Wednesday, February 01, 2023

Can American history survive this generation?

By William Haupt III | The Center Square Contributor


"One of the saddest signs of our times is that we have demonized those who produce, subsidized those who refuse to produce, and canonized those who complain the most." – Thomas Sowell

Plato told us we study history because it leads our way. Through history we learn how events of the past made our current world. Lessons from the past not only teach us about ourselves and how we evolved, but direct us away from the mistakes made by societies to avoid repeating them again. Events that are mere dates on a page were episodes that chartered our global chain of societies.

Both past calamities and good fortune have changed entire regions. Some have caused tensions and others rewards. Some events created new governments that influenced those of today. Others violated the rights of man and vanished. Today's world is a combination of many actions. The more we know about the past, the more we can plan for the future: One with less aberrations and failures.

In a national survey conducted among public high school students five years ago, it revealed that only 3% could pass a U.S. citizenship test. Those students are adults today. This means many people today are woefully ignorant of our history, culture and of even our system of government.

American history is closely linked to the formation of a healthy society. That's why it's so vital how it is taught in public schools across the nation. Learning historic events develops the cultural, moral and ethical values of students. Most importantly, it teaches the young how to avoid the traits of bad citizenship, and how to become good citizens that take active roles in managing their governments.

A recent report by the National Assessment of Educational Progress showed that an abysmal 18% of American high school students were proficient in U.S. history. When major colleges no longer require classes in U.S. history and high schools propose changing their curriculum so that history is taught only from 1877 onward, such as North Carolina, this rates barely a mere blurb in the fishwrap.

It was recently reported that a story in Perspectives on History magazine found that 88% of school teachers considered teaching history a lower priority. When Professor Bruce VanSledright of the University of North Carolina was asked to comment on this story, he said he wasn't surprised. "If a subject like history isn't something that students are tested on, then why spend time teaching it?"

VanSledright reflected on the teachers themselves. "There is some curriculum associated with basic history but history has become so controversial teachers just avoid it rather than teach it.''

“The attempt to avoid legitimate suffering lies at the root of all emotional illness.” – M. Scott Peck

A Brooklyn father says his third-grade daughter knows who George Washington is because she heard about him on the soundtrack of the show “Hamilton.” But she doesn't know who Abraham Lincoln is or when America was discovered. And she knows nothing about America's Revolution.

A teacher at the same Brooklyn school said instructors balk when it comes to history: They don’t want to offend anyone. “The more vocal and involved the parents are, the more likely the teacher will feel uncomfortable teaching certain things or saying something that might create a problem.”

"Since Common Core, no subjects are safe from distortion in the classrooms." – Alice Starkland

Logic tells us that the rewriting of history is something found exclusively in dictatorial nations. But it has recently crept into global democracies, especially America. As George Orwell said, “The most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history.”

Who would have thought how we teach history would be questioned? Should our history books be rewritten to eliminate flawed heroes and increase the events of racial and ethnic minorities? Should we be erasing, rewriting, and apologizing for, or covering up our history, as identity groups propose, since they are so critical of America's past? Should we make heroes out of non heroes?

Can we ever again teach history that is relevant to all students, or must we embellish it to portray micro events by identity groups more salient than major contributions made by real heroes who did something that someone today doesn't like? Do we teach history to the majority or to the minority?

“Those who make conversations impossible, make escalation inevitable." – Stefan Molyneux

How did teaching U.S. history become so controversial? Several decades ago Howard Zinn wrote "The People’s History of the United States" to demythologize the history of America. He demonized America’s traditional heroes by retelling American history though the perspective of those who had experienced treatment different than most other Americans, including slaves, Indians and the poor.

The left saw this as an opportunity to appease identity groups, LBGT rights supporters, climate change advocates and labor unions they depend on for survival. They directed the Department of Education to establish criteria that would appease these splinter groups which local teacher unions would force feed to the states.

The failed Common Core curriculum was an outgrowth of this monstrosity. And it opened the door for progressives to utilize the public school system for political gain. And today, with the help of the teachers unions, school districts around the nation are a breeding ground for young progressives.

"I think there is a widespread agreement that there is a crisis in public education." – Mitch Kapor

Stanford's Sam Wineburg says groups that criticize our history lack academic insight on why we study history. They are “reading the present into the past,” which is like putting water in a gas tank. Water worked great to power steam engines, but cars run on gas. You can't judge American history with 21st century standards. If colonials owned slaves, by our present standards we must chastise them and erase them from history. If a leader was on the wrong side of the Civil War, we dare not honor him, despite his contributions to our nation before or after the war. Are we really better than them?

A teacher in California was told to stop telling students about the first Thanksgiving. Her principal told her, "The story of the pilgrims and Native Americans celebrating together" offended a parent. She asked why? The principal retorted, "You made the Pilgrims seem like white supremacists."

Norman Cousins wrote, "History is a vast early warning system.” If we want to understand today, we have to know what happened yesterday. History is an encyclopedia of accidents, successes, blunders, surprises and absurdities. It is a roadmap of the past drawn for the future. Anyone who fails to study history as it was written doesn't appreciate today's America and all of its opportunities.

Those who take our history personal are living in the past because they fear today and tomorrow.

"History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people." – Martin Luther King