Why Texas social studies standards matter: Tea Party misuse of history

Something to think about from “The Tea Party Challenge,” by Erik Christiansen and Jeremy Sullivan, at Inside Higher Ed:

When considering the political scene of the moment, it is difficult not to see how historical allegory plays an important role in the public spectacle known as the Tea Party movement. From the name itself, an acronym (Taxed Enough Already) that fuses current concerns to a patriotic historical moment, to the oral and written references by some of its members to Stalin and Hitler, the Tea Party appears to be steeped (sorry) in history. However, one has only to listen to a minute of ranting to know that what we really are talking about is either a deliberate misuse or a sad misunderstanding of history.

Misuse implies two things: first, that the Partiers themselves know that they are attempting to mislead, and second, that the rest of us share an understanding of what accurate history looks like. Would that this were true. Unfortunately, there is little indication that the new revolutionaries possess more than a rudimentary knowledge of American or world history, and there is even less reason to think that the wider public is any different. Such ignorance allows terms like communism, socialism, and fascism to be used interchangeably by riled-up protesters while much of the public, and, not incidentally, the media, nods with a fuzzy understanding of the negative connotations those words are supposed to convey (of course some on the left are just as guilty of too-liberally applying the “fascist” label to any policy of which they do not approve). It also allows the Tea Partiers to believe that their situation – being taxed with representation – somehow warrants use of “Don’t Tread On Me” flags and links their dissatisfaction with a popularly elected president to that of colonists chafing under monarchical rule.

While the specifics of the moment (particularly, it seems, the fact of the Obama presidency) account for some of the radical resentment, the intensity of feeling among the opposition these days seems built upon a total lack of historical perspective.

It’s worth a read at Inside Higher Ed.

Tip of the old scrub brush to the May History Carnival at the Vapour Trail.

6 Responses to Why Texas social studies standards matter: Tea Party misuse of history

  1. Jim Stanley says:

    Thanks for sharing this, Ed. It was an excellent tome and much needed. I couldn’t agree more.


  2. […] ideological blinders matter. Everyone abuses […]


  3. sbh says:

    One of the problems (as I see it) is that the courses called “history” in K-8 are for the most part no such thing–they are a collection of just-so stories set in the past. Why do we celebrate a particular holiday? or why is this particular amendment part of the constitution? Now, no doubt my observations are extremely limited, but I have been struck by the fact that most kids I talk to about history have absolutely no idea how history is done, what its methods are, or even such basic points as the difference between primary and secondary sources. (I feel certain your students don’t have that problem, Ed–and neither did the students in the long-ago high school class in American History I took, team-taught by a pair of teachers with two very different viewpoints, both politically and historically.) When I was homeschooling my nephews I think I fell into the opposite error of emphasizing methods over subject-matter, thinking critically over having a basic understanding of past events. There’s probably a happy medium somewhere.

    What I’m struck by–and this has been very noticeable to me since I started documenting Christian Nation fake quotations–is that many people seem to think of history as a matter of dueling opinions, rather than as a process that can be used to determine the truth or falsity of a given proposition. Some anonymous internet document claims (let us say) that Congress in 1782 authorized schools to use the bible as a textbook and that’s good enough, apparently. As one fellow observed, people will be arguing the truth or falsity of this claim for generations to come. Obviously in his mind there’s no process available for setting the matter; it’s just a question of whom you trust. The concept of, oh, say, looking it up and seeing whether Congress did in fact pass such a resolution in 1782 apparently never entered his mind. And yet the documents are readily available for anybody to check; they’re even online in this case.

    It’s not just the tea party crowd, or the Noam Chomsky fans either, or for that matter your resident troll (whom I take to be an unsupervised child in need of a little discipline), who are ignorant alike of both the matter and the methods of history. It seems to be a broader problem. I see the ignorant posing as experts all the time, apparently with no idea of just how easy it is to see through their pretenses. (Tossing around terms like Gnosticism without a clue to what they actually mean is a dead giveaway, as one example.) People pick up a few stories set in the past from some fast-talking scam-artist, and they think they’ve become historians. No. At best they’ve borrowed the finery of some real historian; at worst they’ve draped themselves in the gaudy tinsel of some David Barton or Immanuel Velikovsky and paraded around looking like idiots to anyone who’s taken the time and trouble to buy a clue. It’s bad enough when it’s just some clown out to prove that Edward de Vere really wrote Shakespeare’s plays, whether playing history detective or just trolling for the lulz. But when people start basing their political opinions on “history” they’ve made up out of their own wishes and imaginations, it’s a bit more serious. Dictators and tyrants impose their versions of history on their people as a method of controlling their thoughts; the self-deluded tell themselves stories of once-upon-a-time to put their own critical faculties to sleep.


  4. Hattip says:

    OMG, it is that author that is ignorant of history. It is pure sophistry and an arrogant self-anointed elitism.
    It is also projection. Another willfully obtuse Marxist moonbat.

    Comically, he confuses the self-serving definitions of the professoriate with the actual historical reality of communism, socialism, and other forms of state collectivist tyranny. He is just proving the Tea Par tiers point. You really have to get over the notion that anybody that disagrees with you is an ill-educated rube. It is rather quire the opposite.

    It is he that has it wrong, not the Tea Party people. There is not a sound basis in knowledge or logic for anything he says–it is nothing but vile and loopy lefty Rhetoric.

    It is yourstandard rhetoric: Straw men and ad hominem fallacies.

    Ed, it is you that are ignorant of history–evidently the basics of critical thinking as well–and in your refusal to admit it you insist that your quite rational, knowledgeable and educated opponents require indoctrination into your false history and wholly contrived world view in order to understand your lies and delusions. Psychologically, this is clinical narcissism, Ed. Morally, it is form of Gnosticism expressed politically, Ed. Politically it is Marxism, Ed.
    Logically it is sophistry, Ed, and a rather stubbornly crude form of it.

    You have here outdone yourself: Now you build a straw man ON TOP of ANOTHER straw man.

    You have quite departed from the world of rational thought and normative knowledge of the world.


  5. Tip of the old scrub bush accepted graciously!


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