High School History Students and the Federalists

Screen Shot 2015-11-26 at 4.53.20 PMGreetings all – while it would be cool if all I did all day was bang out Tweets and post pics to Instagram, I do have to earn a living. And…since I do not see eye to eye with the powers that be in the Ivory Tower (and they don’t see eye to eye with me…) I teach AP US History (and other stuff) privately here in Los Angeles. I answer to no one and I don’t give a shit about tenure. It’s good work if you can get it.

Here’s something I have noticed. High school kids really relate to the Early Republic Federalists. At first this struck me as odd…I mean, in general, they seem so…government. I would expect them to gravitate toward the idealism of Thomas Jefferson. But no. Centralization? Check. National Bank? Check, Internal Improvements? Check. Tariffs? Check.

I asked around about this and what I found is that perhaps the kids are latching on to the idea of stability, logic, and rationality – on clear ideas: solutions to problems, when their own futures are pretty uncertain. I’m not entirely convinced that any movement or faction can take the credit for any of these things, including the Federalists. But it just seems that this is how kids understand and make sense of the Federalists in the most general way.

This is just an observation…what do you all think? I am especially interested in hearing from other high school history teachers.

With compliments,

Keith

4 thoughts on “High School History Students and the Federalists”

  1. I don’t teach high school, but middle school students studying the same era tend to see the stability of central government in its ability to do things, both helpful and harmful. While they are still learning the nuances of separation of powers and checks and balances, they do understand “All legislative powers shall be invested in Congress.” This puts them into the position of understanding the power of the elastic clause real well while at the same time, asking why the President didn’t or doesn’t act unilaterally to fix an issue. No history class, at any level outside upper level college classes, even in units discussing the Great Depression, focuses enough on the economic consequences of political decisions in any era of history. It is interesting that the Federalist doctrine is looked to for comfort in tough economic times, but the pendulum still does not completely swing to a true Republican bent even in boom years. To quote my mentor and friend, Jim Owsley, a history professor, “We quote Jefferson, but we have Hamilton’s ideal of government.” Washington leaning heavily on Hamilton’s advice led to both that outcome and Jefferson resigning Washington’s cabinet.

    1. Thanks for the comment – this certainly seems to be the case across the board. As far as economics go I am not so sure that upper division college courses really get to it either. At least not in detail. Honestly, I still, after all these years, struggle with the economy. Thanks again, Gregory…I can always count on you for some good insight. Hope you had a great Thanksgiving!

  2. Keith, this is a fascinating point. I think you’re onto something with the idea of rationality being an attractive one, especially given the freak show of our current political discourse.

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