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What is the correct story of United States history?

Historian Lendol Calder, in his article, “The Stories We Tell,” highlights the difficulties of choosing a narrative for the U.S. history survey course:

Poor, old, American history survey course—the Charlie Brown of history curricula! Is it time to retire this unfavored course, or can it be repurposed for useful service?

Every sentient person has a beef with the survey. Pedagogical reformers say the course’s fixation with “coverage” has produced the most futile design for learning since the invention of dunce caps. Culture warriors don’t see it that way. They believe American history courses work only too well—as tools for political indoctrination. Conservatives want a “patriot’s” history; radicals want a “people’s.” Mobilizing to change things, they have to take a number and get in line.

Let’s fill in the blank: “the real problem with U.S. history is that is does not give enough attention to ________ and spends too much time ________________.

We all have our own narrative about what U.S. history should be, and should not be. How do we choose the narrative that is best? And how do we decide which narratives do not deserve a hearing?

As a writer for the The Twelve, I am frequently struck by the competing narratives evident in our writings, our readers, and our comments. Some writers understand our culture in one narrative, and others push for a different narrative. Some comments push against our narratives, while other comments reify their own narratives. Is there one narrative that is best?

The Twelve provides discordant voices with competing narratives and narratives that we question. But what we share in common is a passion for conversation. If we have a narrative, it may be Reformed and Reforming, which is messy and full of competing voices.

Will you please consider a donation to support competing narratives? Thank you!

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Rebecca Koerselman

Rebecca Koerselman teaches history at Northwestern College in Orange City, IA.

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