Teach America's complicated history, warts and all

To the editor: When history lessons fail to teach the harsh realities of life in the past and don't include the good, the bad and the ugly, that is "revisionist" history. What an absurd notion to think that high school Advanced Placement students should live in a bubble and not be exposed to everything that shaped our nation. ("How exactly is America exceptional?," op-ed, March 13)

Even the fourth-grade students I formerly taught were introduced to topics that these critics of the College Board AP History test might disapprove of or consider controversial: the plight of California Indians at the missions; Chinese railroad workers and the Chinese Exclusion Act; Japanese internment camps; and treatment of women in California during the Gold Rush.


These lessons, however, are part of the state's curriculum. They provide students, even at this young age, an opportunity to learn the valuable critical thinking skills of "cause and effect" and "compare and contrast."

Don't we want all of our students to get the whole story?

Nancy Roeger, Carlsbad, Calif.


To the editor: Karl Jacoby's revelation that the notion of "American exceptionalism" is derived from early 20th century Marxists implies that we shouldn't be using the term to describe America's greatness. As a history scholar, he should acknowledge that time changes things.

He charges that the term is used to mean America is the best at everything — not the case by a long shot. We use the term today to differentiate America from the rest of the world in a positive way, not letting the shadows of our past dull the brightness of our accomplishments.

Slavery, Manifest Destiny and near extinction of the bison are bad things, but they were part of the world's culture that Americans saw fit to stop doing, in most cases leading the world to change by example. It was admitting to and ending these practices that makes America exceptional, not to say unblemished still, but standing out among most others.

When did taking pride in one's country become so unfashionable?

Tom Patten, Palos Verdes Estates

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