Column/Is American history being forgotten in schools?

Published 12:00 am Sunday, August 26, 2007

In a commentary dated July 18, 2003, the writer Sterling Rome revealed that a quarter of American teenagers didn’t know what event in our history Independence Day is supposed to celebrate.

Further, these same teens had no idea who the adversaries were in the Civil War, nor did they have a clue about the three branches of their government.

Mr. Rome’s disturbing revelation is the result of a 2001 Colonial Williamsburg Foundation study, and the title of this article is, “Are Liberals Killing the Study of History?” Rome hears these questions: Is the importance of self-esteem considered?” “Why can’t teenagers be tested on things they care about, e.g. Playstation or Brittany Spears?”

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Rome also expresses his concern over the damage being done by the teaching of “revisionist history,” whereby the teaching of real history is watered down to the extent that today’s high school students are getting their history from only one source – the establishment media.

Therefore, the real crux of this dilemma over the teaching, understanding and honoring history is the inherent difference between the liberal and conservative philosophies. The writer’s conclusion is, “If our society forgets the sacrifices that led to our founding, to our Constitution, to our Union and to our dominant role in the world, then it will soon be as if none of these sacrifices were ever made.”

In a shocking article by William Bennett in the National Review magazine (July 5, 2007), Bennett quoted Pulitzer prize-winning historian David McCullough, in testimony before the U.S. Senate, as saying, “American History is our nation’s worst subject in school and that our children do worse in this subject than in reading or math.”

Further, McCullough made the point that “Our very freedom depends on education, and we are failing our children in not providing that education.” Bennett endorses McCullough’s position, saying “We are faced with a double tragedy: our children don’t know their country’s history, and the story they don’t know is the greatest political story ever written.”

A couple of examples cited by Bennett: “Current textbooks give several chapters to Bill Clinton’s reinventing government but ignore Eisenhower’s support of the Interstate Highway Act of 1956.”

Another example is the emphasis of the Soviet gains in space in the 1960s but ignoring our landing on the moon. This is the “politically correct” liberal line.

In my opinion, today’s revised American History being taught to junior and high school young people amounts to a gross disservice to those students who are being deprived of the truth in terms of the contributions made by the likes of Washington, Franklin and Jefferson and the other founding fathers who formulated our great Democratic Republic.

Another political giant was Frederick Douglas, famous for his great debates with Abraham Lincoln, and considered to be, along with Lincoln, one of the greatest political thinkers during the mid-19th century.

President Reagan warned us about forgetting or being ignorant of the rich tradition of our past with the admonition, “If we forget what we did, we won’t know who we are. I am warning of an eradication of the American memory that would result, ultimately, in an erosion of the American spirit.”

America History should begin with the story of the earliest settlers at Jamestown and Washington’s securing of our independence at Yorktown. America’s rich history is filled with controversy, suffering, overcoming and winning.

There are many great teachers out there, hopefully still teaching the real American History, who are qualified to make their classes interesting, lively and glorious. Are their students paying attention?

Our country is the greatest place on earth. It is a place where dreams actually do come true. I believe that Abraham Lincoln had it right when he described America as “the last best hope on earth.”

Byrd Looper is a regular columnist for The Times-Journal.