From the Archive: History, Word Choice, and Education

I’m reposting some of the content from my site, Freethinking Ahead, as part of the transition to this blog.  Here’s a post from March 2013 about higher education with a conservative slant.  Given the outcome of the recent election in the US, the topic seems more relevant now than it did then.

Last weekend at our local freethought group’s gathering, I had the opportunity to work with the older children’s group, ages 8-12. March is Women’s History month, so I wanted to present an activity that focusing on pioneering women scientists. As a lead in, the group generated a list of what characteristics someone would need in order to be a scientist: creative, smart, focused, works well in teams, and so on. Then we talked about the fact that before the 20th century, another characteristic that many people would have added would have been “a man.” A couple of the children looked doubtful: women are scientists today, so why wasn’t that always the case?

In high school and college history classes, the students will, I hope, get to discuss this question and related ideas in more depth than we could cover in a half hour: the civil rights movement, women’s suffrage, and so on. A couple recent news articles highlight reasons why this might not be the case.

Recently, the National Association of Scholars released “Recasting History: Are Race, Class, and Gender Dominating American History?”1 The authors of this report studied the American history classes required of all students by public universities in Texas. While they do allow that race, class, and gender has a place in these classes, they recommend placing more emphasis on other topics, including the role of the military and religion in American history. Additionally, they recommend that history be “depoliticized”; that is, de-emphasizing the “liberal” view of history as “a struggle of the downtrodden against rooted injustice” (p. 50). Not surprising that the researchers came to this conclusion when one of the stated aims of NAS is “Overemphasis on issues of race, gender, class, sexual orientation.”2

In order to graduate from a Texas public university, students must take 6 hours of American history. At present, students can take courses that focus on the history of women, racial/ethnic groups, and so on in America. Given the history of ideology and Texas public education3, it’s not surprising that a bill has been proposed in the Texas legislature that would prevent students from taking anything besides the type of class promoted by NAS4.

An article5 in The Chronicle of Higher Education’s Wired Campus blog drew my attention to FreeThinkU, a site that provides an alternative to the “liberal education” offered at traditional colleges. Courses offered by this site include “How American Are You?”, “Is Global Warming Theory True?”6 and a course that seems to be made up of the movie Expelled. This is a conservative group interested in American exceptionalism and religion. So, I’m left wondering why the site uses “free thinking” and “free thinkers”? The definition of free thinker is one who uses reason to form beliefs and one who rejects religious dogma. This content on site does not appear to reflect these ideals. It’s odd that the site’s founder would select this term when freethought is the thing he is fighting against.

By the time the children in the freethought group go off to college, what will their history class choices look like? If efforts such as these continue, perhaps they will be limited. For now, I’ll keep following the activity on the bill, writing letters, and speaking out.

3. For an illustrative example, see The Revisionaries.
4. More information on the report, legislation, and reaction here: and here:
6. Yes