In George Orwell’s 1984, the hero, a man named Winston, rebels against Big Brother. He is eventually caught and placed in prison for interrogation and re-education. His interrogator is named O’Brien. O’Brien explains the importance of Newspeak, in which the vocabulary of the citizens is slowly and irrevocably contracted. The point of the contraction is to eliminate “thought-crime”, or ideas that are not approved by Big Brother. Words such as independence need to be erased from the vocabulary pool because if the word does not exist, the thought that such a word expresses will disappear as well.
The writers of the new Advanced Placement United States History course framework do an excellent job of implementing this philosophy. The Framework was developed by Common Core architect David Coleman’s College Board, and is being implemented in American classrooms right now.
The framework is a document of omissions. And the omission matter.
It is not just the omission of Roger Williams and William Penn. It is that their omission removes the ideas of religious toleration and religious liberty taught by these men and practiced in colonial America. Yet the idea that people have a legitimate right to practice their faith without persecution, and without penalty, is fundamental to an understanding of what is exceptional about America, both in colonial times and in the 21st century.
It is not just the omission of Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson and John Adams. It is that their omission removes the idea…
that there is an authority higher than the government, a Creator Who is the source of individual rights that no government can rightfully abridge. Yet that idea echoed around the globe, causing people from every land to leave everything and everyone they knew to come to this exceptional nation where your past did not have to determine your future. And that idea is as critical today as it was in 1776.
It is not just the omission of Valley Forge and Iwo Jima and the beaches of Normandy. It is that their omission removes the idea that our freedom has been won and preserved through the sacrifice of Americans who came before us. Yet the idea that America has produced generations of men and women who were willing to die, not just to preserve their own freedom, but to preserve that of others, is part of what has made this nation truly exceptional for over 200 years.
And it is not just the omission of Adolf Hitler and the Holocaust and the Death March of Bataan. It is that their omission removes the fact that other nations do not share our idea that each of us is endowed with unalienable rights, and hides the atrocities that have resulted from that lack of understanding.
We are not a perfect nation, and our children need to know where and how we failed so they can correct the errors we have made. But the framework presents America as a nation that has only failed.
That is simply not true.
We do not need our children to learn a Newspeak version of American history. We need them to learn the real account – because even with all of our warts, America has been a beacon of hope for over two centuries. And to preserve that beacon, our children need to understand how exceptional this nation of ours truly is.