, the survival or our departments may end up depending in large part on the success of these classes, the majority of which will be taught, if patterns hold, by younger professors and adjuncts such as myself, who also happen to be the least financially and vocationally secure members of their departments.

For my part, I was happy to be assigned these courses, and anxious to see if I could find a way to teach history better. And in my own way, I think I succeeded—even if, as explained below, I did so at the cost of compromising my value on the academic job market. Bruised by the “LOLs,” and desperate to improve student experience in these classes, I adopted a potentially controversial way to approach teaching at the college level.

*   *   *

The choice of what to teach in an introductory history class is fraught with political implications. Taken broadly, most of the classes in this field exist somewhere between two interpretative extremes. One is the traditional “Glory” approach to U.S. history, a positive, even triumphant, narrative that was more commonly taught in the first half of the 20th century. At the other extreme, you have the “Gory” approach—not positive and certainly not triumphant. That perspective focuses on the contradictions and hypocrisies embedded in U.S. history, with particular emphasis on the groups that were excluded, brutalized or even decimated. With my classes, I would favor Gory—which in retrospect was a thoroughly conventional decision. With this move, my classes would hew more closely to my own interpretation of American history and also, I assumed, meet my students closer to their own systems of belief. This, I thought, would be the best way to address the “crisis” within my field. I would be in for an unpleasant surprise.

In the 1980s and 1990s, Lynne Cheney—chairman of the National Endowment of the Humanities from 1986-1993, a leading conservative voice in the United States, and the wife of then-future vice-president Dick Cheney—came out swinging against the Gory version of U.S history. She championed national high-school teaching standards that emphasized the Glory narrative. Much to her dismay, however, when the actual proposed standards came out, they seemed to bolster the other side. For instance, it was deemed okay, in her opinion, to praise Mansa Musa, a famous African emperor, for being rich, but not John D. Rockefeller. It also was fine to celebrate the Aztecs for their technological innovations without paying too much attention to the practice of human sacrifice. As Cheney saw it, this represented a double standard.

She pointed out that abolitionist Harriet Tubman was mentioned six times in the materials, as compared to two of Tubman’s white male contemporaries, President Ulysses S. Grant and Confederate leader Robert E. Lee, who got one reference between the two of them. Such imbalances, she argued, made U.S. history too “grim and gloomy,” and pushed the “principle of inclusion” to such point that a “new type of exclusion [had] developed.” She called it “the end of history.”

The architects of the standards, mostly college professors, pushed back against Cheney’s criticism. The two sides might as well have been from different planets. Academia, a bastion of liberalism for most of the 20th century, had redefined itself in the 1960s. The left on college campuses had become the “New Left,” shifting its focus from workers and capital to larger issues of equality and justice. In his response to Cheney, Gary Nash, a UCLA history professor and lead author of the standards, called the historians’ craft evidence-based and strenuous, but also “inherently subjective,” the best analogy being “the work of a lawyer who gathers evidence and builds a case to present to the jury.” Harriet Tubman appearing six times in the standards was no accident. College professors controlled the narrative in their classes, and they had a different story to tell.

Cheney succeeded in pushing the Senate to vote 99-1 in favor of recommending that no federal body should certify the standards, crippling their influence to a degree, but this had little impact on how history was taught at the college level. Many applauded this trend, and for good reason: The changes in favor of more diversity were exciting, and Cheney came across as completely out of touch. No sane modern academic could apply for a teaching job at a mainstream college on a Lynne-Cheney platform and expect a friendly response. So when I began my college teaching career five years ago, Cheney’s story of America, not surprisingly, influenced my course content only by omission. It was like a negative-space drawing, by which I would carefully fill in all the space outside of the Glory narrative. This emphasis on the Gory side was done in the name of diversity; the more diverse, the better. If my classes struggled at all, in fact, my working assumption would be that I had not made them Gory enough.

These teaching decisions seemed all the more obvious given that I teach at Tennessee State University, which is one of about 100 historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) in the United States. My students reliably resist almost all generalizations that come their way, but I’m comfortable asserting that my students aren’t going to lose any sleep over Robert E. Lee getting pushed out of any high school curriculum in favor of Harriet Tubman. Indeed, there is still palpable frustration among many of my students with the traditional curriculum elements that remain. Before one class on the Second World War, for instance, one of my best students told me, “This is great and all—but you need to know that I don’t give a s**t about World War II.” She explained that her high school curriculum had emphasized this topic—and others like it—to the exclusion of, by way of example, the history of slavery. In this setting, the Gory narrative seemed right on point.

And early on, I did have some optimism that my classes were going well, but I wanted to be sure. I already had the baseline (and soul-crushing) survey results from the beginning of class. Now I would add a second survey at the end, with the expectation that more students (I was starting at zero after all) would express interest in a history major. But the enthusiasm rate was still non-existent. All my Goriness hadn’t moved the needle at all. I considered this a failure.

One explanation, of course, was operator error. I may be the problem—not my curriculum choices. Here I will leave it to the reader to ascribe the appropriate amount of importance to the fact that I am a white male teaching predominantly black students.

My focus, though, would be on things I could change, not on the things I couldn’t. So I began to talk to my students ad nauseum about what they wanted a history class to accomplish. It turns out that the Glory-vs.-Gory debate was much more my fight than theirs. The New Left curriculum simply wasn’t doing the same intellectual work for my students that it was doing for me.

This was a startling revelation for me, difficult at first to digest. The New Left was not a suit of clothes I put on just to teach. I believed in it. Because of the New Left, in my opinion, we now have a better and more complete understanding of our world. It also once seemed to work well in the classroom: Interest in the humanities spiked in the 1960s and sustained much of that appeal even into the 1980s and 1990s. What had changed?

To answer this question, it’s important to remember that, notwithstanding the academy’s repudiation of the Lynne-Cheney perspective, the traditional approach she represented had not, at that time, completely disappeared from the public consciousness, even if it was nowhere to be found on a college syllabus. You did not have to teach her outlook. Students already had learned or absorbed it to varying degrees through popular culture, which is why the New Left remained, at its heart, a revisionist project. The New Left in the classroom did not exist in isolation, no matter how liberal the campus became. It was always in conversation with opposing knowledge that emerged in everything from Hollywood movies to the nightly news. Pedagogically, this was enormously helpful—as the humanities always have been animated by an aspiration to foster critical-thinking skills.

But the broader circumstances in which those skills are to be exercised have changed. Whether we think of our current cultural moment as the information age, the post-truth age, or (more accurately, if more awkwardly) the death-of-consensus age, we are all experiencing a reckoning with human subjectivity. Conventional knowledge is not what it used to be. As people increasingly enter feedback loops to get news and develop their ideas, the center, epistemologically, has not held. Knowledge has fragmented, which means the New Left has lost its foil. The term “critical thinking” is meaningful only if one has some important and widespread system of thought to criticize. But there are few cultural inputs in a modern student’s life that we can safely assume will serve as targets for New Leftist critique.

I am hardly the only one concerned that the New Left may have lost its edge in the classroom. Stanford professor Sam Wineburg—a leading innovator in the field of history education—recently critiqued Howard Zinn’s foundational 1980 academic text The People’s History, once regarded as a crowning achievement of the New Left movement in academia. Zinn (1922-2010) was a champion of labor rights who presented America as a military aggressor with a deeply embedded history of racism. Yet The People’s History, Wineburg argues, is no better pedagogically than the textbooks that it was meant to replace. The lack of footnotes is particularly problematic for Wineburg, as he frames Zinn’s masterwork as trading in one ideologically-driven narrative of the past for another. With this text, students still act mostly as observers instead of doing the intellectual work for themselves.

Such critiques would have once been unthinkable. But it is not just the lack of footnotes that is the problem. When first published, Zinn’s book was a disruptive and influential text, which would have made it a wonderful teaching tool then—but circumstances have changed. I know this because my classes were all Zinn, all the time (even though his textbook itself never made an actual appearance). In my head, this made my classes all about counter-narrative. But to my own students, my classes were just plain old…narrative.

The best New Left teaching moments from years past, the ones most likely to shake up student preconceptions, are now more likely to work in the opposite direction, striking students as just more examples of one-sided advocacy in favor of a particular point of view. Indeed, much of what Zinn wrote in The People’s History may strike today’s students as largely inoperable compared to what they’re getting from YouTube or Reddit, because what Zinn’s work served to challenge no longer exists with any sort of coherence.

If the problem was that my curriculum had lost its foil, I needed to find one. In these efforts, I benefitted from the appearance of a slew of studies pointing to the educational value of reading fiction: Novels can present students with characters complex enough to disrupt readers’ assumptions (or, in psychological terms, their “schema”), thereby leading them to revise or refine their thinking. Many novels establish the schema to be disrupted within the text itself through the inclusion of both less complicated (or “flat”) schema-affirming villains or bystanders; and more complex (or “rounded”) schema-challenging protagonists who attract a reader’s fascination and empathy.

So I reorganized my courses. Half of my class material stayed mostly the same. They still reflected a liberal outlook. But I stopped calling what I was talking about the “truth” and no longer pretended that there wasn’t a teacher a few doors down the hallway making completely different (and equally legitimate) curriculum choices.

The other half of the class would offer something entirely new: I would confront my students with something approaching a fully realized human being, whose behavior would not push clearly in one direction or the other. My lecture on European colonization, for instance, relies on a reading of The Orenda, a 2013 novel by Canadian writer Joseph Boyden about a 17th-century Huron warrior and a young Iroquois girl. The book presents both Indigenous and European narrators. My students take an interest in each, but there is always one character, in particular, that gets their attention. That character is a Jesuit priest and willing agent of the French empire, who also seems to mean well and suffers mightily throughout the book. My students invariably want to talk about him—and not because they harbor some pro-colonization agenda. Just the opposite: What triggers their critical-thinking reflexes is the fact that they know I’m pushing them to be anti-colonization in their outlook.

Students today do struggle in some areas in comparison to their predecessors. But on critical thinking, in my experience, they are light years ahead. In the readings that I assign, students always find their way to characters whose experiences and inner monologues produce tension with my in-class narrative. As far as I can tell, this move has nothing to do with whether they are liberal or conservative. If I painted a rosier portrait of colonization, I am convinced that the classroom conversations would gravitate, in turn, toward the Indigenous protagonists. Critical thinking flourishes in my classes in the tension that exists between a viewpoint and a counterexample. So too, potentially, does student interest, which could offer one broader explanation for why some liberal college students at institutions around the country seem to be engaging with more conservative authors, but only on the sly and in their free time.

Every school is different, as is every teacher and every student. But for me, the realization described above has proven transformative. Students talk more in my classes now, they read more, and they disagree with each other (and me) more. They demonstrate a variety of opinion that had always been there, but had rarely surfaced in my earlier classes. They surprise me more now, something that almost never happened before. Besides being more enjoyable, which is no small thing, this teaches me a lot about my students, flooding me with new curriculum ideas and possibilities.

At this point, I cannot even fathom going back to way I used to teach. My old classes made my students flat, but now they get to be round, just like the fictive protagonists that fascinate them. For the first time in my teaching career, my classes are moving the needle, as some of my students are beginning, ever so tentatively, to consider history as a major. It’s an uphill battle to be sure. After handing in her final exam, one student recently told me, with a smile on her face: “You almost did it—you almost made me not hate history.”

The Humanities are down right now, but the game is far from over. In fact, I have become convinced that the Humanities are actually in a wonderful position to matter now more than ever.

*   *   *

The academic job market is extremely competitive in the United States. Look around, and you’re likely to find heavily credentialed PhDs bagging groceries or driving for Uber. While that’s bad for recent graduates, it’s a buyer’s market for schools, which is just one more reason to be concerned about the current state of the Humanities. Schools have more talent to choose from than ever before, and yet the Humanities are still in a free fall. What happens when this pool of highly qualified scholars begins to dry up or, even worse, when school administrators respond to the sustained drop in student interest by scrapping history as a general education requirement?

As a temporary faculty member, I apply for jobs every year, and have learned, in the process, not only about my own shortcomings as a job candidate (which are many), but also about what exactly academia’s priorities are at the moment. In this setting, my teaching approach, backed by nearly unanimous positive reviews at this point, is, tellingly, seen as a mixed bag. I had sensed as much in conversations with colleagues and feedback from reviewers of my pedagogical writings. But a recent meeting with a career counsellor at a prestigious university—who recommended straight out that I drop any detailed description of my new teaching methods from my cover letter—left little doubt. His suggestion was to only talk about my teaching in private, one-on-one conversations, where I could better gauge how these ideas were being received.

Within these vocational realities, I’ve had to reconsider my classes again, but this time from the perspective of my fellow academics, not my students. And in embracing “schema disruption,” it’s clear and undeniable that I lost some ideological control of my classes.

Just as the New Left used to engage students more fully the farther away an example strayed from conventional knowledge, my classes similarly seemed to thrive most when students were exploring ideas that cut hard against the presumptions of my own New Left dogma. And as a result, I now find myself assigning readings that humanize people on the “wrong” side of New Left history. Students frequently take the readings in directions that make me feel uncomfortable. I rarely stop them. Sometimes, they even say and write things that would earn appreciative nods from Lynne Cheney. That has never been the goal, but it has clearly been one result of this teaching style.

On some level, I always knew this was going to be a potential problem. One of the growing trends in academia of late is to draw linkages between a scholar’s personal beliefs and the thrust of their research; and to hold that person accountable for how others may use their ideas, no matter how antithetical to the intentions of the authors those uses may be. For instance, when Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff published The Coddling of the American Mind in 2018, and traced many of the problems in schools to the coddling that children receive at home as well as calling for more viewpoint diversity in schools, The Guardian published an academic counterblast that presented the book as little more than two white men complaining about their lost privilege (which, in turn, elicited a lengthy takedown by Conor Friedersdorf in The Atlantic). Others argued that the two authors, one a liberal academic and the other a longtime ACLU lawyer, were merely willing tools of the alt-right. Such attacks generally were more about their supposedly political intentions and biological identity than the soundness of their methodology or conclusions.

In anticipation of such critiques, I ensured that the first three books I assigned as I developed my teaching approach all came from diverse authors: Toni Morrison’s A Mercy, Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing, and James McBride’s Good Lord Bird. I picked these books, first and foremost, because they’re great. But it was also part of a conscious effort to head off any suspicion that my classes were about undermining the goal of diversity or a reflexive attempt simply to protect white male privilege.

In retrospect, this seems incredibly naïve, as many academics now see intellectual diversity itself as inherently problematic, or at least quickly cave to those who do. Consider the example of Roxane Gay, an English professor at Purdue University, a New York Times best-selling writer and a self-proclaimed “bad feminist.” She recently shared a conference stage with Christina Hoff Sommers, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute who sometimes calls herself a “factual feminist” or “equity feminist” and is a frequent critic of what she refers to as “victim feminism.” The list of disagreements between the two is long, and Gay admitted in a recent interview that she knew many people would take issue with her participation in the event: “I think [Sommers] has some incendiary ideas, and engaging those ideas and treating them as legitimate can probably be seen as controversial, sure. [But] I feel fine about it because I don’t think anyone should live in a vacuum or an echo chamber.”

There are two values in conflict here. One is the idea that engaging with an opposing idea makes the other idea stronger. The opposing position is that by engaging with other ideas, you make your own ideas stronger. Gay chose the latter approach, at some risk. Indeed, the prevailing logic among many is that by debating Sommers, Gay became just as “offensive” as Sommers herself.

It is hard to imagine anybody with more progressive bona fides than Gay, yet even she still feels somewhat apprehensive about engaging with ideological adversaries. This trend toward freezing out controversial ideas is a deadly threat to any trend in academia that even comes close to my own teaching approach. That career counselor was absolutely correct to recommend dropping any detailed discussion of my methods in my cover letter.

Gay is an established and influential scholar, who perhaps can take the risk of offending colleagues. Aspiring faculty members on the job market, however, are in a far different situation. Research and teaching obviously matter, but everyone strives to come across as a good potential colleague, somebody whom members of a prospective department would want to spend time with. David French, in the National Review, has discussed how prioritizing social concerns is pushing workplaces towards ideological conformity, with academia being particularly susceptible. If anything you do runs the risk of offending even a single member of a hiring committee (or the entire department for that matter), then good luck to you. A comparably qualified, more palatable candidate will surely be the better hire.

The state of the humanities defies a single, all-encompassing solution. And other approaches may be workable. Professors at Yale, for instance, claim they are getting positive results by moving in precisely the opposite direction from the one I am advocating. Yale’s history department has seen a jump in numbers. And the university’s English department is enthusiastically responding to the demands of its students to further “decolonize” the department’s course offerings and shift the curriculum away from “the writing representations of aristocratic white men.” On that campus, it seems a further leftward turn is helping to save the Humanities, which is great to hear. And if that approach is indeed representative of how the humanities can stay relevant in the modern university, then everybody concerned can take a deep breath. Everything is going to be fine. We just need to continue doing the same thing we’ve been doing for the last 50 years. It would be like asking Lynn Cheney if she wouldn’t mind saving the day by talking just a little bit more about George Washington.

My own view is closer to that of Van Jones, the former advisor to Barack Obama and CNN political contributor, who decried the “ascendant” and “terrible” idea that people in college should aspire to be ideologically safe at all times. As a liberal activist, he argued that ivory tower liberalism dies as “soon as it crosses the street into the real world.” I’d go further than that, in fact: Ivory tower liberalism may be dying inside the ivory tower itself. I tried to make a New Left class work, and I couldn’t do it. If the crisis continues, academia is eventually going to have to decide if the only appropriate response to Howard Zinn fatigue in our classes is to get even Zinnier?

Conservative critics of academia have a longstanding tradition of depicting liberal professors as ideologues first and educators second. In my opinion, they are wrong. For decades, liberal professors simply had no need to choose between these two roles, because their revisionist ideology also was pedagogically effective. But that has now changed. And if we don’t acknowledge that fact, then the fate of not only my own field, but the entire Humanities, may hang in the balance.

 

Kevin Vanzant, PhD, is a History Instructor at Tennessee State University

Featured image: Howard Zinn at Pathfinder book store in Los Angeles, CA, August, 2000. 

191 Comments

  1. Steve says

    This essay is simply too long and rambling to finish. Please consider editing work before submitting.

    • C Young says

      Afraid I have to agree. Made it 2/3 of the way through and still have no idea what the point is.

      • peanut gallery says

        The point is that the author learned nothing. Progressivisim is still OK. Not wrong. Let the students choose what’s important. Student satisfaction is more important than learning things that are useful.

        • David of Kirkland says

          Yes, students are customers rather than apprentices learning to master material.

      • Not short enough by a long shot, I’d hold. Where’s Occam, when you needed him badly? Missing unexcused. Blame it on the ghost of old William. Occam got bored and doesn’t live down Kevin Vanzant’s street. Sad. A long, sad and winding road of thoughts, that are dwindling down Emptiness Lane right into the house of Nowhere Man near the Risin’ Sun and Dried up Ocean distilleries. I blame this occurence on the Beatles too – and Catholicism. Mother Mary, please: – Let It Be! I’m done. Thanks for your time folks.

    • Rachel says

      I respectfully disagree that this essay is too long and rambling – I found it fairly easy to follow. The only aspect that threw me off periodically was that a professor who self-professes to be on the New Left manages to be so self-aware, balanced, and concerned with creating an environment of ideological diversity in his classroom. These are virtues that seem to be seriously lacking in most of our university professors. As a Conservative and a teacher of history myself, I disagree almost entirely with Mr. Vanzant’s ideology and approach to teaching history. Some of his conclusions I would probably object to. The point is, though, that he comes across as a person that I could actually SIT DOWN WITH and have a RATIONAL, PROFESSIONAL conversation with on these matters, even when we disagree on so much. I really do appreciate that he comes across as reasonable, a person who genuinely loves his field and career, and someone who recognizes that his field – and indeed society – can only thrive when there is freedom to explore a complex world through a multiplicity of perspectives and approaches. Regardless of whether I agree with Mr. Vanzant on much of anything else, I believe Academia would be in a better place if there were more professors who valued and fostered a diversity of ideas.

      • Farris says

        @Rachel

        As you identify as a a conservative professor, I would be interested in your opinion of the following statement from professor Vanzant: “…they know I’m pushing them to be anti-colonization in their outlook.”
        The term” pushing” does not seem to infer encouragement of critical thinking or tolerance for diverse opinions. Your thoughts?

        • Tempe says

          Yep, sounds suspiciously like indoctrination rather than presenting facts and viewpoints in an unbias way and having students decide.

        • Rachel says

          Yes, I see your point. This is something I would partly classify under the “methods of approach” that I don’t agree with. Progressivism/intersectionalism is certainly the perspective he’s actively and purposefully bringing into the classroom, but the question is whether or not that’s the ONLY perspective he allows to exist in his classroom. I’m looking at the way he’s described the conversation happening in response to the readings (and in response to his pushing them to approach history from far left perspectives) and it sounds like he isn’t squashing more “conservative” or traditional interpretations when students voice them. It’s a sad state of affairs, but his openness in allowing perspectives that perhaps don’t fully align with his New Left ideology is tolerant by comparison to many classrooms. Again, I certainly don’t agree with his ideology or methods of teaching history (or really his seemingly singular focus on just getting bodies in humanities programs), but I do want to encourage professors to allow as much free, diverse, and controversial discussion in the classroom as possible.

          • Farris says

            @Rachel

            Thank you for your response.
            “but the question is whether or not that’s the ONLY perspective he allows to exist in his classroom.”

            Yes that is the unanswered question. Perhaps the choice of the word “pushing” was simply unfortunate but some other nuggets from the article cause me to suspect any student expressing a pro-colonization opinion would have his/her motives and character questioned.

        • Andrew Mcguiness says

          @Farris – My thought is that “they know” indicates that the students are aware of the teacher’s viewpoint, and that their knowing “triggers their critical-thinking reflexes”. It appears that the author is able to promote an atmosphere in the classroom in which students feel comfortable with arguing against his perceived viewpoint.

          • Farris says

            @Andrew Mc

            Thank you for your input and I don’t necessarily disagree. However the article leaves the impression, perhaps unintentionally, that the permitted classroom debate is only between the Left and the far Left. The author appears to have a profound distaste for any pro-colonization arguments.

        • Jeff S says

          I am not Rachel, but I am in an “anti-colonial” department myself. It is fair to say that it is “pushed” or “propagandized.”

          The hilarity, is that as soon as you give students an opening to be critical, they jump at it. It is easy to defeat the revisionism of “colonialism is all bad all the time, and the worst event in human history.” This statement can only be made from a complete ignorance of factual history. The thesis that “The colonialism of Taiwan by Japan was had benefit to the people there, and caused long lasting good feelings” is both subversive, and factually provable. The classic historians have become correct, and subversive, at the same time.

      • Kes Sparhawk Amesley says

        I agree absolutely — and if I had to describe my theoretical base, it would marxist, or at least materialist. My dissertation adviser was an old-fashioned ex-seminarian conservative, and we each thought highly of the others, because the content of our conclusions was not at issue, except for friendly argument. We were each trained in the discipline of Rhetoric — historians of different periods — and our standards were based on trying to figure out truth, not prove the other was wrong. I’m retired now, and dismayed that it’s the right, not the left, who seem to value the testing of ideas and the challenges to any received truth. I always taught my classes with mixed narrative sources — certainly Zinn (for a beginning class) but also the traditional in the field — and far more important to me, mixed primary sources. So if we studied abolitionist rhetoric, we by God looked at pro-slavery rhetoric as well, and made them engage together. The point of history, in my view, is to realize that we are in history, not studying it as something in the past. Only when a professor can achieve that — can help students see themselves as agents, and not audience — do I consider that teacher’s work legitimately “academic.”

    • johnhenry says

      “This essay is simply too long…”

      It is long, Steve, and my attention span is compromised, too. I’d only just started my second bottle of Morning Fog Chardonnay (Estate Grown, Livermore Valley, San Francisco Bay, 2017 – sent to me by my lesbian sister) when I quit reading this piece after the forth or so paragraph.

      I wanted to be a historian in high school, but never became one. Settled for being a lawyer instead. My loss.

      • David Bennett says

        Oh my…..Jack Daniels (Old No. 7, Lynchburg, Tennessee, sent to me by some Uber driver, might have been gay). Aircraft mechanic, never wanted to be a historian.

        Making any sort of point dude?

      • johnhenry says

        Joking aside, I was under the impression that Quillette pieces are meant to be longer than other ones.

    • Tome708 says

      Yes but what fascinated me was what was between the lines. Not the message he wanted to deliver. Political influence is so ingrained in university that he rights with the assumption that it just “must” be political. There is no hiding their bias anymore. I believe his intentional point was “should we be left wing or extremely radically left wing”

    • I live in a state so far left that history is actually banned in both primary and high school. Universities warn that studying history has zero employment opportunities. Multiple universities refuse to allow the study of western history (as it represents a patriarchy ect) in favour of Chinese and Islamic history?
      What mass immigration does fifteen years, probably coming to a town near you soon perhaps?
      A young person told me today that people are now being jailed for posting the truth on social media.
      We are all frightened because we don’t know what truth they told or how they told it?

    • Perhaps the length can be ascribed to the professor’s timidity. He takes every opportunity to declare his allegiance to his team’s “gory” and New Left views, perhaps in anticipation of social media searches when he seeks a full-time position.

      Meanwhile, the tantalizing idea that African American students would be interested in the internal conflicts of a European Jesuit missionary in a historical novel gets short shrift.

      Honestly, did college professors ever teach an uncritical Lynn Cheney version of American history? Really?

      Students arrive at college after 12 years of being frog-marched through curricula of right and wrong answers. Is it just possible that they are hungry for non-reductionist humanities courses? That they aren’t particularly interested in their professors’ political views? The author suggests a hitherto unsuspected (by him) answer to these questions and then sorta tiptoes back to his safe space.

      It’s just possible the little boy was right about the emperor’s new clothes.

    • Thylacine says

      My 9th grade history teacher used to assign essays for grades. When asked how long the essay had to be, he would say – and remember, this was a male, 9th grade history teacher – he would say, “Like a woman’s dress: long enough to cover the subject, but short enough to keep it interesting.” No kidding. Can you imagine a 9th grade male history teacher saying anything like that today?

      • skept-o-punk says

        My 9th grade history teacher was a hairy knuckle-dragger that made history quite fascinating to me. He also made me do 50 pushups daily for my endlessly running mouth and gave me and A grade with a U (unsatisfactory) for citizenship every term. Loved the guy. I doubt they make ’em like that anymore (or allow them to exist).

    • j'accuse says

      I didn’t find it so at all. Not sure what you meant by rambling but he didn’t repeat himself. He worries about the demise of the humanities but they will certainly die if no one will read anymore.

    • Skept-o-punk says

      I was about to write the exact same. Thanks for doing the heavy lifting. (I did make an effort.)

      I was left with some nagging questions after my aborted reading, however: 1. As almost all of my history teachers (interesting ones anyway) growing up were men, I wonder if the falling rate of men entering universities is why History appears (according to the article) to be a dying profession. 2. In my 50’s now, I was certainly taught history from the perspective that “white man is evil”, a narrative I think is more than a little tainted and much more emphasized now. Are we now changing the facts of history, or “the narrative”, to make it more “interesting to the class”?

      Personally I always enjoyed history class. By that, I mean I enjoyed learning about history and the ramifications of what happened and the reasons why. However, I thoroughly hated memorizing dates and details, etc. Perhaps it isn’t history that is boring, but instead the awful approach to teaching it that is. Currently many students in certain disciplines/schools that are saying they have zero interest in learning about “dead white men”, might this only be the result of lousy teaching and the inability to help anyone living in the west to understand the importance of dead white thinkers that came before and how they impact our lives for — not just bad — but for the good as well. Where the hell is the balance anymore?

    • Hammurabi says

      To summarize…

      While the Leftist narrative of telling the history of the oppressed might have been revolutionary 30-40 years ago, today it has become orthodoxy. There is no counter-narrative element to it anymore.
      Students engage their critical thinking skills better when they find the counter narrative on their own. As opposed to having it rammed down their throats.

  2. Sean says

    I finished this essay before seeing the comment above on it being too long and rambling to finish. I may be an N of 1, but I didn’t think it was too long or rambling, and the author’s perspective is an interesting one. It’s a difficult subject to approach because it leads off into so many other areas. One problem with the teaching of history, from my perspective, is that neither the Glory nor Gory approach is adequate on its own. Either is a form of special pleading. The Glory narrative tends to sweep aside the failures and crimes of our history to emphasize an upward path of ascending greatness, whereas the Gory narrative tends to be posed as an unmasking, that the ideals of our society are a lie just because we have not consistently lived up to them. Our society needs the ideals that the Glory narrative tends to bolster, but without the arrogant triumphalism of that narrative or the unrelenting cynicism that the Gory narrative tends to inspire.

    • codadmin says

      But, the so called ‘gory’ narrative is largely made of up of the ‘glory’ of non-western people.

      The leftist ‘gory’ narrative is not a normal part of critical self analysis, but a deliberate attempt to delegitimise and demoralise Western nations. It’s Marxist to the core

      The Western world is essentially having its story told by those who hate it.

      • Jorge says

        “But, the so called ‘gory’ narrative is largely made of up of the ‘glory’ of non-western people.”

        Indeed. The flip side of the same old coin.

      • Alan says

        codadmin: yes, the history of the West is being told by those who hate it – at least in universities these days, it would seem, based on what the author has written here.

        I am beginning to think that America’s problems in particular began with the arrival of the Germans who fled the failed revolutions in 1848. They brought with them collectivist thinking among other things, but most of all they brought with them an attitude that is anathema to Americans.

        To wit, the American Revolution was all about lifting people up, with the ideal that future generations could achieve equality by aspiring to act as nobles, to be a country full of kings; whereas the French Revolution misconstrued the example they thought they were following, and it and all the European revolutions that followed attempted to achieve equality by pulling everyone down so that all would be slaves. The German refugees brought that attitude with them and united with the like-minded descendants of the Puritans to do their best to enslave the American people – and that is pretty much what we have been dealing with ever since.

        (Funny how no one says much about the ties between the descendants of the Puritans and the Prussian state in the 1800s, and the disastrous consequences worldwide.)

    • scribblerg says

      I’m not being trollish, I mean this question seriously: Is dividing the teaching of American history or Western history into “gory” or “glory” not an Manichean absurdity from the get go? All civilizations have their sinners and saints, their great achievements and great shames. To start off by intentionally making U.S. history “gory”, isn’t one admitting they aren’t doing history at all, but rather propaganda? The entire framing of this dialog is juvenile and anti-intellectual from the outset. It’s dishonest and ideological intentionally.

      I have the advantage of studying history independently for 40 years. I ran into a graduate of a Harvard masters program in a restaurant in Cambridge one night, he was my waiter of course (his fault, not mine, and a deserved position for such a hack). He made a casually dismissive comment about the West and I proceeded to school him for 40 mins in separate chunks across my meal. He was stunned and could not answer a single query of mine. His vast ignorance of even our recen history was stunning. Example, he wrote off all Asian political issues to Western colonialism, and literally denied China and its leaders any agency in their “rise”. He knew so little of the actual policies, programs, players and historical events since 1949 that at a certain point he just stopped talking. He had this moment when I think he saw that he’d been so abused and programmed to hate the West and the U.S. by his ‘education’ that he was embarrassed. He’d offered his Ivy credentials unbidden at the start of our conversation. He’d asked what book I was reading and it was The 100 Year Marathon by Mike Pillsbury – he’d not even heard of it, lol, yet considered himself quite well informed on China and recent Asian history.

      And so it goes with almost every leftist who emits Howard Zinn-like throwaway lines about western civilization and history. I’ll close with one question or you and all here who seem to think this prof’s line of inquiry has any validity or relevance to actual history and the the real, occurring world. Do you know that Islam attacked the West 60 times more frequently than the West attacked Islamic states/Caliphates? Do you realize that when you buy into “Orientalism” and the victim narrative offered in most Islamic Studies programs that you are buying into a fundamental lie regarding who the aggressors are between Islam and the rest of the world? It’s not even close – Islam has been a conquering, supremacist, marauding, repressive and totalitarian theocratic menace since it’s founding. It’s actual history of bloodshed and horrific violence is unprecedented in many ways. Don’t believe me? I bet you don’t know 90,000 Hindus were killed in one day by the then Mogul, who beheaded them and stacked their heads in pyres lining the main street. Why isn’t that taught? Lol – we of course know why. Hating the West is necessary for the Left to justify itself.

      Okay, I’m done. I don’t even know why I bother coming here. So many soft leftists who want to find a way to hold on to their daft ideology and morality while rejecting the insanity that those very ideas bring about. Sigh…

      • Lydia says

        @scribblerg,

        “I’m not being trollish, I mean this question seriously: Is dividing the teaching of American history or Western history into “gory” or “glory” not an Manichean absurdity from the get go? ”

        I was wondering something similar!

        On another note, I know quite a few high school teenagers that have discovered the online free lectures at Hillsdale on history. Lol.

      • E. Olson says

        Great comment scribblerg. Illustrates the problem well – historians who don’t know history.

        • Amin says

          @ E. Olson

          “Great comment scribblerg. Illustrates the problem well – historians who don’t know history.”

          You would believe it! It is the same type of utter BOLLOCK that you often cook up. He is lying through his arse. He is as ignorant as you are. And is just bigging himself up a bit…

          • Stephanie says

            Amin, if you want to criticize every single one of E. Olsen’s comments, could you at least substantiate your insults with some facts of your own? You contribute nothing every time and it is tedious.

          • Amin says

            @ Stephanie

            Ah! The Murderous Steph!

            “You contribute nothing every time and it is tedious.”

            That is becuase of your animosity and bias. Else…

            “could you at least substantiate your insults with some facts of your own?”

            Look what the fuck you are replying to! Wrong comment. But then you are pretty stupid. II doubt you passed high school.

          • Ray Andrews says

            @Stephanie

            What would be cool is some way of filtering the thread. You’d be able to add Amin to a list, and automagically, his stuff would be gone. I’ve already stopped reading anything he posts, but there are those wasted seconds scrolling past.

          • Amin says

            @ Ray Andrews

            Well said! It just shows off nicely what prized bigot you are. You people will get together and pass around vile and silly little lies… in private eh? Like this murderous Steph.

            Isn’t it nice that you get to see the toe end of my boot right up your arse?

          • skept-o-punk says

            I may be wrong … but I doubt it. I’m quite sure Amin is on some government’s payroll somewhere aspiring to head his own trolling devision.

      • @ scribblerg

        It might be helpful to ask the students to assume that both the glory and gory perspectives are propaganda. Then present them them both, side by side in a point and counter-point fashion, and invite the students to form their own synthesis.

        Both the glory and gory perspectives have done great harm over the last century, particularly in the legal profession and politics, and neither should be adopted as a useful and reliable narrative.

        Also, American history texts do not spend enough time on the colonial period.

        • y81 says

          As this OP makes clear, it would not be recommended for any professor who doesn’t already have tenure to set the Glory and Gory perspectives side by side, or treat them as equals. (Even for those who have tenure, most academics are total conformists who don’t enjoy being pariahs.) The humanities departments in America are irredeemable, and are going away. The interesting question is whether Yale and Harvard will survive, as Oxford and Cambridge did, despite being intellectual backwaters for a century and a half while the nonconformists did all the interesting thinking, or whether they will be less fortunate, like (say) the contemporary Episcopal Church. Either way, American education will be very different in fifty years, and the humanities a very unimportant part of it.

        • Paul Tyler says

          the students should be advised that Gory & Glory are not “propaganda” so much as “perspectives that are implicitly subjective”…

        • I would add the element of research to your suggestion. Have students do research in response to each side of a question and evaluate based on the quality of the sources, and the validity of the argument. The professor should then take a Socratic posture in the room – not coming down on either side. This can be done using mini lessons that when strung together, hit the major themes of the course. I add the research element because it fosters critical thinking rather than seeking opinion.

        • Kes Sparhawk Amesley says

          Short answer to “American history texts do not spend enough time on the colonial period…” depends a lot which history approaches and level of history. College history is divided far more specifically, with the demise (and unregretted demise, in my case) of “Western Civ.” My own area of history is/was Public Address, the persuasive attribute of texts, particularly speeches, in history, and how they contributed to current issues and arguments. That’s a ridiculously sweeping area; each of us had to pick a way in which would not leave the student feeling that they’d entered the history buffet and each eaten a different meal. (Though that too was certainly an acceptable approach once.)

      • Sydney says

        @scribblerg

        Hear, hear:

        “Islam has been a conquering, supremacist, marauding, repressive and totalitarian theocratic menace since it’s [sic] founding. It’s [sic] actual history of bloodshed and horrific violence is unprecedented in many ways. Don’t believe me? I bet you don’t know 90,000 Hindus were killed in one day by the then Mogul, who beheaded them and stacked their heads in pyres lining the main street. Why isn’t that taught? Lol – we of course know why. Hating the West is necessary for the Left to justify itself.”

        • scribblerg says

          I didn’t edit much, perhaps I should have, lol. Thanks.

      • Jorge says

        “I’m not being trollish, I mean this question seriously: Is dividing the teaching of American history or Western history into “gory” or “glory” not an Manichean absurdity from the get go? All civilizations have their sinners and saints, their great achievements and great shames. To start off by intentionally making U.S. history “gory”, isn’t one admitting they aren’t doing history at all, but rather propaganda? The entire framing of this dialog is juvenile and anti-intellectual from the outset. It’s dishonest and ideological intentionally.”

        This should go without saying, but, unfortunately, needs saying. This anti-intellectualism is only getting worse as the numbers of jobs for political, diplomatic, business, and military historians dwindle. If you are not writing about how slavery, racism, oppression, etc. were the true driving forces of history, forget landing a job.

        • Kes Sparhawk Amesley says

          I’m old enough to have watched fashions in teaching — science, humanities, and arts — come and go. This is a bad period for the humanities, which means it’s a bad period for creative thinking, critical or otherwise. Neither left nor right has a monopoly on absolutism, but those of us who oppose a Master Narrative, whatever we call it, should take an oath to defend scholarship and refuse to censor; in fact, enthusiastically embrace, opinions other than our own, unless poorly defended. (Which is the biggest problem of academia.)

      • Craig Willms says

        @scribblerg

        I echo Lydia and E.Olson. Excellent comment!

        This either/or dichotomy is killing us. As for this site, Quillette it does seem to be the same lamentations over and over about the awful state of (favored) leftism. This author is one of the few that thinks nothings wrong, just some growing pains or some such… Stay the course.

      • Amin says

        @ scribblerg

        ” I ran into a graduate of a Harvard masters program in a restaurant in Cambridge one night, he was my waiter of course (his fault, not mine, and a deserved position for such a hack). He made a casually dismissive comment about the West and I proceeded to school him for 40 mins in separate chunks across my meal.”

        Didn’t happen. Figment of your imagination.

        “Do you know that Islam attacked the West 60 times more frequently than the West attacked Islamic states/Caliphates?”

        Islam? It is a religion – something conceptual. It cannot attack anything – Muslims do. I am pedantic becuase it is an interesting mistake to make for someone who ever so casually goes around schooling Harvad history grads.

        But the real question is this. Prove it. References?

        “Do you realize that when you buy into “Orientalism” and the victim narrative offered in most Islamic Studies programs”

        Where are such courses held that teach this? And what exactly is Orientalism?

        “Don’t believe me? I bet you don’t know 90,000 Hindus were killed in one day by the then Mogul”

        Really? Which mogul was it? Name the scoundrel.

        “Hating the West is necessary for the Left to justify itself.”

        This is standard practice here – whenever West’s criticsm comes up, certain people have the habit of defelcting about how violent Islam has been. It means fuck all – other than the commenter clearly goes berserk having to deal with any criticism of West on its own merits

        Now I want answer to the two questions above on the double and you just try to deflect or palm me off with links that don’t answer…

        • Amin says

          It’s just more typical racist masochistic white supremacy patriarchy. Islam is the most tolerant ideologies ever to existed. Despite the lie of the west. I have been a practicing Muslim homosexual transsexual (So I actually identify as a heterosexual I just wanted to be technically correct)
          I have been openly accepted

          • Amin says

            @ Amin

            I fucked your mother. She bore a “?” and named him “Amin”. But unfortunately a bastard “?”. And so here we are. Eh?:

        • scribblerg says

          @Amin – So funny that you would accuse me of lying, what a typically arrogant pose you take here. I did run into that Harvard waiter, exactly as I described. I run half a tech company, and when not in my lakeside home in New Hampshire, I stay in Cambridge a couple of nights a week for work and am out to dinner regularly. That you would take this angle reveals so much about you, not me Amin.

          As for muslim slaughter of Hindus, lol, you have stepped into it now, bunky. Here’s just one tiny sliver of the monstrous slaughter and menace Islam was to the Hindu and Buddhist people’s of India.

          1399 – Mughal Barbarism of Timur
          Timur was a Turkic conqueror and founder of the Timurid Dynasty. Timur’s Indian campaign (1398 – 1399 AD) was recorded in his memoirs, collectively known as ‘Tuzk-i-Timuri.’ In them, he vividly described probably the greatest gruesome act in the entire history of the world – where 100,000 Hindu prisoners of war in his camp were executed in a very short space of time.

          Timur after taking advice from his entourage says in his memoirs : “they said that on the great day of battle these 100,000 prisoners could not be left with the baggage, and that it would be entirely opposed to the rules of war to set these idolaters and foes of Islam at liberty. “In fact, no other course remained but that of making them all food for the sword’

          Timur thereupon resolved to put them to death. He proclaimed : “throughout the camp that every man who has infidel prisoners was to put them to death, and whoever neglected to do so should himself be executed and his property given to the informer. When this order became known to the ghazis of Islam, they drew their swords and put their prisoners to death. 100,000 infidels, impious idolaters, were on that day slain. Maulana Nasir-ud-din Umar, a counselor and a man of learning, who, in all his life had never killed a sparrow, now, in execution of my order, slew with his sword fifteen idolatrous Hindus, who were his captives”.

          During his campaign in India – Timur describes the scene when his army conquered the Indian city of Delhi : “In a short space of time all the people in the [Delhi] fort were put to the sword, and in the course of one hour the heads of 10,000 infidels were cut off. The sword of Islam was washed in the blood of the infidels, and all the goods and effects, the treasure and the grain which for many a long year had been stored in the fort became the spoil of my soldiers.

          “They set fire to the houses and reduced them to ashes, and they razed the buildings and the fort to the ground….All these infidel Hindus were slain, their women and children, and their property and goods became the spoil of the victors. I proclaimed throughout the camp that every man who had infidel prisoners should put them to death, and whoever neglected to do so should himself be executed and his property given to the informer. When this order became known to the ghazis of Islam, they drew their swords and put their prisoners to death.”

          For those interested in a nice summary of Muslim slaughter of non-Muslim Indian people’s, see this nice summary here. http://www.thetinyman.in/2016/01/mughal-barbarism-islamic-savagery-india.html

          Notice it’s an Indian URL. The Indian’s have a very good grasp on the savagery that has characterized Islamic rule everywhere it’s been practiced.

          • Amin says

            @ scribblerg

            “So funny that you would accuse me of lying, what a typically arrogant pose you take here.”

            Yeah. It was a clear lie. The type many here won’t challenge. You were simply bigging yourself up. I called BULLSHIT on it. ANd it was the rest of your ranting comment that showed it was a lie.

            “As for muslim slaughter of Hindus, lol, you have stepped into it now, bunky. Here’s just one tiny sliver of the monstrous slaughter and menace Islam was to the Hindu and Buddhist people’s of India.”

            Yeah. You did a Google search and then copied and pasted a load of stuff. Just as one would have expected you to do. So all this about you being a history buff was just that – a clear lie.

            Your statements:

            [[“Do you know that Islam attacked the West 60 times more frequently than the West attacked Islamic states/Caliphates?”]]

            I asked you to prove it no response.

            [[“Do you realize that when you buy into “Orientalism” and the victim narrative offered in most Islamic Studies programs”]]

            I asked you to explain this further. No response.

            [[““Don’t believe me? I bet you don’t know 90,000 Hindus were killed in one day by the then Mogul””]]

            Now to this you responded above. And what a response by a history buff! So 90,000 in one day? And the Mogul who wasn’t a Mogul – as the Mughal Dynasty was started decades later by Babur a direct descendant and not by Timur.

            So how come a well read history buff makes such awkward mistakes?

            I mean you go around putting Harvard grads in their places? You read Books? And yet…

            And then of course you didn’t bother to respond to this either:

            “This is standard practice here – whenever West’s criticsm comes up, certain people have the habit of defelcting about how violent Islam has been. It means fuck all – other than the commenter clearly goes berserk having to deal with any criticism of West on its own merits”

            Let me sum up:

            You are full of shit and making it all up.

          • swalter says

            @scribblerg

            You’re right. Islam has a lot to answer for and not many are willing respond to that question of violence. But you are cherry picking history to make a cheap point.

            Julius Caesar put a million Gauls to the sword. The Thirty’s Years War spread death and destruction to the sorry people of Northern Europe. Cortez and crew destroyed the high order of MesoAmerican civilization with blunderbusses and smallpox. Napoleon’s berzerkers in Spain? Check out the late paintings of Francisco Goya. Chairman Mao’s Great Leap Forward killed 20 million. 40 million? 80 million? No one really knows. Numbers like that lose all meaning. The Bush-Cheney adventurism in Iraq killed 100,000.

            By sword, by high explosives dropped from B52s, by disease or starvation. Who cares? They are still dead. In the historical record, there is plenty of blood to go around.

          • Ray Andrews says

            @scribblerg

            I would suggest not feeding the troll. It only encourages them.

      • David Burnfield says

        Great comment Scribblerg and an interesting story about the Marxist waiter. The ignorance of so many leftists is astonishing, buttressed by a puzzling lack of curiosity about what really happened in history.
        History is so much more interesting than they make it.
        Also under what historic scenario would these people have the wealth, the knowledge and the freedom to push their Marxist prejudices onto young minds? Western civilisation and the whole western project makes their lives possible yet they have a life of ease teaching people to hate it.

        • Ray Andrews says

          @swalter

          “They are still dead. In the historical record, there is plenty of blood to go around.”

          Indeed they are. If you are looking for atrocity in human history it’s a buyer’s market. But Islam stands out as the only religion that openly and proudly proclaims the virtue of killing infidels consistently, from it’s founding up to the present. Nazism came and went, the Thirty Years War ended, after it had been subdued, Gaul enjoyed centuries of Pax Romana. Within the ummah there have been times when dhimmis might live, but on the border between the dar al-islam and the ar al-harb, it is always war. Three outcomes: submit, die, or win. I myself would rather win, but of course that would mean resisting in the first place.

          • swalter says

            @Ray Andrews

            I agree that the history of Islamic violence is troubling. I’ll also confess that it has not been a focus of my historical interests. I do know a little and I don’t think murderous Islam is as monolithic as you imply.

            For instance, historically, the Levant has been a polyglot of tribes, ethnicities, and religions. Despite this, it has been a source of lively culture, commerce, and prosperity. The various Caliphates and then the early Ottomans who controlled the area recognized such and made allowances to bolster that prosperity including religious dispensations. The heaviness of the official thumb varied from ruler to ruler, but the practicalities of empire argued for maintaining a good thing. Plus, Islam itself became fractured along with attitudes towards infidels. The great city states of Central Asia were relatively accepting.

            Another consideration is that Islam until recently has been theocratic. In Iran it still is. So religion and conquest were wound up together. Death follows empire building, Islam or not.

            Of course there is the obligatory what-about-ism. Consider the 13th Cent. Albigensian Heresy in Languedoc. The Pope’s armies and allies wiped out every mother’s son of the Cathars. Religious allegiances were taken more seriously in the good old days.

          • Ray Andrews says

            @swalter

            “I do know a little and I don’t think murderous Islam is as monolithic as you imply.”

            Your post is delightfully honest. Everything you say is quite true. And you can always point to some atrocity by any group you care to name, even Buddhists as we’ve seen in Myanmar. There have been times and places where Islamic societies set the standard for civility and tolerance and progress. But these have been few. The overall record of Islam is one of conquest and enslavement. More to the point, and not ignoring past glories, the current state of Islam is deplorable. It just is, and we should face that fact squarely. One might honestly wish for an Islamic enlightenment or reformation, but none is on the horizon. For the present, Islam is bent of the conquering of the West — as so many of them freely admit.

            It is peculiar, Hitler was quite honest about his intentions in Mein Kampf, but our liberals ignored him. The mullahs are also quite honest about their intention to force the whole world to Submit, but our liberals assure us that they (the liberals) understand Islam better than do the Muslims. Our liberals assure us that Islam is the Religion Of Peace, but the mullahs assure us that it is the religion of jihad. I prefer to take their word for it.

          • swalter says

            @Ray Andrews
            This exchange is drifting further away from the main theme of history pedagogy. Chalk it up to the discipline of the Internet…

            A hundred plus years ago, European strategists referred to the Ottoman Empire as the Sick Man of Europe. It seems that disease has moved east from The Sublime Porte. My reference to the late Ottomans is not entirely flippant. In my amateur opinion, the collapse of the Ottoman Empire left a power vacuum over the region that has never been filled. The Versailles Mandates imposed an artificial order that reflected European power objectives more than sensible regional divisions. The Baathists tried to fill that vacuum, had their day, but never really got traction. We see that now in the current state of anarchy and conflict.

            But there is a deeper cultural and political disconnect. For better or worse, we live in the era of the nation state on which the world order is predicated. Except in the Middle East, the principle of the nation state conflicts with the traditional notional organization of the Caliphate. One Islam, one people. There seems to be a lack of that national sensibility needed to build nationhood. Without nationhood, it is difficult to set up a states apparatus and to play nice with other states.

            In place of the state, order devolves to deeply rooted tribal organization and allegiances. In the absence of functional central government, with tribal structures in tact, there is fertile ground for the kind of warlordism seen with Gulbuddin Hekmatyar in Afghanistan, Muqtada al-Sadr in Iraq, and now the Islamic State. The tradition of Islamic violence that you refer to nicely compliments, provides an operational rational, for warlord aggression.

            Egypt and Iran are the exceptions here. They both have long histories of place and arguably a popular sense of nation. Egypt has a reasonably functional central government, but the country is very large and very poor. Looking forward, one can foresee either violent revolution or continued tyranny. The Muslim Brotherhood tried for change but was unable to stand up to the establishment military-police authority. So we got el-Sisi instead of Morsi. Probably the lesser of evils, at least from a Western perspective.

            In the case of Iran, I hold out hope, despite its official anti-American rhetoric. Iran has an educated, cosmopolitan middle class that chafes against the Mullaocracy. Periodically, they make their displeasure known. So far they have been tamped down, but they are not without influence. The Islamic Revolution is generations old and many of the 70s era firebrand leaders have mellowed. There is potential for Iran to transition to a position of enlightened self interest and international cooperation. The fly in the ointment is the Republican Guard whose kingmaker influence depend on religious outrage and military power, and who are tapped into Iranian economic wealth. How to weaken that power faction is the Devil’s detail. As someone who prefers diplomacy, I hold out hope for the carrot rather than the stick.

            Well, there you have it. The Middle East, its questions and answers, in a nutshell. I’ll shut up now.

      • Tome708 says

        Scribblerg, Dang I responded above before reading your post. I wish I would have waited. You expressed my opinion much better than my clumsy response.
        Thank you. That’s why you come. We do need to hear from each other

        • Ray Andrews says

          @swalter

          Thanks, that’s a most informed and balanced view. I can’t pick a single nit.

      • Alan says

        scribblerg: Well said. Western civilization is the worst civilization in the history of the world, excepting all others.

        It’s amazing how little some supposed scholars know – it’s like they have never read the source materials for themselves.

      • DiamondLil says

        “He had this moment when I think he saw that he’d been so abused and programmed to hate the West and the U.S. by his ‘education’ that he was embarrassed.”

        More likely he had a moment when he realized that if he didn’t get away from your table and take care of other customers his supervisor would notice. Not to mention the tip that was slipping away from your table!

      • Jeff S says

        All that it takes to defeat Zinn is to ask the simple question; “Where on earth at that time was it better for the working man? Why? prove it.” It cannot be done. It is basically unrealistic expectations for the West, because of the animosity.

    • Michel K says

      I don’t much care about “Gory” vs “Glory” but would appreciate truth, My youngest daughter, while at U of Arizona, took a course called “US History since 1877.” In it she was taught that “The Silent Majority” was made up of white people who refused to accept the Civil Rights Act of 1964. No mention of Nixon or the Vietnam War, It was on her final exam study guide. There were other less obvious untruths.

      • scribblerg says

        @Michel – Ya, the Left has erased the history of civil rights in the U.S. I’ll give you one tidbit to chew on, which most leftists will find quite offensive.

        Barry Goldwater was reviled by the Left for resisting two aspects of the 1964 civil rights legislation. First was “public accommodations” which is a violation of one’s freedom of association and property rights – every honest person agrees with this. The activists of the day submitted that this was necessary for a large, free public and civic space for a fair society. One can easily be a good person and argue against it. As well, he was not in favor of affirmative action, which is govt discrimination based on race. My point? One could be for racial justice and have a principled objection to these two aspects of the legislation. But nope, he was pilloried by the Left and goes down in history as some kind of racist for doing so. Which is simply a lie.

        In fact, Goldwater had been an activist for racial justice his entire career at the state level, just as many Republicans had been since the Republican party’s formation. While “Civil Rights Activists” were faking cross burnings in Alabama (true story), the likes of Goldwater had already been making real change at the state level for a long time in Arizona. These fights always had the same lineup – Dems protecting state racist policies on every level and Republicans fighting them tooth and nail.

        The idea that Democrats were the party of civil rights for minorities is laughably false. The 1964 civil rights act passed with a higher pct of Republican support than Dem support just as did the legislation decades earlier for women’s suffrage.

        “The switch” that so many leftists rely on has been debunked so many times, it’s boring to go over it. If you are interested, go to the DuckDuckGo search engine and search “debunking the switch of racists to the Republican party”. And the “southern strategy” too. You’ll see just how horribly this is all overblown and dishonest. Every single slave holder in the U.S. was a Democrat – there are ZERO public records of Republican slaveholders, fyi. You won’t find this info as easily with a Google search due the Prog-Marxist bias of their search function.

        But the “Big Lie” is the Left’s stock and trade. Look at this imp @Amin all over this thread, vicious, dishonest, maniacal, lol. I wonder, do you think he has rabies?

        • Alan says

          @scribblerg: political parties have always been shifting coalitions of interest groups, and it doesn’t really make much sense to expect continuity over long time periods. That said, I recently came across a reference written in 1917 by Huger William Johnstone (who fought for the Confederacy) that the Democratic Party had recently turned its back on all of its original principles. Generally speaking, it appears that the party coalitions shifted at about that time, which Johnstone noted at that time, and over the next fifty years the coalitions more or less reversed themselves.

          The key to understanding this is that at the time of the war between the states it was the Republicans in the northern states who exhibited racial hatred, not the Democrats. Both groups at the time considered the black race to be incapable of self-government, and looking at the best data we have on intelligence and race they might have had a point. (Of course a group average says nothing about individuals, but the IQ of black Americans is now reckoned to average about 85 – though it is as high as 95 in some states and averages 103 in the military – and the historical data points to the average black American IQ having risen by 25 points during the 20th century, which would mean that the average was about 60 a century ago – which would certainly give reason to doubt the capacity for self-government sixty years before that.) Neither side wanted to end slavery, except those Republicans like Lincoln who wanted to exile the black population to Africa, or to Central America. One of the unstated reasons for the conflict was that the southern states, who had expended much blood to win the western territories, wanted their people to be able to move into those territories and take their slaves with them, whereas many white northerners did not want black people leaving the southern states where they were already present. They wanted those territories to be reserved for white people only – and especially for the German immigrants who had recently arrived following the failed socialist revolutions in Europe. (Karl Marx explicitly backed Lincoln’s war because he thought reserving this territory for whites would benefit these German immigrants.) While southern Democrats believed that blacks were not capable of self-government, they also lived beside them every day and there are numerous testimonies – including accounts from former slaves – of very good personal relationships between masters and slaves. By contrast, there are numerous accounts – from former slaves – of federal troops killing or torturing blacks they encountered during the war, and robbing them of all their food, destroying anything they could not carry, and generally leaving the slaves they freed with neither shelter nor food, while kidnapping some of them and forcing them to work for the federal army.

          So the “switch” hypothesis certainly makes sense given the understanding that the original Republicans despised black people in a way that the Democrats of that era did not.

        • Amin says

          @ scribblerg

          You are a liar and I exposed you as one. I doubt you have read a single history book this decade. Comment above – so what happened to this history knowledge? Where did it go?

          So you don’t go around challenging Harvards history grads after all… what disapointment, eh?

          “@Amin all over this thread, vicious, dishonest, maniacal, lol. I wonder, do you think he has rabies?”

          You can cry like a little bitch all over the place. But I am good at this, really good. And I have just gotten started with you. It’ll be a solid boot up the arse from here on…

          Now stop wasting time and go and read a good book of history… cuck!

    • K. Dershem says

      @Sean, you’re not the only one! I completely agree — students are best served by a balanced view of history that celebrates the West’s accomplishments while acknowledging how often it falls short of its ideals.

  3. codadmin says

    The humanities are dessert of intellectual conformity.

    The crisis exists because there isn’t even a mirage of a non-leftist professor on the horizon, let alone one that actually exists.

    The ‘crisis’ can only be solved by intellectual diversity, and that will mean quotas and affirmative action for non-leftist professors.

      • David of Kirkland says

        Wouldn’t a desert of intellectual conformity suggest that there’s little intellectual conformity? Or is this a new plush, robust and full desert?

        • codadmin says

          So you’re saying a ‘desert of sand’ actually has no sand?

    • V 2.0 says

      I keep hearing about the lack of conservatives in the humanities. It seems the opposite is true. The humanities are almost exclusively represented by conservative people. They are just conservative about different things than, say, Republicans.

  4. scribblerg says

    Lol – so many words, but so little of value offered. If you want to know why young Americans hate themselves, the West and the U.S. in particular, read this profs jumped up and confused essay to get a sense of the “values” that pervade the academy. Get this – he thinks he’s “diverse”, which makes me giggle very hard. I mean, does this guy not realize how confused he is and how stuck in his so very meta analyses of our society he is?

    Simple point. If you don’t get that there is much “glory” in the West’s ascension to global hegemony and leading all of humanity towards modern civilization and prosperity, you should be run out of this country. Go live in a non-Western society. Tell us, which one would you want to live in Prof? NONE – yet you dismiss so much of our “glory”.

    I suggest you add the study of some very interesting people to your syllabus. President Ulysses S. Grant would be a start. He, as a man, embodied many of the conflicts of his age. General Douglas MacArthur is also a great study of the 20th century and its conflicts. But no, you suggest truly laughable garbage from the likes of Toni Morrison as a way of teaching history? My goodness, what a sad joke.

    How about using Coming Apart by Charles Murray? This work is so singularly incisive about the massive changes in U.S. social order over the past 100 years, I cannot understand how any person wanting to understand what’s happening the U.S. can ignore this fine work of research and analysis.

    I also would question how this author presents the history of the Marxism, Socialism and Communism? Does he ask his students to read say The Gulag Archipelago? One of the most important political works of the 20th century? It’s certainly “people history told from the bottom up”, lol.

    I don’t want to share a nation with overstuffed, rambling pedants such as this author. He doesn’t realize it, but his students would be better off if they never took his or other’s courses. I mean, if you are conflicted about how dishonest and reckless and ideological the likes of Howard Zinn are, you should never be allowed into a classroom in the first place. Or you should at least label your courses, “New Left Lite – A Way to Claim You Aren’t a Leftist Fascist While Still Being A Leftist Fascist”.

    • Lydia says

      I would be happy if they assigned Whittaker Chambers’, “Witness’. for starters is based on one person’s view of history from their perspective being very much a part of it. and it is also one of the most beautifully well written books of the 20th century.

      These people have no clue what was going on in this country in the early part of the 20th century. it would also give an early account of “Russian” interfernce in our elections. Lol.

      • the gardner says

        Witness was one of the most impactful, view changing books I have ever read. Yes, Chambers wrote magnificently.

    • E. Olson says

      You are on fire today – another excellent comment scribblerg. We can’t talk about U.S. Grant because he was a slave owner and white, can’t talk about Murray because he is a racist and would probably own slaves if it was still legal. Marxism/Communism – can’t make an omelet without breaking a few million eggs.

    • K. Dershem says

      In other words: because the author is not a far-right ideologue like me, his essay and courses are worthless. Apparently we should correct the problem of the leftist bias in the Humanities by transforming them into right-wing propaganda outlets. I think you’ve missed the point of the article …

      • Jorge says

        “Apparently we should correct the problem of the leftist bias in the Humanities by transforming them into right-wing propaganda outlets.”

        Yeah, point out where the OP suggested any such thing. Is teaching Ulysses Grant or MacArthur now right-wing propaganda? If so, this simply illustrates how far the rot has gone.

        • K. Dershem says

          The OP described the author as a “Leftist fascist” for advocating a balanced approach to teaching history and describes Toni Morrison as “garbage.” In another post, he called Islam “a conquering, supremacist, marauding, repressive and totalitarian theocratic menace since it’s founding” — an absurd oversimplification. He concludes with an ad hominem: “Hating the West is necessary for the Left to justify itself.” I’m left of center and agree with Steven Pinker that Enlightenment values should be celebrated and defended. However, I also acknowledge that Europeans and Americans have frequently failed to live up to these principles, and that other civilizations have made significant contributions to human history. In contrast, the OP implies that the West should be uncritically celebrated for “leading all of humanity towards modern civilization and prosperity.” In my view, this represents right-wing propaganda, but YMMV.

      • scribblerg says

        @K – Ya, that’s exactly what I said – are you kidding me? What an absurd comment to make. Let me be clear what I’m arguing for: An honest assessment of the MIRACLE that WESTERN CIVILIZATION HAS BEEN FOR ALL OF HUMANITY. IT HAS BEEN SINGULARLY RESPONSIBLE FOR LIFTING HUMANITY OUT OF IGNORANCE AND SQUALOR THE WAY NO PREVIOUS CIVILIZATION HAS DONE.

        Care to disagree? Want to look at living standards? Health? Wealth? Liberty? There is no argument, Western civilization has altered the trajectory of humanity in amazingly positive ways.

        Anyone who starts out without acknowledging this is simply a liar.

        • Ray Andrews says

          @scribblerg

          Somehow it becomes a contest. I doubt that you and K really disagree yet it becomes a fight. We make a small exaggeration for effect, the other guy counters with an opposing caricature, then it escalates and we have a flame war when probably any disagreement is tiny. I myself agree with both of you: Let’s admit to ourselves the uncomfortable truth that the West has produced the best society that has ever existed (Westerners hate admitting this, but we should), but let’s not ‘come out’ so loudly that we forget about the crimes of which we are undoubtedly guilty. Yes?

    • Amin says

      @ scribblerg

      “But no, you suggest truly laughable garbage from the likes of Toni Morrison as a way of teaching history?”

      Garbage? All of her work? You are probably nothing more than a simple racist.

      And that is not what the author does anyway. Go and read and understand what he actually says.

      “How about using Coming Apart by Charles Murray?”

      How about not. It is a second rate political rant and not a history book. I doubt you have read it. And you have not got an idea what oyu are saying. When was the last time you read a history book? Any book?

      • scribblerg says

        @Amin and all – A quote from Toni Morrison:
        ““People keep saying, ‘We need to have a conversation about race’,” Morrison told the Daily Telegraph.

        “This is the conversation. I want to see a cop shoot a white unarmed teenager in the back.”

        She added: “And I want to see a white man convicted for raping a black woman. Then when you ask me, ‘Is it over?’, I will say yes.”

        This is the woman I’m supposed to see as some kind of arbiter of race in this country, lol. Okay, let’s talk about rape and cop shootings, you aren’t going to like the facts.

        We don’t talk about interracial rape in the U.S. because it goes in one direction – the vast majority of it is black on white rape. The stats are very hard to come by anymore due to active suppression of them. But here is a summary of 2005 stats.

        Let us take a look at the Department of Justice document Criminal Victimization in the United States, 2005.

        In Table 42, entitled “Personal crimes of violence, 2005, percent distribution of single-offender victimizations, based on race of victims, by type of crime and perceived race of offender,” we learn that there were 111,590 white victims and 36,620 black victims of rape or sexual assault in 2005. (The number of rapes is not distinguished from those of sexual assaults; it is maddening that sexual assault, an ill-defined category that covers various types of criminal acts ranging from penetration to inappropriate touching, is conflated with the more specific crime of rape.) In the 111,590 cases in which the victim of rape or sexual assault was white, 44.5 percent of the offenders were white, and 33.6 percent of the offenders were black.

        In the 36,620 cases in which the victim of rape or sexual assault was black, 100 percent of the offenders were black, and 0.0 percent of the offenders were white. The table explains that 0.0 percent means that there were under 10 incidents nationally.

        Did you get that? In BJS stats, the occurrence of white on black sexual is so low it shows up at Zero some years in the stats, Lol – yet Morrison is posing about white on black rape, as though this is a problem in our society. Nope – if she was honestly focused in rape and race, she’d be horrified by the level of black on white rape. Instead, she just ignores the facts and poses. Which makes her a disgusting peddler of hateful propaganda, not a teller of truth.

        Toni Morrison’s view of rape and race is based on mythology.

        As well, her view of cops shooting black people for no reason is complete BS as well.

        In 2016, according to the Washington Post’s tally, just 16 unarmed black men, out of a population of more than 20 million, were killed by the police. The year before, the number was 36. These figures are likely close to the number of black men struck by lightning in a given year, considering that happens to about 300 Americans annually and black men are 7 percent of the population. And they include cases where the shooting was justified, even if the person killed was unarmed.

        So lets be clear who Toni Morrison is. She’s THE MOST RECOMMENDED AUTHOR IN THE UNIVERSITY TODAY. Yet, she lies through her teeth about the state of racial relations in the U.S. She trades on “black privilege” which gives her hagiography after hagiography. It turns out the White Guilt is a very profitable vein to mine in today’s world.

        I’ve tried reading her. She’s overwrought, inconsistent, terribly self-conscious and quite arrogant. She’s a “difficult read’ – this is universally agreed to by students of her work. I do see her compared to Faulkner in this regard, but comparing Morrison’s fundamentally dishonest mental masturbation in print to Faulkner’s brilliant portrayals is to admit you have never really read Faulkner. He’s a national treasure – Morrison is an ideological hack who doesn’t suck at writing. Facts matter…

        • Amin says

          @ scribblerg

          Toni Morrison was born in ’31 – pre-Civil RIghts. And this woman has faced “genuine” racism in her life. Convenient little facts that you don’t like.

          Read what she acutally says:

          “She added: “And I want to see a white man convicted for raping a black woman. Then when you ask me, ‘Is it over?’, I will say yes.””

          Comprehend?

          Read it again. And again – till it fucking sinks in…

          “She’s THE MOST RECOMMENDED AUTHOR IN THE UNIVERSITY TODAY.”

          She might be or might not be. Evidence?

          “Yet, she lies through her teeth about the state of racial relations in the U.S. ”

          You have yet to post a single lie of her. Your rigmarole above exposes you and your vile nautre. Read WHAT SHE FUCKING SAYS!

          “I’ve tried reading her. She’s overwrought, inconsistent, terribly self-conscious and quite arrogant.”

          Ah, thta is JUST you. And given your enmity and hatred of blacks and of her… and on top of that… you are a liar and have low ability. I doubt you have read her, just like your reader of history lie.

          “She’s a “difficult read’ – this is universally agreed to by students of her work.”

          This is an outright lie. Disagree? Evidence?

          “Facts matter…”

          They do! That is EXACTLY why I am nailing you…

  5. BrainFireBob says

    More on this later, but yes, the New Left is 60 years old, it’s an ossified dinosaur that has dominated academia for decades. It’s not pushing against a dominant majority to be heard, it’s the thesis the new right antithesis is pushing against.

    How would kids get the Glory version of history? Films? Those are either insensitive or “old”, kids don’t watch old movies. Books? Same. Teachers? K12 teachers aspire to and ape collegia.

    In the specifics of history, I blame New Left for tearing down the aspirational mythos of American culture, taught via Glory side. America is relatively young with no unifying faith or ethnicity, only the mythos of historic figures who, even if not born American, chose to be American by their devotion to freedom. Yes, many are factually problematic flawed human beings- but a shared ideal of devotion to freedom used to serve as a kind of societal glue.

    • Maybe a better organizing principle for an American history course would be the practical problems of self-government over the years rather than freedom.

      • David of Kirkland says

        The primary problem of government is in balancing freedom with coercion; there is no such thing as self-government. Authority is granted to all sovereigns, not to the selves outside of a few rights that many don’t even like in the USA.
        Tell both the good and bad, the pro and the con, and even those acts that ended up just being neutral. That’s how intellectual thinking works; if there’s a “side” or “perspective” involved, then it’s just propaganda.

  6. peanut gallery says

    “Conservative critics of academia have a longstanding tradition of depicting liberal professors as ideologues first and educators second. In my opinion, they are wrong. ” Everything written here proves them right. I take some consolation in the fact that when the violent revolution finally comes, old white men like the author will be the first against the wall. Or perhaps they’ll make him eat hot coals during a struggle session. Good luck, “doc.”

    Teach all of history, don’t create a narrative that pleases you. That’s ideology.

    • David of Kirkland says

      No, an ideology can often go against a personal wish. Those who only do what pleases aren’t following an ideology other than simple greed/narcicism, and those are traits, not a way of living based on ideas.

    • Clearly, in a required American history survey course “all history” cannot be taught. The best that can be done is to accurately identify the competing narratives.

  7. dirk says

    Compare this with the other thread right now on line, The Morality of the Hedgehog. The Glory of course stands for the hedgehog, the Gory for the fox (aka coyote). Question: is it possible, or advisable to teach kids of 8 tot 10 yrs history or geography without mixing it thoroughly with Glory or Hedgehog stuff? I was raised with that last animal, even our pirates (Piet Hein) who conquered and stole whole gold laden flotillas from our enemy (who stole it as well of course) was glorified, we even now still have a song dedicated to him, sung on our national days
    -Piet Hein, Piet Hein, Piet Hein zijn naam is klein !!!- etc.
    Here again, it is oikophylie (traditional, rightish) as against oikophobie (leftish, liberal ). Our elementary schools now all adhere to that second content (meaning, the opposite as what we were taught, once, not very long ago).

    • Kencathedrus says

      @dirk: Indeed, the Netherlands still operates under a ‘glory’ narrative. The Dutch still have Blackface and show no sign of recanting him. I’m fine with it, but my wife, who is an American, was horrified when she first saw Zwarte Piet ‘stealing’ presents from the Bijenkorf.

      I like the Netherlands and hope it doesn’t succumb too much to the political-correct narrative that is plaguing the Anglo-world.

      • dirk says

        There is some change and movement now,Ken, in October, the controversy starts all over again, the traditionalists for Zwarte Piet (including the -blokkeerfriezen-) and the oh so progressive cityfolk for a -roetveegpiet- (not blackface, but something inbetween). The traditionalists, for the blackface tradition, shouting that the whole thing is mis-understanding from overseas, where slavery was something national (in the NL, no national, but only “trade” or ” colonial”). So, we wait for October again!! But I fear, also in the NLs, blackface has had its longest time now. We live in a global (=Anglo) world now.

  8. E. Olson says

    Do I understand correctly that the choices being considered for improving enrollment in university level history today are: 1) continuation of Zinn anti-Americanism, 2) Zinn anti-Americanism mixed with historical fiction (author’s choice), 3) Going even further Left than Zinn (Yale choice)? In other words, variations of white men bad, people of color and vaginas good.

    I think the question the field needs to consider is how important it is to teach history from a factual point of view? Is Harriet Tubman truly worthy of more in-depth coverage than U.S. Grant or R.E. Lee, or is she merely given so much coverage because of the perceived need to find some non-white males to talk about? In other words, is history as it is currently taught and researched giving minor “victims” of white male oppression and sexism/racism a starring role because to do otherwise would lead to the conclusion that the vast majority of the major events and achievements of Western culture are the products of the sweat and genius and sacrifice of dead while males? Is a predominant focus on the weaknesses, mistakes, and evil (from current perspectives) of white males through history to demonstrate they are no better, and probably much worse human beings than the people of color and vaginas they terrorized, killed, and oppressed? Does this further mean that to better accentuate the unique evil of the white race, historians can’t lecture or research black participation in the slave trade (as sellers of slaves), or brutal native American inter-tribal wars and genocide that occurred before the first white man ever set foot in the Americas, or the poor treatment of women and homosexuals by Islam, or in general any flaws, mistakes, and backwardness of non-white cultures? In other words, should historians let facts get in the way of presenting and teaching social justice dogma to students who are forced to take their classes?

    And as the academic historians attempt to erase, besmirch, and belittle the contributions of white males, non-fiction books of history and biography, often written by non-academic historians, continue to be popular almost exclusively among “evil” white male book buyers. Perhaps there is a lesson there somewhere?

    • David of Kirkland says

      History isn’t just facts, but the stories that surround them. It’s why someone can take a fact like “they owned slaves” and discount their entire lives. All stories have more than one perspective, and balancing perspectives is the key.
      It is amazing how little history is known by the typical high school graduate after 12 years.

    • Amin says

      Islam does not persecute gays. I am openly gay transsexual that identifies as a heterosexual and I am treated wonderfully by ALL Muslims

      • Amin says

        @ Amin

        I shagged your mother. She gave birth to an “?” and called it “Amin” after me. Now that you are such a bastard that…

        ” I am openly gay transsexual”

        Oh, I prefer a big walloper od dick… you know 10 inches plus…

    • Amin says

      @ E. Olson

      “I think the question the field needs to consider is how important it is to teach history from a factual point of view? Is Harriet Tubman truly worthy of more in-depth coverage than U.S. ”

      These two statements are contradictory. You cannot talk about need for objectivity and in the very next breath slip into subjectivity.

      Why do these even need to be compared at all? Why can’t they be worthy of

      • Amin says

        continued:

        Why can’t they be worthy of study in their own right.

        “or is she merely given so much coverage because of the perceived need to find some non-white males to talk about?”

        Where you are concerned, how come it is always the non-whites who cop it? Why is it never the other way around? That noted Blacks are overlooked whereas a minor White nonentity is in the limelight.

        “Does this further mean that to better accentuate the unique evil of the white race, historians can’t lecture or research black participation in the slave trade (as sellers of slaves), or brutal native American inter-tribal wars and genocide that occurred before the first white man ever set foot in the Americas, or the poor treatment of women and homosexuals by Islam”

        This is an old trope and people like ou here use it extensively. Whenever West is considered with a critical eye, you fall back on mentioning others as being worser than West and are not being paid enough attention.

        “And as the academic historians attempt to erase, besmirch, and belittle the contributions of white males, non-fiction books of history and biography”

        Tell you what… name ten such scoundrels…

        “often written by non-academic historians, continue to be popular almost exclusively among “evil” white male book buyers.”

        Ten of these too.

  9. scribblerg says

    https://goo.gl/images/F3wQfS

    @J and Incubus – Remember, you are commenting here for the purposes of the younger guys who are trying to make sense of their lives and the Red Pill. There is no winning a debate with the OMGs here. They are good guys in many ways, as Sentient spits real truth much of the time, and Blax is an example of a dominant, natural alpha male. They just don’t get it the way a single guy does.

    It’s not a coincidence that despite being 56, my POV aligned with guys like you AFTER ACTUALLY DOING MYSTERY METHOD seriously. People who dismiss this as mere “PUA” without having experienced it are not worth listening to, at all. Note that I’m not recommending all PUA training, as good as some of it may be. When I was getting into it, I learned a lot from some guys at RSD too, before they went all “self improvement gurus”. But what I learned from Mystery was so much deeper, he teaches seduction and how to actually get a woman to fall in love with you. It can work too well sometimes, but that’s because it’s real. You actually have to care about the girl, you actually have to want what’s best for her and to be real with her. Versus street game pick up tricks and SNL specialist, which are too focused on “technique” even if it’s still good training and experience in some ways.

    Mystery gets deep into what triggers interest, attraction, arousal etc. I also learned just how crucial logistics are. I was transformed by the experience. It healed my pedestalization and made me much less angry with women as I understand them so much better now. Practicing “PUA” changed my life dramatically, which is why I get so ticked off when I hear it dismissed here.

    Reading is like pushups for your intellect.
    PUA is like pushups for your behavior and how you train yourself to internalize what you learned while reading. It’s social conditioning, and it changes everything. Until you’ve had some young hottie showing you the texts and Insta comments from her orbiters, laughing at them and dismissing them while you are twice her age and are guessing the color of her nipples, well, you just can’t “get it”. Sorry. And if you do “get it”, then what the fuck are you doing arguing with J and Incubus in the first place?

    • mitchellporter says

      For those who may be wondering, it seems “scribblerg” was reading two blogs at once, and pasted that comment in the wrong one…

  10. Kevin Herman says

    Way too long and unless this guy has some major epiphany in the last million words I would safely see him as part of the problem in academia. Also Lynne Cheney is much much closer to the truth then the new left professors. History is not the place to make up for perceived historical injustices by over emphasizing certain groups and under emphasizing others. Also it’s just as unfair to whitewash the sins of the mayans as is to whitewash the sins of colonialists. Its amazing and scary that people that want to teach developing minds dont see this.

    • David of Kirkland says

      In Hawaii, they often revere King Kamehameha I because he “unified the island kingdom,” but of course that just means he used western weapons to kill off the competitors who were stuck with inferior Hawaiian weapons. Tell the glory story with the gory story. Both come closer to expressing history than either alone.

  11. Curt says

    If i was in your shoes, I would teach history from the perspective of power. Don’t allow ideas of good or evil to enter the narrative – because those are propagandistic. Tell history as a competition between many rivals, where we the history student can stand objectively and watch how each rival made the decisions they did with the situation they faced. The ‘Glory v Gory’ choice is a false choice, and no matter which side of it you choose, you will set your students up for massive cognitive dissonance and the ability to be severely manipulated by media sources. Be a Realist, teach history from the perspective of Power.

    • Kencathedrus says

      @Curt: this already happens. The narrative is that an ‘all-powerful’ white devil race took over the world and, like a scene from the film ‘Avatar’, conquered the kinder, wiser and more spiritual indigenous cultures. All white people were involved in this, but women can be forgiven somewhat because they were oppressed too.

      This view has sprung up from envious, effeminate academics who believe they should rule the world, or at the very least, earn a six figure salary. They blame the capitalist structure for not valuing their skills more.

    • David of Kirkland says

      How many people prefer to be in the gory side of reality versus being on the glory side?
      What next, MBAs only studying companies that couldn’t compete?

  12. J. Dell says

    Where in this professor’s “history” is any deep exploration of U.S. core values and original documents? I have kids in college, and I have opportunities to chat with that age group. They haven’t the foggiest idea what the differences between negative and positive rights are, and yet they think they have learned the history of the U.S. They lack core civics training. They cannot name the branches of government. They cannot explain checks and balances. They cannot name, but perhaps two amendments, of the Bill of Rights. Without this basic framework of what we, as a country, stand for, they cannot evaluate glory or gory properly, as steps toward or away from our country’s values. They lack the framework to identify the inherent evil that is socialism/communism (the “right” to take things from someone else by force). They cannot properly compare and contrast our country against other countries, because they haven’t been trained to identify differences in values. What use is a U.S. History class without delivering an understanding of what our country was founded to protect and what it stands for? Our glory is those core values, and our gory shame is when we don’t live up to them.

    • SommeVerdun says

      I agree that students should know what checks and balances are, what positive and negative rights are, etc. As you point out, that’s civics training. But I think that should be done in a civics class, rather than a history class.

  13. Caligula says

    “students always find their way to characters whose experiences and inner monologues produce tension with my in-class narrative.” Yes, but could they tell you which century the U.S. Civil war was fought in?

    “Narrative” is a good story, and anyone can find out the dates of the U.S. Civil War with a few seconds’ Googling.

    Nonetheless, something important is lost when stories replace an internalized timeline of when things happened.

    In any case, history seems to be doing well enough outside the academy, at least among those of us who still read. For example, the 100th anniversary of the end of WWI resulted in the production of many new books on on this war which, arguably, did more than any other to create the post-colonial, post-Eurocentric world in which we now live.

    Of course, academic historians have always complained that popular histories lack rigor and do not meet academicians’ standards. And, no doubt, that’s often the case. Nonetheless, there’s a sense that academic historians have abandoned much of the core of their field of study and replaced it with interpretations made through the narrow lens of contemporary politics in which all historical figures are relentlessly judged by contemporary standards.

    And that the result of this relentless “relevance above all” presentism is a great distortion of the past. For the past is (as they say) a foreign country, in which people did things for reasons that seemed sufficient to them but which may seem incomprehensible or evil when interpreted by contemporary norms.

    Pedagogically speaking, narratives liven things up, taking the study of history away from that “just one damned thing after another.” And interested students are easier and more pleasant to interact with than bored ones (and give higher evaluations also). BUT “stories” (whether stories that tell us we’re good because we’re part of a grand tradition, or those that tell us we’re good because we’ve reupdiated all that old bad stuff) are not history so much as entertaining propaganda.

    So, perhaps it’s not much of a loss that the study and teaching of history in the academy is shriveling, for these can, perhaps, survive and thrive better outside of it.

  14. the gardner says

    I can’t imagine taking a course from this guy. He is uncomfortable with having convictions and is more concerned about serving a pleasant product to customers. Maybe his students would perk up if he weren’t so ambivalent about his topic.
    Also, if literature majors now exclude Shakespeare because he’s a dead old white guy, that is truly tragic. The lessons in human nature, our failings, fears and triumphs in his works have nothing to do with being old and white. They transcend time, ethnicity and gender. Such stupidity on the part of faculty to toss these masterpieces. What next, no Mozart in music major?

    • Indeed, the purging of Shakespeare and other giants in the name of ideology is the very reason I support the complete dismantling of literature departments. I did my MA in literature, and I think it’s an important area of study, but the whole thing needs to be burned to the ground and begun anew.

      • Caligula says

        High quality education is abundant, and most of it is either free or close to free. It’s those educational credentials that are so costly.

        When high quality educational materials are available at low or no cost, why are we paying people to do that “sage on the stage” thing in a college lecture hall? Half the students don’t show up for lectures anyway (unless they’re coerced, of course) and of those who do, most seem unable to keep their attention away from Facebook and other fluff that’s available on their laptops.

        Credentialing via comprehensive, well-proctored exams in lieu of seat-time (aka credit-hours) would seem an obvious reform. Although one can hardly expect those who are invested/rewarded by the current system to just let their institutions go gently into that good night.

        And even if exams were to become the primary means to obtain an academic credential, presumably some demand would remain for young people to spend a few years on some leafy campus somewhere. But government would probably no longer subsidize it, and students would no longer sign up for stupendous amounts of debt.

        • Amin says

          @ Caligula

          “Half the students don’t show up for lectures anyway”

          How do you know? What evidence have you got? Stop spouting nonsense.

          “When high quality educational materials are available at low or no cost”

          Where?

          “why are we paying people to do that “sage on the stage” thing in a college lecture hall? ”

          Becuase teaching [instruction] works. And there are no alternatives.

  15. Andrew van Trigt says

    Yes, it was long, but it was an excellent read.

  16. Prof Vanzant is to be congratulated for fostering conflict among his students and he is to be congratulated for noticing this may result in an increased interest in history. We then might want to ask, what does conflict have to do with history? And that answer is simple: History is always some History of Conflict.

    As wealthy modern human beings we tend to be abstracted from the world of conflict. Many young people (and many adults) aren’t interested in history because they don’t see how it is relevant to who they are and how they experience the world. And they are correct – history has no apparent relevance to human beings who are born and live in bubbles.

    The teaching of history almost always is told as a story which affirms who we believe we are. If we believe we are the pinnacles of Enlightenment and Reason we are taught one way; if we think of ourselves as tragic limited beings history is taught another; if we think of ourselves as “woke” then all of history is simply a history of a “formerly mad” (Nietzsche) world of the “unwoke” or perhaps “the not-yet-woke”.

    The last way of teaching history, as the author correctly points out, ends in a complete dismissal of history – indeed, once the state of “wokeness” is achieved, knowledge of history becomes irrelevant. Wokeness is the state which transcends conflict so why study a history of conflict?

    Like many self proclaimed progressives the author seems confused. Insofar as progressivism has become state of mind which presumes to transcend history and conflict, we should not be surprised, as the author seems to be, that the teaching of progressive history ends with the dismissal of history. (Interestingly, there is a long history of commentary which predicts this very outcome – Nietzsche, Ortega y Gasset etc)

    It seems that if Prof Vanzant follows the logic of his own teaching methods, if he looks at the fertile conflict in his own classroom as emblematic of a long history of conflict within individual humans and between individual humans trying to survive and flourish, I suspect he will find his own progressive ideals are but one more example of a long history of human fantasies of escape from conflict.

  17. Fred says

    If taught to think for themselves, students migjt reach conservative conclusions? Oh horrors!

  18. Shawn T says

    The writer laments the difficulty in securing work teaching because he must demonstrate his conformity to leftist academic ideology, somehow can’t see the irony, and yet thinks he has found some revolutionary tool in teaching. It isn’t assigning fiction. It isn’t your magnificent brain. It is far more simple: permission. You gave your students permission to disagree, permission to discuss, permission to analyze. Most professors don’t. Students are there primarily to gain a piece of paper saying they were there and to show on paper some level of performance separating them as superior to other students (grades). Typically, if they do anything other than regurgitate and parrot, they will not succeed in this goal. They have been trained not to think, but to agree. My kids are in the same boat – privately disagreeing but understanding the reality of spitting out what is expected to get the required certification of learning. Professor, you simply told your students they are allowed to explain, question, analyze, and argue. You merely gave them permission to think and are convinced you have stumbled upon some magic method when it is, in fact, the entire frigging point.

    • Alan says

      @benitacanova – I’m not really surprised. Students at Yale are well insulated from reality. They may be brilliant logicians, but they can build intellectual structures on obviously false premises and never pay a price for being wrong.

      Black students at a state college may not be as good logicians (on average) but they are not as well insulated from reality. Not only will they be more aware of the real world, but if they make an error they will be more likely to have to pay for it. That fosters a healthier atmosphere for learning than a place like Yale.

  19. Lightning Rose says

    I’m going to go out on a limb and say something truly radical here. Perhaps we’ve come to the End of the Academy in the traditional, liberal-arts-humanities sense. In an age when exhaustive sources are at one’s fingertips on a ubiquitous device which delivers instantaneous information on almost any topic one could care to know about, do we REALLY need to warehouse young people in “academic” institutions for close to 20 years?

    I propose we compress all of “core” education into the years from age 13 to 19 and teach the following:

    (1) An overview of the progress of human civilization from the Stone Age to the present; simply events, timeline, who won what, and outcome–leaving all value judgments up to the student.

    (2) Basic biology such that students understand the workings of the bodies of animals & plants.

    (3) An understanding of the scientific method as expressed by the “hard” sciences like physics.

    (4) An understanding of the basics of functional adulthood; expectations of employers, how to use the banking industry, personal financial literacy, the workings of the legal system and government.

    (5) The technical certificate necessary to enter the workforce in the career of one’s choice.

    Should one wish to explore in depth any aspect of U.S. or world history, literature, humanities, social justice, sexuality, political science, art, music, or psychology, there is a world of books, films and research out there with which they can knock themselves out from here to eternity.

    I do not think we should be using taxpayer dollars to stuff young people’s heads full of Great Books which have only the most tangential relevance to modern life, nor forcing “pigs to sing” with courses such as Calculus for all. Let’s instead emphasize the practical, turning out a new generation of people who are FUNCTIONAL in this Brave New World. That’s sure not what we’re producing now; a generation devoid of resiliency, work ethic or belief in their own abilities to succeed.

    • +1 for points #4 and #5. Somehow in thirteen years of K-12 there was always time for volleyball and dioramas. Then toward the end counselors start talking about ‘getting an education’ so you can have a career. If you cut out the 50% of K-12 which is pure fluff, you’ve got years upon years to teach young people practical skills they can use, several times over.

      Then when you get to secondary education, what’s relevant to your future gets watered down yet again with biology, advanced mathematics, and repetition of the history you’ve already been over at least four times. Would you like to learn computers science? Here, it’s in this kitchen sink.

      If someone wants to deep-dive into even more history they will. People who enjoy learning never stop reading. You’re can’t make someone care about history by tacking it onto their education any more than you can make people watch ESPN by adding it to their cable package. If they haven’t learned anything in K-12 they’re not going to learn it in college, either. And they just might be okay.

    • Tempe says

      I respectively disagree. I don’t see education as a means to an end ie a job for the future. To my mind education is to enhance one’s understanding of the world around you and make people less ignorant. You can’t do this with Google;another problem with the modern education system is it reliance on Google as a tool to learn & teach.

      We can’t, as novice learners, delve into deep concepts on a subject we know little about. If we are experts we can understand the vocab. etc but as students we are exactly that. Simply instructing students to google topics is a waste. They may end up on dodgy sites or never really find what they are searching for. The best way to mitigate against this is to teach them lots & lots of rich knowledge. Yep, students needs facts in order to become critical thinkers. You simply can’t think critically or creatively about a subject that you know little about. Just teach them, preferably with a good textbook written by experts in the field. Why make it harder?

    • Rose: I cannot comprehend how you could leave out, of your 5 most important aspects of “early” education: a solid understanding of mathematics (add, subtract, multiply, divide, equations, geometry, and, I hope some elementary probability and statistics. (They only need calculus, analytical geometry, number theory, etc., etc.,…if they want to go deeper into Math or SCIENCE {or technology or engineering}) I had those things in grades 1 through 12, in the 1950’s…sadly, I think these are mostly hinted at, glossed over, swept to the side, in modern 1 through 12 “education” (even though they keep pretending they are heavily focusing on “STEM”. (Me–BS, MIT, 1970, Masters, Harvard, 1972 {I am NOT “arguing from authority”, just trying to give a hint of why I think those things are important}

  20. BlurghChicken says

    “The term ‘critical thinking’ is meaningful only if one has some important and widespread system of thought to criticize.”

    It’s honestly so sad to read this. I just cannot imagine living in a world where critical thinking was limited to simply criticizing other modes of thought.

    The reason that the humanities are dying is because all they DO is tear down. They offer nothing of substance for students to aspire to, because as a system, progressivism can only point to the past with a sneer of contempt.

    It is a profoundly unsophisticated, ungrateful, and in my experience, deeply resentful ideology, even if it isn’t understood on the surface.

    Critical thinking /= critique. Critical thinking is a mode of thought by which we come to understand truth.

    • BlurghChicken

      You are correct about the limits of so-called critical thinking. I would go a step further: To think you understand something by taking it apart is not only not thinking, it is merely a kind of consciousness which prevents you from seeing reality at all. Critical thinking as an end in itself is merely a sophisitciated form of idiocy., Or as C.S. Lewis once said, to see through everything is identical with seeing nothing at all.

      • OWG says

        Blurgh Chicken and CA

        I was struck by the same thing regarding his definition of “critical thinking”. It is and should be a method of logical analysis that doesn’t necessarily even end up in criticism in its negative sense. I was taught how to do it at an early age and have done it all my life since. Sometimes the results were negative, sometimes positive and occasionally inconclusive but at least I had logical reasons for the conclusions.

  21. Mec B says

    It concerns me that a college teacher like Mr. Vanzant should instead be more inclined to focus on HOW to read and interpret historical documents rather than to just listen to what somebody else has written about historical facts. Yet I get the feeling that his classroom sounds more like a high school classroom “telling” students about history rather than “training” on reading multiple first or second hand documents to proscribe proper wisdom. It seems to me that the Glory vs. Gory issue is not actually an answer to history but rather a discussion topic, one that I’d be exited to a part of.
    An therein lies the problem that truly seems to be the issue. It sounds like his students are not exited to become masters of history but instead forced to recite present day propaganda.

  22. Sean Leith says

    Now I know why those brainless college students talking about slavery like it is white people’s fault. colonization of Americas white European fault. It is history teachers like you, who indoctrinated generations of young people, who hate their country, hate their ancestors, hate the past Presidents. This is outrageous.

  23. Sylv says

    The problems with the standard method of teaching history in the U.S. largely stem from the method of using a single text to do it. It’s the Single Correct Narrative problem. Its antidote is more reading from original sources.

    Scholarship about the past, particularly the distant past, must grapple with the fact that what is known comes from individual accounts, and those always come from a point of view. For instance, much of the historical record about the culture and practices of the tribes of pre-Roman Europe comes from accounts written down by Roman historians in the course of their culture’s conquest of those tribes. It’s not that later historians chose to ignore the Celts’ own written accounts; there simply isn’t such a record. So a student reading about this period will need to glean what facts they can from the existing account while also understanding that the it comes with its own biases.

    The project of reading history by dividing its players into heroes and villains will always produce a shallow reading. Understanding that the historical record was not written by a single authoritative voice with access to objective truth, but by a multitude of voices, all of whom saw themselves as the Good Guys, is absolutely vital. In this light many of today’s preferred historical interpretations fail on the same basis that the old ones did, by presenting a simplistic good vs evil dynamic. Merely swapping which parties played which roles does not solve this problem.

    The more students can read differing accounts of the same events, the more they will begin to see that there can never be a Single Correct Narrative. Everybody is the hero of their own story.

  24. Sydney says

    And even worse, this all BEGINS now in K-12 education. Kids are fully groomed by the time they enter post-secondary Humanities programs.

    All children are made to apologize regularly (sometimes daily) by the left-wing unions and schools admins for BEING – we can split hairs on how exactly children are made to understand that they exemplify or take on the collective guilt of 17th- or 18th-century colonials – the occupiers of [fill in the correct tribal name depending on location] indigenous tribal lands.

    Here’s an anecdote: At 15, my ‘white’ son was POINTED AT by a Grade 10 Socials teacher who said to the class, “The colonizers looked just like him.”

    That’s the just the beginning. You can imagine how and what they’re being taught about WORLD history from the mindless, politicized, incompetent teachers who are products of left-wing university indoctrination programs. The ‘critical theorists’ have won!

    Imagine the worst and you nailed it. Hello, George Orwell.

  25. BrainFireBob says

    Alright, had some time.

    First off, little disappointed in the comments section. To sum the article:
    1) The author is a fan of the New Left’s self-appointed identity as being the hip, aggressive, provocative push-back against the traditional blinkered Washington-and-the-cherry-tree glorious American history narrative that was common in the late 19th through mid-20th century.
    2) The author is shocked that incoming students not only seem not to ascribe to this narrative, but in fact are unaware of it
    3) The author further is trying to find a means to teach critical thinking without his trained punching bag of America the glorious- the New Left doesn’t have alternative examples to itself. He’s been experimenting with novels, but is leery of validating and normalizing the narrative which opposes the one to which he personally adheres.
    4) Net, the author is only a small conceptual leap away from realizing that the New Left, which is nearing 60 years old, is actually the current dominant model and that modern movements to the contrary are what the New Left once was, a lone voice against a dominant, incomplete narrative.
    Second, for the author:
    I hope you are still reading these.
    There’s two items I want to address here.
    First thread: The decline of history majors
    Consider the following: What you are describing as the Gory version of American history. High level, this teaches that America has a shameful past full of systemic racism, abuse, etc. To you, this exists in addition to the “traditional” Glory narrative; it provides a context that shows that America is “not just glory.” You have noted that your students do not have the Glory narrative to push back against.
    Connect the dots, professor: They only know the Gory version, to use your terms. To them, the history of America is only one of racism, oppression, imperialism- there’s no striving for something better, no teaching about the perfectability mechanisms built into the American system, no teaching about the context in which America was founded nor why the “experiment” comes into play in “the great American experiment.” They come from a culture with stringent purity tests- there are calls to permanently boycott all of Weinstein’s movies to remove his impact on culture, despite how impactful these films were. Natural corollary: How are these students trained to see a man like Lincoln? Not as the man who freed the slaves, but as the man who refused to commit to doing so for years! He was therefore an evil, weak, vascillating man.
    So here’s the question for you: Why would they think there was anything they’d want to study or learn about in American history? You realize how the Gory narrative is in fact your problem, not a greater societal pushback on soft sciences?

    Second thread: On Marx and Dialectics
    I’ll confess, not a fan of Marx. His ideas are so 19th century at times they hurt to hear spouted off. But his dialectic, alone, is enough of a brilliant bit of human observation to ensure his place in history.
    In case anyone doesn’t know, Marx essentially proposes society evolves via a conflict model, with a dominant point of view, the thesis, becoming the dominant model in society until the pushback coalesces under another, counter idea- the anti-thesis. Eventually the anti-thesis, if a superior idea, will dominate in turn and become the new thesis, and in time its own anti-thesis will take over. That’s crude, but Marx saw this as the internal struggle mechanism through which society evolves itself.
    The New Left hasn’t had a conservative bloc it was pushing against for decades if you take the correct view of society.
    Every system under perturbation, no matter the system, will undergo a stabilization transition state before returning to a new equilibrium. This is inherent to systems, and the time it takes them to re-stabilize is a characteristic of the system. I frequently go on about this in personal life, and frequently identify myself not as conservative, but as a bit anti-left for this reason: Human systems have a stabilization period, and metrics need to reflect this.
    Application: You want to change how something is fundamentally taught? Relaxation time minimum is 13 years- K-12. Anything shorter captures the preceding period (period students are instructed on the old system); and the further you are from the initiation point the larger the perturbation needed to produce a measurable effect (if you want to change the perceptions of seniors measurably, you need to teach them very aggressively to “counteract” 12 prior years of the prior system; the same aggression will have an outsized effect on those who were not exposed to a full 12 years on the prior system).
    Take as a gedanken the New Left and its Gory version of American history. This is an example of principle: Say you want to make a change like that. You measure high school seniors. You introduce enough Gory version that their attitudes toward America shift relative to the preceding class. Since you are working against 12 years of “America is so awesome!”, something like Zinn is obviously required. Well, it’s overkill for those who went from K on with Zinn and only Zinn. You’ve begun brainwashing instead of pushing back against anything.

    I recall a study some years ago concluding that the white blonde male was suddenly viewed as the idiot as an archetype in film by Gen X, and the study’s author was shocked they didn’t see them as inherently heroic. Young people, by which I mean teens and tweens, tend to only consume modern media, so they aren’t watching the older films their parents did. The blonde, handsome, cis-white male is the only archetype that is a non-aggression to assign the role of the bubbling fool to, so you end up with most of Sean William Scott’s career; or Matthew Lillard, any of the Wilson brothers, etc.

    (The nasty part is that it’s their only chance. The teachers or admins might consider experimenting on something with the 9th graders, have it fail, and then revert and think 9th grade is fine. Those kids are only going through 9th grade once, and if you tanked them, they don’t get a do-over.)

    The New Left hasn’t been pushing against a great conservative group of students since at least the late ‘70s. The populace may have been conservative, but the students, the affected population, learned what they were taught. I very much encourage the author to consider that no matter how liberal he trains his students to be, Bill Gates will not be affected, and using him as a gauge- or in other words, the author’s own direct peers- for whether a societal shift has been induced is foolish, and what many of these champions of the New Left have done.

    • dirk says

      I still remember very well the way we got history on elementary (oldest, purest) and high school (after that, it stops for the technical students). I saw no difference in the factuality/objectivity in the narrative of conquests, colonialism, civil wars, social and peasant upheavals (had to be suppressed, because of the needed order and law), and the other subjects such as arithmetics and grammar, geography. Yesterday, on TV, the way history is given these days to teenagers. The teacher asks the youngsters what they think of this or that upheaval, whether they think that the parties are doing the right thing, that history is a construct, that you can see whatever with different eyes, depending on your position. No more substance and firm ground, only swamps where you can sink. But I strongly felt the hidden direction she (mostly) wanted the kids have thinking/evaluating.

      I wonder whether this is done for the good of the children, or because of the felt need of the teachers and the pedagogical organisation. I still feel happy with the historical facts I was taught (the sieg in such and such year, there and there), which, in a much later stage,I could digest an criticise.

  26. Andrew Worth says

    Interesting that the author mentioned a role for fiction. Good fiction does not depict any of the characters as intrinsically bad, rather the reader can follow and understand the motivations of each and every character, people don’t do things through a desire to be evil but to look after their own interests (which is what people are designed to do).
    I would have thought that you couldn’t teach history without dealing with the characters in the same way, with an attempt to understand their real psychology. Not as intrinsically good or bad individuals but as genuine people with different perspectives coming from different personal histories.

  27. Anonymous says

    A big problem with this essay – is that the history instructor seems to frame the main question as being – which is the correct propaganda framework to use in history class – the traditional or the leftist one ?

    So hearing that Robert E. Lee was only mentioned once in the new curriculum as opposed to six mentions for Harriet Tubman – you can see right away that something has gone badly wrong.

    History needs to set as its goal to strive to objectively describe whatever are the important forces, events and players who shaped how generations live.

    Any educated person ought to know that the General in Chief of the Armies of the Confederate States is a much more important figure in history than a woman who helped less than 100 people escape from slavery.

    Regardless of your opinion on the morality or ethics of the people involved. This is just common sense.

    Pushing narratives is not history. History should be looking to the hard sciences for methodological inspiration, not to the humanities – even if history IS one of the humanities.

  28. DirtyJobsGuy says

    The authors observation on Yale is interesting. As a defacto US “Grand Ecole” Yale’s undergraduates are clustered in several groups based on their perceived positions in the pipeline for government (history, political science), finance (economics, business), or medicine (biology). A small group is for the entertainment industry (Theater, music). The other majors (languages, physical sciences) are surprisingly low enrollment. The path of history majors to government is clear but the Yale degree matters more than content.

    For students outside of the Ivies, history is most often a requirement for another major. But the new left approach robs it of it’s value to non-majors. I’m in the energy business and deal with worldwide customers. It’s important to know their history to understand them. But the history cannot depart too far from facts. The Chinese for example have a 3000 year old chip on their shoulders, but in no way can any Western colonial action be blamed. Shanghai is still centered on the Bund, but that was the extent of colonial control before the Japanese invasion. Current Chinese society was it’s own creation but feeling they are denied their rightful place based on their preeminence long ago is not true. They shut down exploration and contacts with the rest of the world for the stability of the Imperial control. Any new left approach lets the theory get way ahead of factual history

  29. a concerned teacher. says

    The author shows the problem with these introductory courses and how they serve to further a certain perspective. As most students don’t graduate most will only take introductory courses and the author shows how most are ideologically driven. They are given a narrative and take it as Truth because it comes from the authority of the university. When they fail to graduate and take higher level history classes ,that dive more into primary sources from the past and allow the students to determine their own conclusions, they instead take what little they have learned and use it to guide their thoughts. No wonder many opt out of the humanities! History, like art, is boring and contrived when it is pushing a message instead of just being the medium it was intended to be. Students know they are being sold something and like an interaction with a pushy salesman decide to turn away. At least the author was self aware enough to acknowledge his bias, though it is concerning that he only changed when he was trying to make the class more engaging rather than question the ethics of pushing an ideology on students with little knowledge to question his assertions. The humanities are dying because they have gotten away from their purpose, to showcase what it means to be human in all its glory and gore.

  30. Jorge says

    “I know this because my classes were all Zinn, all the time (even though his textbook itself never made an actual appearance). In my head, this made my classes all about counter-narrative. But to my own students, my classes were just plain old…narrative.”

    Well, sure. I’ve long suspected that many people were drawn to the “gory story” in part by a high schoolish contrarianism that also feeds conspiracy theory nuts. They think they can see the “one big truth” that somehow eludes everyone else. What you (the author) seem to be hazily grasping is that after generations of Howard Zinn and New Left history teaching there really is no “everyone else”. There’s no contrarian thrill if everyone is a conspiracy nut. Which point up something important: the “glory story” versus “gory story” is an unequal comparison. The number of college or university history instructors teaching an unvarnished “glory story” must be somewhere close to zero. I’ve met plenty—more than I could count—who teach an unvarnished “gory story”. The debate is not between left and right, but between far left and rationality.

    “It also was fine to celebrate the Aztecs for their technological innovations without paying too much attention to the practice of human sacrifice. As Cheney saw it, this represented a double standard.”

    Or their imperialism, their slavery, their torture, their cannibalism…if this is a fair representation of her views, she wasn’t wrong. One of many problems with the gory story is that it simply inverts the heroes and villains as some sort of affirmative action for history teaching. It’s as anti-intellectual as the older glory story, and more regressive, really, since no one teaches the glory story anymore. And infinitely more destructive to our society. The study of history ought to teach humility, but too many New Left historians have failed to absorb even this most basic lesson.

    One last thought:

    “On that campus, it seems a further leftward turn is helping to save the Humanities, which is great to hear…Conservative critics of academia have a longstanding tradition of depicting liberal professors as ideologues first and educators second. In my opinion, they are wrong.”

    Please square these statements for me.

  31. Harrison Bergeron says

    Gory and Glory are not exclusive, they are complementary. They are the Ying and Yang of the whole of the human experience. The tension that is produced as they push and pull on each other results the complex emergent pattern of human history. It is a diservice to students to deprive them of the beauty of the whole pattern.

    I suppose it is inevitable though that in volatile times it becomes the battleground for professionals, neurotics, geniuses and demagogues. I don’t envy history teachers.

  32. Lightning Rose says

    The worst problem I see is the penchant to judge the events, decisions, and ways of life of prior times with today’s “woke” framing instead of the social norms current at that time. Slavery is seen as heinous in today’s world; in 1700, it was business as usual. Today we see “multiculturalism,” and push the idea that all cultures are of equal merit; in 1850, it was assumed the more modern and developed culture had a divine right (by might!) to colonize the rest. Perhaps the greatest lesson of history is the evolution and progress of ~thought~ itself, but do profs. dare to go there? What events in history caused the mainstream of thought to evolve on such matters? THAT just might be the lesson! Unfortunately, I think profs. like the author (whose article was illuminating) are so deeply indoctrinated in their own propaganda that they can no longer find their way out of the weeds.

    A poster above avowed that “woke” types consider themselves above and beyond conflict. That is really a howler, because they’re the biggest “drama queens” out there! Who’s in the street with the signs and the freak costumes screaming for the cameras? It sure isn’t those students who just want to survive college long enough to flee with their diploma so they can hopefully make a living! It’s the self-appointed SJW Thought Police freaking out about other people’s Halloween costumes, sports mascots, Chik-Fil-A, moldy old portraits, and who squats over which can! These people’s natural habitat is conflict, and they create 99% of it themselves. Regular people are just finding them more tedious and childish by the day.

  33. Saw file says

    I got so fed up with the myopic ideological revisionist “history” my daughter was being subjected to in primary school that I was forced to teach her the subject at home. There was absolutely zero balance in the curriculum, and I’ve had no shortage of conflict with some of her teachers over this. I have demonstrated to a few of them that their own knowledge of history is sorely lacking compared to my own. I have also warned them that I am closely monitoring how they are marking her assignments and exams.
    Right now we are going through Canadian history, and by extension some European history. She’s far to young for the meatier nonfiction so I’m using fiction as the primary tool. In a few years we will get into world history and politics, and I will start edging nonfiction into the lessons.
    I have also had to take a similar approach to give her a balanced experience in literature. She’s to write a short report on each non school assigned book and submit it to her teacher as extra work.
    I had to have it out with one of her teachers once about a poor mark on a fairly decent report. After some back and forth, it turned out that the”problem ” wasn’t with the report’s context but rather with the content. Basically the teacher didn’t like (disagreed with) the subject matter of the book itself. I went straight from that teacher to the school principal, explained what had just occurred, and handed him the report. I then told him that even though it was the systems “job” to provide primary education to her, it is our (wife and myself) responsibility to ensure that she gets a well rounded education, and I expected the report to be returned with a fair grade on it. I also informed her that if this type of problem persists I would go straight to the school board.
    We haven’t had any problems since then but needless to say, I am public (parent) enemy #1 with some of these teachers.
    It’s a sad state of affairs when a public school student also need a degree of home schooling to receive a balanced primary school education.

  34. Horace says

    Prof Vansant,

    I hope you make it this deep into the comments b/c I’d just like to recommend two old books to you by Neil Postman: Teaching as a Subversive Activity(1969) and Teaching as a Conserving Activity(1979). He flipped his position for the same reason you did–in his field what was heterodox in 1969 had become orthodox in 1979.

    He liked to call his teaching “thermostatic.” Idea was that it was responsibility of teachers to teach against the grain, regardless of whether the “grain” tilted conservative or progressive. I always found that a useful principle.

  35. Horace says

    Prof Vanzant,

    I hope you make it this deep into the comments b/c I’d just like to recommend two old books to you by Neil Postman: Teaching as a Subversive Activity(1969) and Teaching as a Conserving Activity(1979). He flipped his position for the same reason you did–in his field what was heterodox in 1969 had become orthodox in 1979.

    He liked to call his teaching “thermostatic.” Idea was that it was responsibility of teachers to teach against the grain, regardless of whether the “grain” tilted conservative or progressive. I always found that a useful principle.

  36. Royce Cooliage says

    While I appreciate the professor’s effort to reach his students, he should not be teaching a specific ideology. To the extent that it’s possible, history should be taught in an objective fashion. The purpose of history is not to indoctrinate people into a particular ideology. It’s purpose is to help people understand why the world is the way it is, and how to understand current events given their historical context.

    For example, a student well versed on an objective history of the Vietnam war would know that the Gulf of Tonkin incident was at best grossly exaggerated, and at worst, outright fictitious. Therefore, back in 2003, said student might have taken the hysterical talk about yellowcake and WMD with a proverbial grain of salt.

    Unfortunately, here is the United States, US History is always taught with the tacit aim of indoctrinating students into a particular way of thinking. In primary school, the aim is to create patriots. In university, the aim is to create activists. This probably goes a long way towards explaining why the education gap is a major factor in political party affiliation. People who never attended university in the US have only been presented with the “America can do no wrong and spreads freedom everywhere” version of history and are therefore more likely to subscribe to the “love it or leave it” flag waving and chauvinism of the right. Meanwhile, those of us who go on to university learn about the less savory details of our past and are therefore more likely to subscribe to a more left-wing way of thinking. Perhaps, if we were simply given all of the unvarnished facts from kindergarten through university without any whitewashing or social activist spin, there would be less of a divide. People would not only get along better, they could actually formulate their own views about what it means to be an American and what is best for this country.

    • Peter from Oz says

      I think the question is a qualitative one. The education provided to college gradutes has declined in quality remarkably since the 1980s. In addition, certain degrees are for more indicative of true intellectual capcity and education than others.
      Thus any increase in voters for the Dems amongst holders of college dgrees is not evidence that these voters are smarter or more educated than those who voted for the Republicans. All we can say is that Democrats are more credentialled.

    • Stephanie says

      Royce, it seems somewhat slanderous to claim conservatives are unaware of the history of slavery, colonization, KKK, Japanese internment, ect. In my experience Republicans are well aware of the historical conduct of Democrats. If anything, university education seems to simply indoctrinate students into believing that those historical sins are somehow the fault of modern Republicans, and that we must destroy our political and economic system to make amends.

    • Jorge says

      “In primary school, the aim is to create patriots.”

      I have too much experience with actual high school teachers and curricula to believe this for a minute.

  37. prince says

    I appreciate the inside track looking into history (and humanity) teaching in the USA. The ideology driven approach I understand now is by design. I am not surprise, but I have a much better understanding of the process that led us here.

    Even more, I appreciate a progressive writer willingness to write for Quillette and engage with the readers here.

    We need more of that!

    • Stephanie says

      Prince, most writers for Quillette are of the left.

  38. Tempe says

    It was refreshing to read that an academic in the Humanities Dept.was grappling with the curriculum as it stood. I love history. I’m on the Left but a long way from the Regressive Left, whose ideas seem to have infiltrated our Universities to their detriment. However, my sense is that what makes history tediously boring is the fact that students at school & Uni have to act as though they are expert historians when they are novice learners.

    Post modern theory killed history. Deconstructionism is deadly dull & doesn’t contribute to anything. I believe that students are being indoctrinated into a certain viewpoint minus the actual knowledge to make any kind of informed opinion. Reintroduce knowledge/facts/content and the students will come.

    The author might be pleased to hear that both my teenage daughters love history as a subject. But they want the narrative, from beginning to end. They want the story, dates & all. They don’t want; scrutinise your source material blah, blah, blah. BORING! The story is so amazing so if the Leftist academics would move away from their thinly veiled attempts at “pushing” students to believe in their political thrust & teach them some rich knowledge then history will be revitalised. PS: stop with the dead, white men BS. Those dead white men contributed a lot, both good & bad, to history.

    • K. Dershem says

      Very well put! Glad to see there are some other center-leftists commenting on the site.

  39. Daniel says

    “On that campus, it seems a further leftward turn is helping to save the Humanities, which is great to hear.”
    Save it from what? The evidence of this article (admittedly anecdotal, but no less compelling for it) indicates that the death of the Humanities is due to Leftist doctrine. The fact that Yale is experiencing interest in English by veering further Left makes me suspect that their students came in with a more centralized, traditional education, and like the 60s hippies, are gleefully rebelling.

    But this is just an example of finding another batch of virgin timber to cut. The Left has already clear-cut all the timber they can find, with no replanting in sight. It’s time to replant, and that will never happen with the Left.

    I’d venture to say that no Humanities is better for individuals and for all society than Leftist Humanities.

    • Craig Willms says

      Nurse: “doctor, this poison is killing the patient. what should we do to save the patient?”
      Doctor: ‘more poison, we need more poison!”
      Nurse: (author of this article) oh yeah, yeah, that makes perfect sense…”

  40. Robin says

    I was interested in Vanzant’s radical idea that students read novels as a way of getting information. I was even more amazed that his students actually read the novels and talked about them. Of course, good fiction (not the shallow sort where the characters are mouthpieces for the author’s beliefs) is a wonderful way for set ideas to be challenged and different perspectives to be brought to light.

    It’s also an excellent way to understand why events in the past happened the way they did and the complexity of human behaviour in response to those events.
    I come from the generation where books were almost the sole way in which we got our information and most of us read all types of novels covering the past, present and future with all sorts of perspectives – to use contemporary labelling, far left, hard left, soft left, soft right, hard right, alt right… – so we were exposed to a wide range of ideas, historical interpretations and so on from young ages. This was not the exclusive domain of future university graduates – I didn’t go to university when I left school. Simply, prior to TV etc, reading, if only comics for some, was all that was available.

    It seems to me that, increasingly, young people don’t read (sweeping statement, I’m sure a few do) but, rather, rely on social media, YouTube, the Web and so on, where they congregate to whichever platform is supplying them with what they want to hear thus closing their minds early to any alternative views and the ability to discriminate between what is true, what is fact, what is balanced, what is opinion.

    It also seems to me that academia is encouraging this narrow mindset as are many TV series, which are also taking (have taken) the place of reading.

  41. Peter from Oz says

    No-one wants to study history anymore, after the lefties decided ”gory” was the proper ethos of historical studies?
    Could that just be a correlation or this there a wee bit of causation there too?

  42. Itzik Basman says

    This is a revealing essay though not necessarily disjointed or chaotic. Sadly for it and Vanzant nonethlelss, it’s most revealing as to what it says about Vanzant than what he says about teaching history as such.

    Four examples among, I fear, many:

    The first example:

    Let’s say glory/gory is a useful beginning rhetorical binary, however a caricature, to set up initially broadly different approaches to teaching history. Well, the first thing this essay doesn’t do after setting it up is to disabuse us of its ultimate usefulness and its actuality as a caricature. Each side of the binary presupposes something ideological not historical. Vanzant defines himself as of the gory side. We can probably infer ,then, what he thinks of America and for that matter the developed west.

    What are students to do with such a teacher: what are students to do with a teacher who wants to cater to what they want of him rather than what he wants of them; what are students to do with a teacher who reels off “critical thinking” mindlessly—it is a PoMo trope—without delving into what is its view of the world and what are its assumptions about how to approach, in his case, history; and what are students to do with a teacher who, it seems, blithely and unselfconsciously puts historicism over history?

    The second example:

    What are students to do with a teacher who can seriously present an argument about why a particular historian should fear appearing on a stage with Christine Hoff Sommers, the argument being that that appearance might serve to strengthen or spread Sommers’s ideas? Vanzant’s offering the counter argument that the appearance might serve to strengthen or spread the opposing ideas and his tilting in favour of the second argument are insufficient.

    Is he so removed from the principles and values the university and the humanities within the university are meant to embody, the search for truth, intellectual diversity, the civil exchange of ideas as arguments—what is history but an argument?—based on evidence and logic, open mindedness and conceding to a better argument, among others?

    No academics worth their salt can present the first argument against appearing with Sommers as having a shred of plausibility. But Vanzant so presents it. It should only be mentioned, in fact, in order to shred it by the very ethos and values the university is meant to institutionalize and pass on to its students.

    The third example:

    Why is a history teacher turning to fiction as an important pedagogic tool? The study of literature is its own discipline with its own universe of principles, techniques and assumptions about works of art mirroring and reflecting reality. So too history. It has its own unique rigour hugely rooted in evidence. It’s not primarily an ideological drama to be conveyed by fictional characters standing in for ideological presuppositions, say colonizer as against anti colonizer. What’s wanted is the evidence, the marshalling of the evidence and then hypothesizing and making arguments based on the evidence.

    Vanzant’s students tend to hate history. Well that presents him with a challenge: to make the study of history stimulating within the rigorous means and methods proper to the discipline; to let fascination emerge from the contentious but supportable different ways of seeing what interpretations the evidence leads to. After meeting that challenge as best as a teacher is conscientiously able to, the problem rests with the students. If they have trouble coping with, maintaining their interest in, mastering, the demands of the discipline, then give them the appropriate grade or fail them. They’re not customers or clients. They’re, most of them, intellectual neophytes needing educating. Fiction at most should be supplemental reading in studying history.

    Fourth, final and the most glaring example of the four:

    is this:

    Vanzant (slightly edited):

    …On that campus, (Yale) it seems a further leftward turn is helping to save the humanities, which is great to hear. And if that approach is indeed representative of how the humanities can stay relevant in the modern university, then everybody concerned can take a deep breath. Everything is going to be fine. We just need to be doing what we’ve been doing for the last fifty years…

    …If the crisis continues, academia is eventually going to have to decide if the only response to the fatigue in our classes is to get even Zinnier…

    ….Conservative critics…depict….as ideologues first and educators second…they are wrong…liberal professors had no need to choose between these two roles, because their revisionist ideology was pedagogically effective. But that has now changed…

    Reams, I think, could be written a bit these words. They are so flawed and outlandish, I’m tempted to think Vanzant isn’t serous and it’s all tongue in cheek. But that temptation is easy to resist: he’s so doggedly unaware of himself throughout the entire essay and so guilelessly candid that he seems a naïf. He so easily conflates pedagogy and ideology without a nuance of concern about ideology informing pedagogy that it’s breathtaking.

    What if, one might ask, the glory side of his gory/glory binary carried the day and made history appealing to students and saved the fate of the discipline in the Humanities? What would he say? If Vanzant weren’t in that instance to mouth the same enthusiasms—…deep breath…everything is going to be fine…—then it would be true for him that hidebound ideology trumps education, the doomed fate of history as a discipline notwithstanding.

    And if he were to mouth the same enthusiasms at ascendant glory, then his fecklessness as an educator would flash as glaringly as a huge neon sign in the dark. His abiding stark misconception is precisely his failure to distinguish ideology from education and pedagogy. It’s his failure to understand his need to be, whatever his presuppositions, relatively disinterested in his teaching, to realize he must—especially to undergraduates—cover the main events in the history he teaches, present both sides of the central historical controversies over these events and guide his students to work hard to research and think these issues through to come to their own defensible conclusions. That isn’t the unity of ideology and education. That’s education.

  43. Fickle Pickle says

    All official HIS-stories always of course follow the golden rule. Namely that those who have the most gold always get to write their self-justifying “official” HIS-stories. They also of course use whatever means they can to diminish or suppress any and all alternative interpretations of historical events.

    Keeping in mind that ALL negative historical events always sow the seeds for future negative historical events.
    Its pure (karmic) psycho-physics – what you sow you inevitably reap, sooner or later.
    What is set in motion always continues on its trajectory unless it is tempered or transcended by a superior positive (or moral) power.
    Keep in mind too that we are now at the very dark end of the Kali Yuga age.
    And there really is not much light to be found anywhere – certainly not in the voices of the (dark) alt-right.
    Keep in mind too that the Western world altogether, and the USA in particular was founded on “religious” lies, political and economic exploitation, and manipulative propaganda of every kind. And these means have not yet been addressed or overcome.

    Meanwhile I much prefer the kind of truth-telling history described by these writers, and the political purposes of HIS-story as described on this site:
    http://www.historyisaweapon.com

    Red Earth White Lies by Vine Deloria Jnr.
    American Holocaust by David Stannard
    Lies My Teacher Told Me by James Loewen
    Columbus and Other Cannibals by Jack Forbes
    And the most recent superb book An Indigenous Peoples History of the United States by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz

  44. My takeaway, in the absence of the author having any kind of actual point, is that students aren’t fans of History at university, and are feckless and disorganised.
    “It turns out that the Glory-vs.-Gory debate was much more my fight than theirs.”
    Yep, they just want to get a degree in return for all the money they are paying you, and aren’t bothered about being part of a supposed culture war and changing the face of scholarship.

  45. Simon says

    You concede too much to liberal intellectuals.

    What’s really at stake is not challenging established, politically oriented historical narratives by using works of fiction in history class.
    What’s at stake, is to get rid of the rhetorical, narrative turn in historiography altogether.

    They key, epistemological determinant in history is evidentiary rules and production of proof.
    Narration is only a layout, an expediency.

    You’d better have your kids struggle with loads of untidy archives, capricious price and production curves, indecipherable inscriptions or iconography.

    • Simon says

      The key, epistemological determinants are*

      I was kind of peremptory.

      What I meant is that the epistemological status of history should be reassessed and not lowered down.

      On a pedagogic level, one of the ways, perhaps, to rouse your pupils’ interest in history is to show how close this discipline is with discourses such as investigative journalism or juridical hermeneutics

  46. Quinn Nunavut says

    Left-wingers throw the words “critical thinking” around as if the mere utterance of those words prove they are critical thinkers and their opponents are not.

  47. How about teaching history by first putting out the narratives of a topic on both sides and have the students engage in research to support or challenge the narrative they choose? Then the class can evaluate the research based on the quality of the sources, the validity of the argument, and the narrative as a whole?

    • Craig Willms says

      @karen
      What? and not force feed their little mush brains the professor’s favored ideology? Why, what you advocate here is educating them in investigation and critical thinking, such nonsense…

    • Simon says

      I totally agree with you.

      As Paul Veyne (see Writing History, an Essay on Epistemology), Carlo Ginzburg (see History, Rhetoric, and Proof: The Menachem Stern Jerusalem Lectures), Michel Foucault (see Archeology of knowledge) are my methodological mentors, I’m used to considering history as an experimental discipline.

      In order to teach a historical period, the teacher should always start with a panel of historiographic problems considered as hypotheses, points of departure.

      Those hypotheses are formulated as verisimilar plots.

      Those narratives are, at best, credible renditions of a behavioral patterns, plausible approximations of chains of events.

      The pupils should be asked to corroborate or falsify these storylines with facts, established through modal, probabilistic, contingent syllogisms.

      The methodological toolbox one can use to asymptotically approach facts is indefinitely extensive but it oscillates between sociological inquiry, structural anthropology and textual criticism.

  48. Arthur says

    Interesting article. However, I find it deeply flawed.

    The author decries the throes of the humanities, especially the study of history. But his solution is to obliterate the study of history and replace it with post-modern feel-good story time classes.

    The key to a good historian is lack of bias. The Jews at the time of their Temple’s destruction hated Flavius Josephus, a former Jewish high priest who sold out when he got a chance to become a Roman Citizen. Yet Jewish literature unfailingly quotes Josephus to clear up any grey areas pertaining to their own history, because he is seen to be impartial when it comes to his role as an historian.

    How can we so casually brush the role of history aside? We humans learn and advance by studying our history. One cannot just massage it into whatever feels good and still expect it to do its job of advancing the progress of humanity.

    Glory versus Gory is a false dichotomy. All good history is a description of humankind’s strengths and weaknesses. Real history books show trade-offs, right and wrong decisions, character strengths and weaknesses of the movers and shakers, and what we can learn from all that.

    Read about King David, Lincoln, Churchill, the Opium Wars and anything else of significance. Real history is not sanitized. Any historian suspected of revisionism is rightfully left on the shelf until the “real” history books are studied.

    If revisionism is to be the solution of selling history to education consumers, then our best bet is to use whatever influence we can garner to preserve the old history books. The book burners are ascendant, and it is against them that we must push back. Then we must wait until our society once again embraces the Enlightenment.

  49. DiamondLil says

    “my classes were all Zinn, all the time (even though his textbook itself never made an actual appearance). In my head, this made my classes all about counter-narrative. But to my own students, my classes were just plain old…narrative.”

    Good grief! It took him 16 paragraphs to get around to saying what any thinking observer had figured out years ago!

  50. Area Man says

    Much about the New Left seems to boil down to “overcompensation for an (often inflated) affront”.

    Zinn, et al are teenagers rebelling against the status quo of their parents. The problem is that what begins as criticism over time becomes no more enlightened, but rather just another status quo. What continues to be sold as “edgy” becomes boring.

  51. dirk says

    Enough about history in Western nations now. What about history classes in Egypt? Iran? Turkey? Azerbaidjan? China? Mozambique? How on earth has that to be organised, and by whom, which sources? Certainly not the Western ones, of course, that’s history, but what then, donnerwetter?
    Even in my country, history cannot go on as it was, how can alle these immigrants feel anything where the crusades, the Middle East, the Holocaust, Palestine conflict, colonialism is taught?? Very happy that I have no say in the concoction of the new curricula on schools here (I was a teacher for 3 months here), I know one thing for sure, absolutely unfit to agree with any kind of consensus or halfway in between presentation. Please, let me stay with my own historical truth!

    • dirk says

      I forgot Mexico. In El Pais I read that Mexico wants excuses for the cruelties, committed during the overturning of the Aztec empire. Spain refused already, of course, neither do they demand excuses from Italy for what happened 2000 yrs ago.

  52. Yoon Lee says

    On a tangentially related note:

    A few years ago, The Economist ran a blog post about how Erdogan, the Turkish president, and one of his rants about how Muslims got to the New World before Christopher Columbus, might not be too incorrect. As proof, they linked to a paper by some American academic, who casually made the same claim in a paper for a different topic, with no supporting evidence.

    This is what you are dealing with in Western (mainly Anglo-Saxon, to be honest) academia.

  53. The Evil Has Landed says

    The ‘gory’ version of American history is just a euphemism for teaching Howard Zinn’s History of the American Victim. This is how I knew immediately to discount this author as a thinker when he mentioned teaching from that perspective. Anyone who’s read Zinn’s book knows that it’s the product of a neurotic crank who saw history as nothing but victimhood and struggle. It’s the joyless, resentful perspective of a refugee whose family got kicked out of their country of origin because of their endless kvetching (and boy aren’t we glad we let them in).

    And maybe, just maybe, the author’s classes are irrelevant to his students because they’re already saturated in New Left ideology in the culture they grew up in. His anti-American version of our history is old hat to them.

  54. Sorry, but the author offers an incoherent approach that is likely to go nowhere, generally.

    “But I stopped calling what I was talking about the “truth” ”
    Any historian that avers that does not belong in history. Seriously. The truth may be difficult to determine, but it is the foundation of history and historians.

    • dirk says

      That depends a lot on what the purpose of that historical study or presentation is. Where you want to have patriots and good soldiers to, eventually, defend your country (even in my youth important, and still so in many other countries), you must choose and present the facts (for schoolbooks) differently as where you try to find out how the migration from rural to city went in some region, or how the trade in spices or hardwood or palm oil developed through the ages.

  55. Rick Martinez says

    BRAVO to University Instructor Kevin Vanzant for a uniquely insightful article–one that should be read by those of us who believe our nation’s college students are being taught WHAT to think rather HOW to think by the liberal democrats–but I believe is a must-read by our nation’s educators on how to find personal and professional “fulfillment” in their profession of teaching. Vanzant reminds me of a wonderful old medical professor who–when I was a young kid and naively asked him what professionalism meant–he impromptu said: “The height of professionalism is when we do our work so well that the people we serve don’t know if it is our job…or our nature.”

  56. Jeffrey Scott says

    An interesting read.

    I also teach as an adjunct at a university, although mine is public and in a very liberal state.

    The comment section has noted that the author is having a hard time because the New Left ideology in his class does not work. My classroom experience teaching history may indicate why; the New Left never taught the factual skeleton of history. There is no “Glory” norm of history taught in school for the most part. This means students come with no basic framework, so a Zinn critique looks random and useless. While this style may have worked while the k-12 and parents still taught classic history, now that it is much more rare, it is breaking. You cannot be a subversive when you are the majority in departments.

    History has to teach history again. Structure and narrative. Cause and effect. The scientific view of history. What happened? What cause it? One could almost call this “positive” history, not “glory.” Historians lost the plot and think “All I have to do is a leftist critique of all of society.” That is not history, especially when totally free from any comprehension of the basic framework.

    My solution as a teacher has been to go back to the basics of history. My non-compelled classes are doing well. The history department itself seems doomed for the short term, however.

    • dirk says

      In the study field of other cultures, there is ethnography and ethnology, the first one describing situations, features, agriculture and lifestyles, the second one trying to theorize, systematize and find “causes” (as if societies are chemical or physical phenomenons). I wonder whether this distinction can also be made in history studies and lessons, just to stay at “stage description”, no causes and certainly no evaluations. E.g. , the history of the crusades for mixed classes (christian, muslim and secular kids). The pope had such and such idea, there and there was listened by crowds of such and such people, priests preached, kings went with armed forces on ships and marched through that and that land resulting in such and such clashes (so, not because of defending the right or universal values or so), the calyph defending his land, the losses or gains, destructions, aftermath etc. More a Felllini like, menschliches al zu menschliches total picture, no more values please in this classroom! Would it be possible??

  57. The Evil Has Landed says

    How about teaching Gory as if it were Glorious? I.e. the Triumphant European Conquest of the Americas, Tge Destruction of the Evil Aztec Empire, etc.?

    It wouldn’t be morally any different from what’s taught now, only the sides being portrayed as good or evil would be reversed.

    • dirk says

      Indeed, good example, the Conquista of the Aztecs. But his one, actually, is taught in classes in Mexico and Spain. I wonder how ? La Malinche, I know, mistress of Cortez, was not pictured as a quite noble or trustworthy personality, but what about Cortez himself? And Pizarro in Peru ??, both countries with some 3/4 of the population mestizo, halfbreeds, but, I guess, even here, the writers of schoolbooks are more of the Zinn style ( the elite, though, uptil quite recently, still rather white and of Spanish origin).

      In the NLs, I fear, with all those immigrants, we have to rewrite our schoolbooks (change glory into gory) and might learn from the Latin examples (maybe done already, we are always following the American examples, so, for sure, we followed Zinn also, have to check that one).

  58. Ghatanathoah says

    I strongly identify with the author’s statement that the New Left narrative has been dominant for a while, and is therefore no longer interesting. Throughout most of my K-12 history classes there were usually sections about slavery and the mistreatment of Native Americans. When I read Zinn in college I found him routine and unsurprising.

    What energized my studies of history in college was reading the about the sins of the Left. I read the works of the libertarian economists that poked holes in the Left’s narrative of economic history. I read about the crimes of communist regimes. I had grown up with New-Left infused history, so reading critiques of it energized me the same way that reading the Gory narrative for the first time must have energized someone who grew up with the Glory narrative.

    I always get frustrated at the refusal of Leftists to admit how powerful and influential they are. They have a narrative that they have suffused throughout the educational system, and still insist that it is merely a counter to the “dominant” Glory narrative.

  59. Leif says

    If I sat through Mr. Vanzant’s class, the last thing I would want to study is more history. He does a basic disservice to both history and education.
    It isn’t so much that his view towards teaching is Manichean (‘glory’ or ‘gory’).
    Rather, History is not propaganda, and education is not propagandizing.

    Sam Wineberg, in his essay ‘Undue Certainty: where Howard Zinn’s “A peoples history falls short” (The American educator, winter 2012-3) explains why this approach is poison:

    When history, in the words of British historian John Saville, is expected to “do its duty,” we sap it of autonomy and drain it of vitality. Everything fits. The question mark falls victim to the exclamation point.

    A history of unalloyed certainties is dangerous because it invites a slide into intellectual fascism. History as truth, issued from the left or from the right, abhors shades of gray. It seeks to stamp out the democratic insight that people of good will can see the same thing and come to different conclusions. It imputes the basest of motives to those who view the world from a different perch. It detests equivocation and extinguishes perhaps, maybe, might, and the most execrable of them all, on the other hand. For the truth has no hands.

    Such a history atrophies our tolerance for complexity. It makes us allergic to exceptions to the rule. Worst of all, it depletes the moral courage we need to revise our beliefs in the face of new evidence. It ensures, ultimately, that tomorrow we will think exactly as we thought yesterday-and the day before, and the day before that.

    Is that what we want for our students?

  60. dirk says

    Before the closing of this thread: I found something like the egg of Colon, 500 yrs old. The Spanish government, uneasy over their new possessions, the new challenges and their Christian faith, looked for some intellectuel reflections. The result: a Glory and a Gory tale/narrative. One of Bartolome de las Casas: Relacion Brevisima de la Destruccion de las Indias (Gory) and a Glory story by a certain Sepulveda. Yes, of course, I thought, that’s the way, but why not again? One story of Toni Morrison about the slavery, another by an alt-righter, and it’s up to the class or any other audience to discuss. It’s as simple as that, why concoct a consensus, Zinn narrative or other hotspotch tale/ history of humanity?? Make it a Manichaean thing, it’s unavoidable! Everybody happy again! Leave it to free speech!

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