The Relationship Between American Exceptionalism in History and Meritology in American Schools (part II)

This American story of exceptionalism, one that ignores the disenfranchised, promotes the idea that if you work hard, then you will make it in America. History curriculum is not the only discipline that faces misguided ideologies, science faces it as well. For example, researchers studying science curriculum wrote “…secondary science teacher candidates conceptualized ‘doing science’ not in terms of authentic scientific inquiry but in terms of ‘folk theories’ that were subtly shored up by school science textbooks and the media.” (Cochran-Smith, et al., 470). These folk theories that exist in science also exist in history as American mythology. This is the theory that real American events and individuals are exaggerated with a veneer of exceptionalism through an ability to persevere.

The primary issue with students learning history from multiple spheres, and many of them not from the perspective of educated professionals in school, is none of them correct misinterpretations and myths of meritology from one another. For example, a popular myth of the American Revolution is that Americans fought for their freedom, including Native Americans, African Americans, and women. American mythology of the Revolution possesses token figures that represent disenfranchised groups such as American flag creator Betsy Ross, African slave martyr Crispus Attucks, and allie of the American people Mohawk Indian Thayendenega.

Although these historical figures were real, their myth has been raised in order to obscure the most significant theme of the American Revolution. This thematic story tells of a group of white male individuals that came together, and through their determination and personal charisma, were able to shake of the yolk of English tyranny. This myth blurs the real issues of the American Revolution and continues to promote a white male centric belief in meritology.

American mythology can be seen best in the treatment of historical figures, especially political and military individuals.


The consequence of this meritology is it directly advantages conservative ideology because it promotes the belief that anyone can make it in America. Although American history has many success stories, there are far more people in history that were impoverished, taken advantage of, persecuted, and not allowed to enjoy the full freedom of the United States. Without these stories of struggle and failure of the American dream, students grow up believing that unsuccessful people only have themselves to blame. History used in this way hardens students’ emotions to problems that we have today, and fails to teach students how history still affects the present.

For example, both Chicago and New Orleans suffer from high levels of segregation and poverty due to social and natural environment forces (Nasir et al., 368-378). If Americans cannot see that the populations of these two cities suffer from macrolevel forces, and not just the decisions of people, then the wrong neoliberal and conservative ideas will be utilized and worsen the problem.



One such incorrect idea was the neoliberal attempt to add mass standardization to curriculum and create high-stakes accountability for teachers and students (Nasir et al., 363). History curriculum dodged these bullets more than other disciplines, but history teaching is still regularly held up against citizenship tests and the lack of historical knowledge by American youth. Despite most states not having formal standardized tests for history, the culture of high stakes testing has incentivized history teachers to focus on low-level skill attainment, rather than teaching critical thinking or problem based learning.


Conclusion and Source References

For the other parts of this article, see Part I and Part III

Nasir, Na’ilah Suad, Janelle Scott, Tina Trujillo, and Laura Hernandez (2016). The Sociopolitical Context of Teaching. In D. Gitomer and C. Bell Handbook of Research on Teaching, Fifth Edition. Washington, DC: American Educational Research Association.

Russ, Rosemary S., Bruce L. Sherin, and Miriam Gamoran Sherin (2016). What Constitutes Teacher Learning? In D. Gitomer and C. Bell Handbook of Research on Teaching, Fifth Edition. Washington, DC: American Educational Research Association.

Cochran-Smith, Marilyn, Ana Maria Villegas, and et al. (2016). Research on Teacher Preperation: Charting the Landscape of a Sprawling Field. In D. Gitomer and C. Bell Handbook of Research on Teaching, Fifth Edition. Washington, DC: American Educational Research Association.