Here we go again. This time conservatives are upset that American Pageant, a popular school American history textbook, says negative things about Donald Trump. According to Christopher Vondracek’s piece at The Washington Times, the American Pageant describes Trump as a “New York City real estate mogul and reality-television personality” who “bullied, belittles, and bamboozled sixteen rivals to snag–some said hi-jack–the Republican nomination.” It also says that Trump has a “cavalier disregard for the facts” and is the “prince of plutocrats.”
A few quick responses:
First, much of this description of Trump is true. In fact, I think Trump would probably agree with some of this description. If I were writing the textbook I don’t think I would say that Trump “hi-jacked” the nomination. I also think the “prince of plutocrats” is a bit over the top. But everything else seems pretty accurate. Whatever Trump does in his last fifteen months in office, this will all be part of his legacy. To quote Lin-Manuel Miranda in Hamilton, “history has its eyes on you.”
Second, Vondracek and The Washington Times wrongly believe that most students learn American history from reading the textbook and memorizing the facts within it. This assumes that students actually read the textbook. And when they do, they don’t remember much after the exam.
Third, if I were a high school history teacher I would be offended by this piece. It assumes that history teachers are in the business of merely delivering facts. Good history teachers use knowledge to teach students how to think about the world in terms of context, causality, contingency, complexity, and change over time. The best teachers “open-up” the textbook (to use Sam Wineburg’s phrase) by comparing the narrative with primary sources and secondary sources with different slants on the given subject.