Huppenthal’s insists that we continue to mythologize American history

by David Safier

Tom_john_whitewash Honestly, it's laughable, except that the man is our Superintendent of Education.

John Huppenthal spoke yesterday about his visit to an Ethnic Studies classroom:

"My, firsthand, classroom encounter clearly revealed an unbalanced, politicized and historically inaccurate view of American History being taught."

Huppenthal, of course is a scholar of American history and therefore qualified to decide what is politicized and historically inaccurate.

Or maybe not.

In an August forum for Ed Supe candidates, Huppenthal raised the same point. He said Ethnic Studies students miss an opportunity to learn our common history, like the truth about our Founding Fathers. Then he told this mythological version of the story of Ben Franklin and slavery:

"Ben Franklin . . . was the president of the Abolitionist Society in Pennsylvania, he led the fight against the slave trade, successfully stopping the slave trade. He freed all of his own slaves, and not only freed them but gave them positions of responsibility so that they could grow into leaders."

This is a historically incorrect and highly politicized version of Franklin's relationship to slavery on a few important counts.

  1. Franklin did not successfully stop the slave trade. As president of the Abolitionist Society, he proposed getting rid of it.
  2. Franklin did free his slaves, but it was long after he began his fight for abolition.
  3. Franklin did not give his slaves "positions of responsibility so that they could grown into leaders," so far as I can tell from what I have read. He believed freed slaves should be educated so they could advance in society, but I see no indication that he elevated his own freed slaves to "positions of responsibility."

Franklin, who I am very fond of, was a weak man — like all of us — who allowed the economic advantage of owning slaves to take precedence over his hatred of slavery. That's not a knock of Franklin. It's the truth. And it's the kind of human contradiction which young adults have the right to be aware of and discuss in class. Other reasonable topics of discussion are Washington freeing his slaves in his will, after he died and could no longer personally benefit from their services, and Jefferson having a child with a slave who he kept a slave, nor did he openly acknowledge his parenthood.

Hagiograpy is not history. Huppenthal wants to perpetuate the Great American Mythology while condemning a program that wants to expose it — and maybe tell a few myths of its own.


FULL DISCLOSURE: I'm no more a scholar of American history than Huppenthal, but I believe I have my facts straight. However, if I'm wrong on any counts, feel free to correct me. I would appreciate it.

0 responses to “Huppenthal’s insists that we continue to mythologize American history

  1. A different tact for ” American Exceptionalism” on steroids.Why are they so afraid to tell the truth about our country, past and present?

  2. Mark Twain would approve and agree.

    “If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.” ;>)

  3. Whitewash! Now why didn’t I think of that? Check out the newly added graphic, Bess.

  4. The historical myth was so comforting. Seekers of freedom traveling across the seas, lovingly welcomed by Indians who taught them to survive. Founding fathers, enlightened by the divine, creating USA, USA, USA. (US History I and II circa 1966-1967)
    The facts are so much more interesting, and as you mentioned, David, filled with interesting and formative contradictions. Perhaps you have to be a member of a minority to see that and understand it. Perhaps growing up in those formative Vietnam War years, helped us to understand the disconnect between what we were told and what was for real.

    How unfortunate for students in Arizona, that in 2011, whitewashed(!) history is still being pedaled by conservatives who find the myth so comforting, that they refuse to examine the facts. Perhaps those thick amygdalas are not only more fearful, but also more inclined to black and white, as opposed to shades of gray.