Reclaiming American History

 

It’s about time! Wilfred M. McClay has decided it’s time to take back history from the dominance of Howard Zinn, who disparaged America in his history books and wrote with an extreme, Leftist perspective. His books still dominate the market; his publisher claims over two million in sales (nine years after Zinn died). Although Professor McClay will not be able to change the history education of our children overnight, he has taken a major step in providing a balanced view of American History.

In an Opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal (it may be behind a pay wall so I cite a number of other articles here), McClay decries the current state of history textbooks:

‘They’re completely unreadable because they’re assembled by committee, by graduate students who write little bits and pieces of them. I’m not convinced that most of the textbooks that have the names of very eminent historians on the cover were actually read by them, let alone written by them.’

There are also the committees that approve them—state and local school boards, which answer to a variety of ‘stakeholders.’ Members of every racial, cultural and religious group want a say in how they and events important to them are described. Mr. McClay opted to dispense with that process, and ‘Land of Hope”’ is being published by a conservative house, Encounter Books.

So what makes McClay’s writing so special?

McClay also focuses on America as a story—something that is more than the sum of its parts—with threads that run through the narrative and tie it together: individual liberty, self-reliance, and relentless optimism. Because of this focus, Land of Hope is more than just a list of dates, battles, and important people. It also contains poetry (including Robert Frost’s “And All We Call American”), excerpts from literature (a large section on the American essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson, for example), and even music (including the lyrics of “WPA,” a satiric song by the Mills Brothers and jazz great Louis Armstrong).

Of course, it also includes all the obligatory history book stock features: maps of the country as it evolved from 13 colonies to 50 states, excerpts from famous speeches, and important political changes. They are woven into America’s story to provide the rich detail that makes history interesting.

He also explains the pathetic job that historians have done in trying to make American history come alive:

What gets him most riled up is what he sees as an abdication. ‘When you teach an introductory course in American history,” he says, ‘you really have a responsibility. . . to reflect in some way the national story, in a way that is conducive to the development of the outlook and skills of a citizen—of an engaged, patriotic, serious citizen.’ Most professional historians don’t ‘take that mandate very seriously at all,’ and instead provide ‘a basically negative understanding of American history.’

Today’s history books are tedious, with lists of events, dates, and ideas that are supposed to be memorized, without understanding the context or the times.

McClay also understands the dilemma of young scholars who want to find a place in the academic world but are faced with many barriers simply because they are Christian or conservative or both; he also knows that the environment will be slow to change.

Most conservatives realize that our education system has been hijacked by the political Left, and there is little effort to provide a deep and balanced view of our own history. We realize that, to take back the system, we will need to make inroads one book, one teacher, one school, one proponent at a time.

I’ll end with this quote that I think demonstrates Professor McClay’s role in this effort This article shares a powerful quote by Professor Mark Bauerlein:

This book is THE antidote to abysmal levels of historical knowledge our high school graduates possess. History bores them; the textbooks are dreary; lessons play up guilt and identity politics. It turns them off. They want powerful tales and momentous events, genuine heroes and villains, too—an accurate but stirring rendition of the past. This is Bill McClay’s Land of Hope, a superb historian’s version of the American story, in lively prose spiced with keen analysis and compelling drama. Every school that assigns this book will see students’ eyes brighten when the Civil War comes up, the Progressive Era, the Depression, Civil Rights…The kids want an authentic, meaningful heritage, a usable past. McClay makes it real.

I can’t wait to receive my copy!

Postscript: After completing this post, I saw that Powerline and Steve Hayward interviewed McClay. You can hear it here

There are 54 comments.

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  1. Stina Member
    Stina
    @CM

    This looks excellent. I’ll need to remember this.

    Language Arts has a similar issue going on with it. My son’s school failed at teaching Florida history this year, so I’ve been gathering resources and plan on blending language arts with history in our little summer social studies project.

    Much of what I’m coming across has similar issues mentioned here.

    • #1
  2. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    Some schools seem to be spending more time indocrinating than they do educating, and the results are abysmal. Don’t sugarcoat the past. Don’t hide the faults of those who came before, but for goodness sake don’t smear them for not being as “enlightened” as we think we are today.

    • #2
  3. Hoyacon Member
    Hoyacon
    @Hoyacon

    Thanks for the tip.  I would’ve missed this.

    As for Zinn, I think that one problem is the lack of a pointed and lengthy rebuttal to his work.  I’ve come across the occasional website that attempts this in short form.  There is one new book  scheduled to be published, but I know nothing about the author.

    • #3
  4. Mark Camp Member
    Mark Camp
    @MarkCamp

    Thanks for this.  I’d seen the review this morning but am glad you’re spreading the word.

    My view of the goal of history education has been changing recently.

    We study history in order to understand what happened, not simply to know what happened.

    In my simple engineer-brain, the latter purpose had always seemed obviously the right one.

    The discovery has included this: you can’t just know history at all.  I am still struggling with this.  Even just now, I thought, “well, you can, of course: after all, one could learn the names, places, and dates of all the battles, migrations, elections…”

    Nope.  You would no more have learned what happened than if you had learned all of the changes in species distribution, and their dates of occurrence, in the average mammalian gut of Kenya.  You took one perspective, and only learned what you could know–true or false–from that perspective.

    You can only pick a vantage point and a particular pre-manufactured spyglass–a scientific, moral, or religious theory–and scan the events that you see from that point of view.  You see U.S. Grant being born, and turn your eyes and see him marrying, and so forth.

    But when you shift positions and pick up a different prism, you see different things in different relationships.  Military history.  Political history.  G_d’s plan being worked out in Missouri, c. early 1800s.

    This week in school, nearly all American youths will be seeing history through the glass of Marxist, anti-American ideology.

    On Friday, these millions who represent the next generation of Americans will emerge with a deeper understanding of history from the point of view of a Communist, and better equipped intellectually to take up the cause of transforming their country–destroying it, and replacing it.

    • #4
  5. DrewInWisconsin Member
    DrewInWisconsin
    @DrewInWisconsin

    Hoyacon (View Comment):

    Thanks for the tip. I would’ve missed this.

    As for Zinn, I think that one problem is the lack of a pointed and lengthy rebuttal to his work. I’ve come across the occasional website that attempts this in short form. There is one new book scheduled to be published, but I know nothing about the author.

    Looking at the other books by the same author she seems . . . overzealous.

    • #5
  6. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Stina (View Comment):

    This looks excellent. I’ll need to remember this.

    Language Arts has a similar issue going on with it. My son’s school failed at teaching Florida history this year, so I’ve been gathering resources and plan on blending language arts with history in our little summer social studies project.

    Much of what I’m coming across has similar issues mentioned here.

    That sounds like a terrific and creative idea, @cm. You should write a post and let us know how it goes!

    • #6
  7. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Hoyacon (View Comment):

    Thanks for the tip. I would’ve missed this.

    As for Zinn, I think that one problem is the lack of a pointed and lengthy rebuttal to his work. I’ve come across the occasional website that attempts this in short form. There is one new book scheduled to be published, but I know nothing about the author.

    In the podcast mentioned at the end of the OP, McClay mentions a man who does a great job of critiquing Zinn. Sorry, I don’t remember the name.

    • #7
  8. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Mark Camp (View Comment):
    The discovery has included this: you can’t just know history at all. I am still struggling with this. Even just now, I thought, “well, you can, of course: after all, one could learn the names, places, and dates of all the battles, migrations, elections…”

    Great points, @markcamp. McClay brings up an important issue when we read history. We need to go into it not anticipating what we will learn! We need to let the stories unfold, read them in context of the times, and don’t blanket them with our own beliefs. Then we have a chance of understanding more about what happened.

    • #8
  9. Stina Member
    Stina
    @CM

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    Stina (View Comment):

    This looks excellent. I’ll need to remember this.

    Language Arts has a similar issue going on with it. My son’s school failed at teaching Florida history this year, so I’ve been gathering resources and plan on blending language arts with history in our little summer social studies project.

    Much of what I’m coming across has similar issues mentioned here.

    That sounds like a terrific and creative idea, @cm. You should write a post and let us know how it goes!

    Perhaps I will :)

    • #9
  10. DrewInWisconsin Member
    DrewInWisconsin
    @DrewInWisconsin

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):
    McClay brings up an important issue when we read history. We need to go into not anticipating what we will learn! We need to let the stories unfold, read them in context of the times, and don’t blanket them with our own beliefs. Then we have a chance of understanding more about what happened.

    This is also true when reading novels from past eras. They need to be understood within the context of the times in which they were written. In that way, they also add to our historical understanding.

    Reading reviews of old books by young moderns with minds full of mush is maddening. They see everything through 21st-Century lenses, and complain when these works of classic fiction don’t endorse what today’s social justice demands.

    • #10
  11. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    DrewInWisconsin (View Comment):
    Reading reviews of old books by young moderns with minds full of mush is maddening. They see everything through 21st-Century lenses, and complain when these works of classic fiction don’t endorse what today’s social justice demands.

    They also do it in such self-righteousness! Reading books through our own values, biases and perspectives is so limiting and such nonsense. Thanks, @drewinwisconsin.

    • #11
  12. 9thDistrictNeighbor Member
    9thDistrictNeighbor
    @9thDistrictNeighbor

    Stina (View Comment):

    This looks excellent. I’ll need to remember this.

    Language Arts has a similar issue going on with it. My son’s school failed at teaching Florida history this year, so I’ve been gathering resources and plan on blending language arts with history in our little summer social studies project.

    Much of what I’m coming across has similar issues mentioned here.

    What grade is your son?  If he has has not already (probably not), I recommend reading “Strawberry Girl” by Lois Lenski.  Great portrait of old, rural Florida.

    The entire secondary school history/social studies area has been a mess for a long time, perhaps since the 1950s.  Certainly there have been so many efforts at “reform,” down to not really even knowing what should be taught, except a little bit of everything.  When Zinn’s book came out in 1980, it was basically a culmination of a lot of leftward tilting that had been going on at the university level since the post-WWII period.  It was recommended to us in graduate school.   (I will say that the whackiest professors I ever had taught at the graduate school level.  The “Ivory Tower” is real.  These people are often so completely out of touch, but they do have a tremendous impact…perhaps years down the road.)

    I don’t know if there are school districts who use Zinn exclusefly to teach American History.  I would wager, however, that many teachers either use it as a supplement, or weave it’s philosophy through their lessons.  I think McClay’s work will have a big audience among homeschoolers.  I doubt whether it will gain traction in any large school districts, however.  High school districts really don’t care all that much about teaching history.  How many history teachers are also the football coach, or are primarily teachers in another discipline and teach one section on the side, or teach drivers ed or whatever?  They are not doing it for the extra money…it is what the school district values.  Believe me, school districts largely do not value history at all.

    McClay’s title reminds me of the words set to Elgar…Land of Hope and Glory

    Land of Hope and Glory
    Mother of the Free
    How shall we extol thee
    Who are born of thee?
    Wider still, and wider
    Shall thy bounds be set;
    God, who made thee mighty
    Make thee mightier yet!

    • #12
  13. Fritz Coolidge
    Fritz
    @Fritz

    Speaking of history, I saw 85-year old history author David McCullough last evening on C-Span, talking history with Brian Lamb, and in particular his 12th book, The Pioneers.

    It relates the history of the 1787 Northwest Ordinance and the people who settled that territory. Another good source of lively history, such as the first college west of the Allegheny Mountains, and the requirements in the Ordinance that the Native Americans there were to be treated with respect, and there would be no slavery in the Territory. He related a later effort to rescind that part of the law, and how it was soundly rebuffed. I am looking forward to reading it.

    • #13
  14. Stina Member
    Stina
    @CM

    9thDistrictNeighbor (View Comment):
    What grade is your son? If he has has not already (probably not), I recommend reading “Strawberry Girl” by Lois Lenski. Great portrait of old, rural Florida.

    That looks really familiar. If I don’t already have it, I bet my mom does. She’s digging stuff out for me for the summer.

    My son is entering 5th grade. I’m hoping to fully homeschool him through middle school.

    • #14
  15. DrewInWisconsin Member
    DrewInWisconsin
    @DrewInWisconsin

    9thDistrictNeighbor (View Comment):
    9thDistrictNeighbor

    Stina (View Comment):

    This looks excellent. I’ll need to remember this.

    Language Arts has a similar issue going on with it. My son’s school failed at teaching Florida history this year, so I’ve been gathering resources and plan on blending language arts with history in our little summer social studies project.

    Much of what I’m coming across has similar issues mentioned here.

    What grade is your son? If he has has not already (probably not), I recommend reading “Strawberry Girl” by Lois Lenski. Great portrait of old, rural Florida.

    See also The Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings. That book had me digging into a lot of Florida history.

    • #15
  16. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Fritz (View Comment):

    Speaking of history, I saw 85-year old history author David McCullough last evening on C-Span, talking history with Brian Lamb, and in particular his 12th book, The Pioneers.

    It relates the history of the 1787 Northwest Ordinance and the people who settled that territory. Another good source of lively history, such as the first college west of the Allegheny Mountains, and the requirement in the Ordinance that the Native Americans there were to be treated with respect. He related a later effort to rescind that part of the law, and how it was soundly rebuffed. I am looking forward to reading it.

    I think David McCullough is terrific. I especially like his book on John Adams. These biographies are a great way to learn American history! Thanks, @fritz!

    • #16
  17. 9thDistrictNeighbor Member
    9thDistrictNeighbor
    @9thDistrictNeighbor

    Stina (View Comment):

    9thDistrictNeighbor (View Comment):
    What grade is your son? If he has has not already (probably not), I recommend reading “Strawberry Girl” by Lois Lenski. Great portrait of old, rural Florida.

    That looks really familiar. If I don’t already have it, I bet my mom does. She’s digging stuff out for me for the summer.

    My son is entering 5th grade. I’m hoping to fully homeschool him through middle school.

    Then definitely get McClay’s book…its only $22 right now on Amazon.  If the reading level is too high, you can read it aloud to him.  And definitely get him going this summer on Henry Flagler and (slightly separate subject) the 1935 hurricane.  Very boy subjects right there!

    • #17
  18. Fritz Coolidge
    Fritz
    @Fritz

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    Fritz (View Comment):

    Speaking of history, I saw 85-year old history author David McCullough last evening on C-Span, talking history with Brian Lamb, and in particular his 12th book, The Pioneers.

    It relates the history of the 1787 Northwest Ordinance and the people who settled that territory. Another good source of lively history, such as the first college west of the Allegheny Mountains, and the requirement in the Ordinance that the Native Americans there were to be treated with respect. He related a later effort to rescind that part of the law, and how it was soundly rebuffed. I am looking forward to reading it.

    I think David McCullough is terrific. I especially like his book on John Adams. These biographies are a great way to learn American history! Thanks, @fritz!

    I have edited my original post to insert what I’d misdescribed —  it was the prohibition of slavery in the Territory, to rescind which the later effort was rebuffed.

    • #18
  19. RushBabe49 Thatcher
    RushBabe49
    @RushBabe49

    Sign up for the Hillsdale College free online course in American History.  Sit down with your high-schooler and watch all ten of the video lectures by Hillsdale faculty.  Get the reader with excerpts for them and you to read.  Discuss.  You won’t find a better source of the real US History.

    • #19
  20. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    RushBabe49 (View Comment):

    Sign up for the Hillsdale College free online course in American History. Sit down with your high-schooler and watch all ten of the video lectures by Hillsdale faculty. Get the reader with excerpts for them and you to read. Discuss. You won’t find a better source of the real US History.

    I completely agree, @rushbabe49. I’ve taken their online Constitution course, the course on Progressivism, the history of Congress, and the Economics class. All were excellent!

    • #20
  21. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    9thDistrictNeighbor (View Comment):

    Stina (View Comment):

    9thDistrictNeighbor (View Comment):
    What grade is your son? If he has has not already (probably not), I recommend reading “Strawberry Girl” by Lois Lenski. Great portrait of old, rural Florida.

    That looks really familiar. If I don’t already have it, I bet my mom does. She’s digging stuff out for me for the summer.

    My son is entering 5th grade. I’m hoping to fully homeschool him through middle school.

    Then definitely get McClay’s book…its only $22 right now on Amazon. If the reading level is too high, you can read it aloud to him. And definitely get him going this summer on Henry Flagler and (slightly separate subject) the 1935 hurricane. Very boy subjects right there!

    @9thdistrictneighbor, you are a wealth of information. Thank you for contributing so much to this OP!!

    • #21
  22. Hoyacon Member
    Hoyacon
    @Hoyacon

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    Hoyacon (View Comment):

    Thanks for the tip. I would’ve missed this.

    As for Zinn, I think that one problem is the lack of a pointed and lengthy rebuttal to his work. I’ve come across the occasional website that attempts this in short form. There is one new book scheduled to be published, but I know nothing about the author.

    In the podcast mentioned at the end of the OP, McClay mentions a man who does a great job of critiquing Zinn. Sorry, I don’t remember the name.

    That would be Michael Kazin, a professor at Georgetown and man of the left who is most definitely not a Hoyacon.  McClay is most respectful of Kazin’s intellect–he is also editor of the magazine Dissent, where his takedown of Zinn appeared.

     

    • #22
  23. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Hoyacon (View Comment):

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    Hoyacon (View Comment):

    Thanks for the tip. I would’ve missed this.

    As for Zinn, I think that one problem is the lack of a pointed and lengthy rebuttal to his work. I’ve come across the occasional website that attempts this in short form. There is one new book scheduled to be published, but I know nothing about the author.

    In the podcast mentioned at the end of the OP, McClay mentions a man who does a great job of critiquing Zinn. Sorry, I don’t remember the name.

    That would be Michael Kazin, a professor at Georgetown and man of the left who is most definitely not a Hoyacon. McClay is most respectful of Kazin’s intellect–he is also editor of the magazine Dissent, where his takedown of Zinn appeared.

     

    Thank you!!

    • #23
  24. Stina Member
    Stina
    @CM

    9thDistrictNeighbor (View Comment):
    And definitely get him going this summer on Henry Flagler and (slightly separate subject) the 1935 hurricane. Very boy subjects right there!

    Flagler is an interesting suggestion. I’ll add the hurricane to our weather studies :)

    As far as industrialists and technology goes, we intend on visiting the Gorrie Museum seeing how important Air conditioning is to life here!

    • #24
  25. 9thDistrictNeighbor Member
    9thDistrictNeighbor
    @9thDistrictNeighbor

    Stina (View Comment):

    9thDistrictNeighbor (View Comment):
    And definitely get him going this summer on Henry Flagler and (slightly separate subject) the 1935 hurricane. Very boy subjects right there!

    Flagler is an interesting suggestion. I’ll add the hurricane to our weather studies :)

    As far as industrialists and technology goes, we intend on visiting the Gorrie Museum seeing how important Air conditioning is to life here!

    Willis Carrier, dreamboat and sooper-genius.

    • #25
  26. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    Fritz (View Comment):

    Speaking of history, I saw 85-year old history author David McCullough last evening on C-Span, talking history with Brian Lamb, and in particular his 12th book, The Pioneers.

    It relates the history of the 1787 Northwest Ordinance and the people who settled that territory. Another good source of lively history, such as the first college west of the Allegheny Mountains, and the requirement in the Ordinance that the Native Americans there were to be treated with respect. He related a later effort to rescind that part of the law, and how it was soundly rebuffed. I am looking forward to reading it.

    I think David McCullough is terrific. I especially like his book on John Adams. These biographies are a great way to learn American history! Thanks, @fritz!

    McCullough’s Adams book is brilliant.

    • #26
  27. MarciN Member
    MarciN
    @MarciN

    There are few people on this planet I have less respect for than Howard Zinn.

    Whenever I see the kind of negativity toward the United States that he has spread throughout the world, I go to YouTube and play this:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Omd9_FJnerY&t=1s

    • #27
  28. Stad Coolidge
    Stad
    @Stad

    It’s not often we can point to one individual who has caused tremendous damage to our country.  Zinn is in the top five . . .

    • #28
  29. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    MarciN (View Comment):

    There are few people on this planet I have less respect for than Howard Zinn.

    Whenever I see the kind of negativity toward the United States that he has spread throughout the world, I go to YouTube and play this:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Omd9_FJnerY&t=1s

    What a beautiful, moving piece. It tugged at my heart. I’m currently reading Sen. Tom Cotton’s new book, The Old Guard, on which he served. Another powerful way to touch on the sacrifice so many have made to preserve our freedoms. Thank you, @marcin.

    • #29
  30. Doctor Robert Member
    Doctor Robert
    @DoctorRobert

    This has been done before

    A Patriot’s History of the United States

    Larry Schweikart and Michael Allen

    Sentinel Press, 2004.  ISBN 1-59523-001-7

    I bought three or four copies in 2005, as my kids went through middle school and high school history I assigned them relevant readings.   I read in it at random myself fairly often, I had to get it off the night table to copy the publishing information.

    Good luck to Mr McClay.

     

    • #30

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