ENEMIES OR FRIENDS: "It's not to condemn the country," he said!


That's what Al Sharpton said: What do you want American kids to be taught about American history?

Surely, they should be exposed to—in that sense, they should be "taught"—an array of basic facts. 

But what should they be "taught" after that? Should they be "taught" anything else at all? What should be presented to students in an American history class?

In the current instance, we're talking about American public school kids—American high school students.

What do you want those kids to be taught about the history of their country? Long ago and far away, MSNBC's Nicolle Wallace offered these puzzling claims:

WALLACE (2/14/23): [Ron DeSantis has] put out a narrative. So to counter a narrative, you have to aggressively put the facts out there. 

But there's only one set of facts. There's only one history, and I wonder what you think threatens him about the one set of facts and the true history. 

We'd have to say that the highlighted statement by Wallace involved a huge swing and a miss. In fairness to Wallace, it's amazing to see how many scholars have been quoted, in recent weeks, making similar remarks.

Let's return to what Wallace said. Is it really true that there's "only one set of facts?" 

To the extent that that statement may be true, there are trillions of such facts. Inevitably, someone will have to decide which of those facts will be included, and may even be stressed, in a 36-week high school history course.

Also this:

 Is it really true that there's "only one [American] history?"

In the farthest recesses of Emerson Hall, someone might want to waste his time arguing some such proposition. But out there in the actual world where history is taught and discussed in the schools, that statement makes no real sense:

Inevitably, a year-long course in American history won't just be a jumble of facts. Something like a point of view will likely be involved in that jumble of facts, and there are as many possible points of view as there are architects of American history courses. 

Someone will be telling the story, ages and ages hence! Inevitably, the people who are telling the story will have some point of view.

One day after Wallace fanned on this question, she introduced "our friend and colleague, the Reverend Al Sharpton," on her Deadline: White House program. He proceeded to discuss his views on a current manifestation of this age-old problem. 

We've long admired Sharpton for his intelligence, but also for his sense of humor, which he often purs to good use. We also think he went badly wrong in at least one recent high-profile situation. 

Even within our own blue tribe, none of our tribunes qualify as the oracle at Delphi! Beyond that, we're not entirely sure that he and Wallace are actual "friends."

At any rate, how does Sharpton think American history should be taught to high school students? More specifically, what does he see as the story behind the jumble of facts?

On February 16, Sharpton described one possible view. At issue was his idea of the way our frequently brutal history should be taught to high school kids in the College Board's new Advanced Placement course on African American Studies. 

How should our frequently brutal history be presented in some such class? On that particular day, on Morning Joe, here's part of what Sharpton said:

SHARPTON (2/15/23): You're going to limit what we can read and write in AP history classes? Like, people won't be able to handle watching movements like the civil rights movement, like the Black Lives Matter movement, like LGBTQ rights? 

And it is not to condemn the country, it's to show how the country evolved. We need to know we went from slavery to electing Barack Obama. To try and eliminate that, I think, is un-American as much as it is racist.

We were most struck, as we watched that program, by the highlighted part of his statement. That said:

So many claims and suggestions, so little time! 

For starters, it isn't entirely clear what Sharpton meant in various parts of that statement. For starters, is someone trying to eliminate the fact that this nation "went from slavery to electing Barack Obama" from the College Board's AP class? 

Is someone trying to eliminate such facts from high school history classes? It's hard to believe that some such thing could be true. Who is trying to do that?

For better or worse, much of the conversation this day dealt with Ron DeSantis. 

For better or worse, our nation's pundits rarely spend much time talking about our high school students. Instead, they talk about him.

For the record, Sharpton had been in Florida one day before he appeared on Morning Joe. He had led a protest march against DeSantis' various, often murky complaints and threats concerning the AP course.

Perhaps inevitably, discussion of the AP course has largely turned into a discussion of DeSantis. 

On cable, our tribunes talk and talk, and talk and talk, about Ron DeSantis. They may not focus on the general interests and needs of American high school kids.

Setting all that to the side, we were struck by the part of Sharpton's statement which we've chosen to highlight. Was it our imagination, or had Sharpton possibly suggested that the AP history course could or should present a somewhat positive viewpoint?

"It is not to condemn the country," Reverend Sharpton said. "It's to show how the country evolved." It's to show that we somehow managed to make it all the way to Obama.

That statement could be the start of conversation about what a high school history course should present to American kids. Instead, our conversations tend to lapse into a kind of Babel, with furious talking-points repeated, again and again, about the Florida politician Sharpton was discussing.

Last Tuesday, Wallace adopted the view that "there's only one [American] history"—"the true [American] history." In principle, there are as many American histories as historians—and high school teachers—want to conceive and tell.

For ourselves, we don't think a high school American history course should "condemn America." We also don't think that some such course should resemble a feel-good old Disney film.

What type of American history should be presented to high school kids? We'd love to see that question discussed. Instead, the past few weeks have introduced us to a type of Babel, as warring groups denounce each other in familiar shopworn ways. 

Kids are going to enter classrooms to encounter their nation's history. One fact from our history is this:

"We must not be enemies," one president. said. For better or worse, wisely or not, that well-known president also said, "We are not enemies, but friends."

Tomorrow:  McWhorter? Gates? The press corps?


  1. Oh, dear. Al Sharpton? Frequently brutal history? What's with the word salad, dear Bob?

    ...do the dembot media you're so obsessively monitoring say anything about the September 26 event: your liberal cult perpetrating an act of war against a nuclear superpower? Are we already in WWIII?
    ...or is all stupid dembot talk about stupid dembot textbooks?

    1. Sept 26? National Johnny Appleseed Day?

    2. Is it you, dear Joe? Isn't 12 o'clock your enema time? Hurry up, dear.

    3. Mao, are you blaming American liberals for this?


    4. Sure, Mao is a venal, creepy fool whatever sex it is. But sometimes a post like this must be relished for the depth of the idiocy.

  2. What does Somerby think those experts on the College Board's panel to create an African American Studies AP exam were doing? They were deciding which set of facts should be taught in AP classes and included on the exam. They are best suited to do this because they are professors who have previously taught such courses at the college level, and historians who have studied the subject extensively and others who understand high school students well. And then they asked states such as FL for their input (which they could not or would not provide). A good faith effort was made to grapple with the questions Somerby raises, because the alternative of not teaching anything is unacceptable.

    Wallace is correct that there is only one American history, one set of facts that constitute what happened. Somerby is also correct that the facts can be organized and viewed in different ways. In the bad old days, the facts of African American history were disappeared and rewritten to exonerate the South. That is not history, but propaganda. We do not want that to happen again, and courses like African American Studies are intended to recover and remediate past revisionist accounts of black history. Somerby ignores that goal, pretending instead that all views are valid, since there can be multiple views. They are not.

    Finally, discussion is not "babel". Somerby often seems so conflict averse that nothing can be discussed. There are multiple voices on this issue and that is a good thing because that is how conflict is resolved -- by hashing things out. In contrast DeSantis's approach of taking his ball and going home, is a refusal to engage with the issues at all. DeSantis opts to continue teaching lies to FL students.

    With Somerby's concern for the multiple views possible of American History, I am continually surprised that he has no regard for the truth, and the goal of approximating the truth as closely as possible. His essay today about multiple truths is sophistry, an excuse for right wingers to ignore our nation's past while whitewashing the unpleasant parts and relegating black people to invisibility or insignificance. That cannot go on.

  3. At one point in mid-20th century, the Southern historians refused to acknowledge that the Civil War was about slavery. The defined it as about state's rights and called it a war of Northern aggression. It was about defending Southern culture and ways of life, not about freeing slaves vs maintaining the legality of slavery and the balance between slave and free states in Congress. Slaves were portrayed as happy campers, well-fed and cared for because they were expensive capital investments for their owners. The facts of oppression were concealed, minimized. Southerners claimed that slaves were like part of their families. And there were no challenges to the notion of black inferiority. This was within my lifetime.

    Somerby never pauses to wonder at the strength of white opposition to any progress, however slight, for black people. Why would so many white people work so hard, so persistently, to deny opportunity to black citizens of our nation? Why would DeSantis upend his state's testing procedures, throw out all testing materials (including the SAT and other AP courses) over this one suggested course? Why doesn't Somerby see what an extreme reaction that is to minor provocation? There is no logic to bigotry, whether it is DeSantis or Somerby who is excusing extreme behavior.

    Somerby says that Wallace cannot be friends with Sharpton. Why not? What places such a friendship beyond Somerby's imagination? This is what bigotry looks like.

  4. "Lincoln's stirring inaugural address included the words: "I am loth [sic] to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battle-field, and patriot grave, to every living heart and hearthstone, all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature."

    Instead of telling liberals to back off on their demands for a more accurate history to be taught in our schools, Somerby might profitably address Marjorie Taylor Greene's call for secession by red states because of all that horrible wokeness on the left. This, despite the fact that her own state, Georgia, is now a blue state.

    How friendly is DeSantis? How friendly is Greene? How friendly is Trump? No one on the left has called for secession or anything remotely similar to it. Somerby is preaching to the wrong people with this crap.

  5. He supported Roy Moore's pedophilia and teen rape.

  6. "Kids are going to enter classrooms to encounter their nation's history."

    African American studies are not only about history but also sociology, psychology, economics, all focusing on the status of black people in our country. Kids are going to enter classrooms to confront their nation's bigotry, discrimination, mistaken attitudes and beliefs about black people. That is what DeSantis is afriad of -- and Somerby too, given that he is with the obstructionists on this one.

  7. History is important. More than any other topic, it is about us. Whether one deems our present society wondrous or awful or both, history reveals how we got to this point. The antidote to feel-good history is not feel-bad history but honest and inclusive history.

    Students will start finding history interesting when their teachers and textbooks stop lying to them.

  8. There are many things to love beyond dividing us into good guys & bad guys.

  9. Soldiers fight for their families & duty.

  10. "Therefore, ir the US had a bad history, i would favor soft-pedaling it."

    "...a balanced factual history would show that the US has been the "good guys" more often than any other nation."

    This isn't the correct way to view history. That's how propaganda works which is not healthy for a democracy. If we want to inspire young people to create positive change, they must know the truth of what came before, good or bad.

    “My country, right or wrong; if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right.”

  11. Our country is deeply immoral and corrupt.

  12. North Korea is the best country.

  13. David,
    The people of the United States don't have to love the country to defend it, because the "US has led the way to economic approaches that produce wealth" (i.e. Capitalism). Whether the people love or hate the US, the people will defend it if you pay them enough.

  14. Biden blew up Russia's pipelines.

  15. The Germans had a bad very recent history that they don't "soft-pedal" and there's no indication that its people would not defend themselves from attack.

  16. "The US has also been an exemplar in civil liberties." Not really, if you include Blacks. And not during both red scares. Wilson arrested socialist leader Eugene Debs for his opposition to our entry into WW1.

  17. Why are there so many trolls here all of a sudden?

  18. It's not hard to see that Biden blew up the pipeline. We spoke about taking care of the pipeline before we blew it up and then we spoke about what a great advantage it was to have it blown up after we blew it up. I've seen that some Democrats recently don't want to give credit to Biden for blowing it up. So I guess we'll just keep it on the down low for now.

  19. Why is pro-Russian propaganda being spread here?

  20. 7:05 That's the perfect way to look at it.

  21. It makes sense to lay low and blame talk about our pipeline bombing on Russian trolls.


  22. @Gloucon X 5:09 PM "The Germans had a bad very recent history that they don't "soft-pedal"

    Germany's "bad very recent history" was that the Soviets kicked their ass. Otherwise Germany would've been known as the "good guys" today.

    ...and as far as "soft-pedaling", what about Germany (along with others) proudly sending their weapons to exactly the same kind of militants who organized the gigantic butchery last century?

    See here, for example:

  23. Putin took pollng data from Trump's campaign manager and used it to Target swing states which swung the election against Hillary in 2016. What part of you not getting?