5 Facts About American History That Oklahoma Wants to Ban

Source: PhotoStock
Source: PhotoStock

In a move straight out of an Onion article, the Oklahoma state legislature has moved to ban history. At least, the accurate study of it.

House Bill 1380, written by Republican state legislator Dan Fisher, prohibits "the expenditure of funds on the Advanced Placement United States history course" in Oklahoma public schools. Fisher is a member of the dominionist Black Robe Regiment, which argues that a "false wall of separation of church and state has been constructed" by secular progressives who aim to stamp out religious faith in the United States. This might explain his motivation for the bill: That Advanced Placement U.S. history courses only teach "what is bad about America" and fail to emphasize "American exceptionalism."

Some of Fisher's peers feel that even this egregious politicization of Oklahoma's curriculum doesn't go far enough. Rep. Sally "Gays Are Worse Than Terrorists" Kern has claimed that "AP courses violate the legislation approved last year that repealed Common Core" and "could be construed as an attempt to impose a national curriculum on American schools." That AP courses are developed by the College Board, a private group, and are not required for any public school student, doesn't factor in to Kern's declaration.

Oklahoma's not the first state to declare the AP U.S. history course "un-American." In January, the Georgia legislature introduced a resolution that rejects a new version of the course for teaching a "radically revisionist view of American history" and neglecting to sufficiently lionize "America's Founding Fathers, the principles of the Declaration of Independence [and] the religious influences on our nation's history."

Who's to blame for this anti-educational insanity? According to Newsweek, it's all due to the efforts of a retired schoolteacher named Larry S. Krieger. Upon reading the College Board's latest revised framework for the instruction of the course, Krieger told Newsweek he "saw a consistently negative view of American history that highlights oppressors and exploiters. Instead of striving to build a city on a hill, according to the framework our nation's founders are portrayed as bigots who 'developed a belief in white superiority' ... that was in turn derived from 'a strong belief in British racial and cultural superiority' and that of course led to 'the creation of a rigid racial hierarchy.'"

Manifest Destiny, American military tactics in World War II and the immigration booms of the late 19th century are all "maligned" in the new framework, according to Krieger — and he's made it his life's mission to change the AP U.S. history course back to the more "pro-American" version.

There's just one problem: American history isn't pro-American. In his definitive examination of 12 American history textbooks, Lies My Teacher Told Me, sociologist James W. Loewen determined that the "history" that most Americans learn in school is largely factually incorrect and couched in Europositive viewpoints that dismiss the uglier side of American history in favor of myth building and the apotheosis of America's so-called "Founding Fathers." 

We collected a list of the most common fallacies taught in American classrooms to unsuspecting students — a list of truths that, if Oklahoma gets its way, students may never hear.

Lie: The Civil War had little to do with slavery.
Truth: The Civil War had everything to do with slavery

Source: Anonymous/AP

One of America's most pervasive myths about the Civil War — alternately known as the War Between the States or the War of Northern Aggression, depending on your teacher's level of antipathy toward Yankees — is that it had little to do with slavery and was instead a philosophical battle over the issue of "state's rights." It wasn't that the South was defending slavery, per se, but that it was rising against a federal government that was exceeding its authority in limitations on the expansion of slavery. The problem with this widely held notion? The secessionists were defending slavery. They even wrote it down.

On Dec. 24, 1860, South Carolina's secession convention adopted the "Declaration of the Immediate Causes Which Induce and Justify the Secession of South Carolina from the Federal Union." The casus belli, according to the declaration? "An increasing hostility on the part of the non-slaveholding States to the institution of slavery." Of the five states courteous enough to send a declaration of their reasons for leaving the Union, every single one cited the ability to continue practicing and spreading chattel slavery as the main motivation for secession; collectively, the words "slavery," "slaveholding" and "slaves" were used 83 times in those declarations. So much for the "not about slavery" argument.

Lie: Blacks, both free and enslaved, fought for the Confederacy.
Truth: The Confederacy banned black servicemen.

Source: Uncredited/AP

It's an image extolled to tens of thousands of high school history students every year: Black men, both free and enslaved, fighting alongside white Confederates to protect their agrarian way of life. It further bolsters the idea that the Civil War wasn't fought for reasons of racial supremacy but for "freedom."

Too bad that never happened.

According to professor Stephen Ash in the journal Reviews in American History, the Confederacy refused to allow black recruits, free or otherwise, until three weeks before the end of the war. When Confederate Gen. Patrick R. Cleburne proposed enlisting slaves in January 1864, "President Jefferson Davis not only rejected the idea but also ordered that the subject be dropped and never discussed again in the army." Three weeks before the Civil War ended, Davis changed his mind. But at that point, the war had been lost and few black Southerners enlisted. While a few blacks were recruited into state militias that were also fighting the North, the closest any got to combat was an Alabama company that stood watch over Mobile warehouses holding government supplies.

To be fair, there were slaves on the front — they just did laundry.

Lie: America was founded on religious freedom.
Truth: America was founded on religious persecution.

Source: Anonymous/AP

We've known the story since before we knew how to make a turkey using construction paper and an outline of our hands: The Pilgrims, avoiding religious persecution in their native England, sailed to America on the Mayflower to create a community where religious minorities would be respected by their leaders and the law, followed soon after by the Puritans, whose "Shining City Upon a Hill" became a beacon of religious equality around the world.

Not so much.

New England's Puritans did flee England because of religious persecution — but mostly so they could do some religious persecuting of their own. The Puritans, rather than being a humble crew of coopers in starched collars and buckled shoes, were the remnants of a group of Christian fundamentalists who had taken over the British parliament in the middle of the 17th century during the Interregnum and attempted to turn Great Britain into a "Protestants only" island free of Catholics. Also, they banned Christmas. After fleeing England following the Restoration, the Puritans banned Catholics, hanged Quakers and made the celebration of Christmas in Boston illegal from 1659 to 1681.

Lie: The Pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock.
Truth: There is no Plymouth Rock.

Plymouth Rock, the site of the Mayflower's disembarkation onto the shores of Massachusetts and the New World, is featured in songs, stories and iconic speeches by Malcolm X. Unfortunately, Plymouth Rock is little more than a metaphor and coastal tourist attraction: There are no contemporaneous references to any rock in journals or logs from the Mayflower and its passengers. The first reference to any "rock," much less one with a proper name, weren't made for more than a century.

In the words of travel writer Bill Bryson, "The one thing the Pilgrims certainly did not do was step ashore on Plymouth Rock. Quite apart from the consideration that it may have stood well above the high-water mark in 1620, no prudent mariner would try to bring a ship alongside a boulder on a heaving December sea when a sheltered inlet beckoned from near by."

Lie: America was founded as a Christian nation.
Truth: America passed a treaty saying it's not.

Source: Anonymous/AP

The description of the United States as a "Christian nation" or a nation "founded on Judeo-Christian values" is considered settled fact in certain ideological circles. Assertions to the otherwise, generally those who bring up that pesky First Amendment, are derided as ahistorical — after all, the Founding Fathers were all Christians!

Except they weren't.

Thomas Jefferson was a virulent anti-clericalist, Benjamin Franklin had doubts about the divinity of Jesus and numerous other signers of the Declaration of Independence are considered by modern historians to be, at most, deists, if not outright atheists. Even for those who were religious, the separation between church and state — a term coined by Jefferson, natch — was considered paramount. Even George Washington was a believer in keeping the two separate: "Of all the animosities which have existed among mankind, those which are caused by a difference of sentiments in religion appear to be the most inveterate and distressing."

Still not convinced? Take a look at the 1797 Treaty of Tripoli, an agreement between the U.S. and Ottoman Tripolitania signed by President John Adams after unanimous passage in the Senate:

"As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility, of Mussulmen; and as the said States never entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mahometan nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries."

"Not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion" seems pretty clear-cut.

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Scott Bixby

Scott is a senior correspondent at Mic, covering the Republican presidential campaign and LGBT issues. He is based in New York and can be reached at scott@mic.com.

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