A “culture war” seems to be more reflective of a perspective than a crusade on a particular issue.
Like the familiar church faction whose agenda is disruption and obstruction, the “cause” seems to be secondary to the need to find an issue that can serve as a basis for ginning up enthusiasm to object to some aspect of life (music too loud/too soft; sermons too long/too short; too much/too little emphasis on contemporary issues that affect both church and society).
Recently, attention has been drawn to various areas of life where injustice and discrimination have been focused on persons and groups both directly and systemically.
Resistance to this focus has been easy to mobilize among those whose assumptions are challenged by appeals for correction to patterns that have been “normal” for a long time.
War is declared in defense of a part of “culture” that has provided benefit and security to some and injustice to others.
When a particular cause of a culture campaign begins to lose its traction and when the public mind shifts from resistance on the issue to more acceptance, the war subsides and waits for the next cause to appear.
As our military maintains a readiness through ongoing training to protect our national security in the event of unanticipated intrusion or assault, so the generals and soldiers of the culture war are ever ready to mobilize in response to any threat to what they perceive as a threat to a preferred way of life and its accompanying understandings.
Culture war intelligence agents are regularly conducting reconnaissance to scout out threats to cultural security, especially that which may be brewing in liberal and academic camps, where the insidious strategies of “cancel culture” are believed to be devised and launched.
A current alarm signal is being raised in response to thinking within the U.S. Department of Education regarding some renovations in the teaching of history and civics that seek to give needed attention to the contributions of the nation’s diverse population in the shaping of the country and its political and social framework.
Historian Heather Cox Richardson of Boston College has written about a letter to the secretary of the department from Republican congresspeople challenging the idea, claiming that it undermines the greatness of our nation’s history and the events and lives that have provided the core of its primary narrative.
She writes that the letter accuses the secretary of “trying to advance a politicized and divisive agenda in the teaching of American history.”
“This,” she says, “is full embrace of [an] … attempt to turn teaching history into a culture war.”
Her brief, but clear and helpful, article is well worth a read for its presentation of the context and implications of this issue.
Having experienced losses in recent campaigns in the culture war, and in spite of local successes in fanning fading embers, the war seems in search of a new cause, and the teaching of history may be it.
The deeply rooted and widely attributed saying, “History is written by the winners,” points to the way that a dominant side of a people’s journey tends to remember and maintain the “official” narrative of their history.
The pivotal events are the ones in which they prevailed, and the heroes are their champions.
The teaching of history can easily rely on that narrative for its outline.
Even as efforts to balance it with attention to the “other side” and its contribution are made, a version of the story still becomes the “norm” for understanding who a people are.
Fifty years ago, Thomas Frazer compiled and published two volumes of writings by people who were on the neglected side of the nation’s dominant narrative.
Titled “The Underside of American History,” the perspectives of those whose experience was different in the national pilgrimage from the dominant one were introduced into the study of history.
More recently, the experience and voices of Black Americans, native Americans, Asian Americans and newly immigrated Hispanic Americans have found their way into the national conversation, and the teaching of history is being adjusted to give them a more prominent voice.
These efforts have received pushback, as these contributions are seen as offering challenges to some emphases of the dominant narrative.
Watch for the teaching of history to be the latest skirmish in the culture war, as our dueling narratives find their way into curricula and classrooms.
The dominant narrative provides a structure of pivotal events and people, and this is significant. But it is also significant to note that its alternative is a vehicle for much of history’s meaning.
Both are needed and necessary for a people to be faithful stewards of their heritage.