Progress vs. Change

Author: Jake Kim | Category: History | Date: 06-14-2020

In her essay, “Rewriting American History”, Frances FitzGerald highlights the changes in which history textbooks convey historical information. One of the various changes that she includes in her essay is that the word “progress” has been replaced by “change”. This raises the questions, what is the difference between “progress” and “change” and why did this replacement take place? 

First of all, this replacement could imply that history repeats itself. For instance, FitzGerald includes that “children, the modern texts insist, should learn history so that they can adapt to the rapid changes taking place around them.” Here these modern texts imply that these “rapid changes” that take place today are no different from the changes that are in modern history textbooks. A good example of this is the current protests regarding the value of black lives. Just like the Civil Rights Movement and the Women’s Rights Movement, people are once again going out in the streets to make a change in social constructs. The word progress is an inappropriate label for these historical events, as it promises that we are now better than what we were before and that we will not have to experience any more movements regarding similar matters in the future.

In addition, the so-called “progress” may not always be a good thing. For example, Fitzgerald states in the middle of her essay, “The present, which was once portrayed in the concluding chapters as a peaceful haven of scientific advances and Presidential inaugurations, is now a tangle of problems: race problems, urban problems, foreign- policy problems, problems of pollution, poverty, energy depletion, youthful rebellion, assassination, and drugs.” This is important, as it implies that while we may have addressed large problems as a nation in the past, many new problems have risen, putting our nation not much further than it was before. This can be seen through America’s ongoing racism against minorities and immigrants. How can the Civil Rights Movement really be called progress, when innocent black people such as George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery are still dying to the hands of crooked racists?

Finally, the word “progress” may have been replaced by “change” because the changes in this nation are so out of sync with one another. FitzGerald accurately explains this when she said, “The past is no highway to the present; it is a collection of issues and events that do not fit together and that lead in no single direction.” This is significant, as the same thing is occurring at our nation’s capital. As the COVID-19 pandemic still rages on, our nation’s leaders have shifted their focus onto other less severe issues. But because everyone has their own ideas, their theories on how to carry out the nation’s next steps have ended up competing with one another’s. Because of this, “progress” may not be the best word to define the changes in our nations, as they may seem like progress at first, but not when they begin to conflict with each other.

All in all, “progress” was replaced by “change” in American history textbooks, as history repeats itself, change is not always a good thing, and progress may become conflicting. FitzGerald’s essay is truly a significant work, as it encourages people to always be mindful of current events and how they relate to historical events. By keeping this in mind, America can put an and to recurring issues and go back to making progress instead of changes.


About: Jake Kim


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