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American History 101
While visiting some high school teacher friends, I asked how American history was taught today. I have always had a love for history, even if the teacher was boring. I especially enjoyed learning about the American Civil War and the events leading up to it. I saw it as an epochal event that defined the American character. The aftermath of the Civil War was also interesting, including the carpet-wrapping and corruption of the Grant administration. Most of what I learned came from the History and Social Studies classes I took from elementary school through high school. I didn’t take any formal history classes in college, but I learned a lot through the other courses I took. To accentuate the meaning of a subject, teachers often found it necessary to describe its historical roots.
I was appalled to learn that American history was being taught superficially. Remarkably, it was taught from World War II and continuing to the present day. I also understood that the high school history teacher made extensive use of DVD video clips instead of lectures which I found quite odd. Videos provide excellent stimuli, but their well-written scripts do not always provide the rationalization of an event.
The school’s interpretation of American history spans 73 years. I guess anything that happened before 1940 was considered irrelevant, such as:
– The Great Depression and Dust Bowl
– Prohibition, smuggling and the rise of organized crime; for example, Al Capone
– Women’s suffrage and the 19th amendment
– General Billy Mitchell’s court martial
– The Roaring Twenties, with flappers, “The Charleston” and Jazz
– Isolationism, the RMS Lusitania, Eddie Rickenbacker, Sgt. York, General Pershing and the League of Nations
– Panama Canal Building
– John L. Sullivan, Jack Johnson and Gentleman Jim Corbett
– The “Black Sox” scandal.
– The Spanish-American War, including the Rough Riders and “Remember the Maine”
– The San Francisco earthquake and the Johnstown flood
– The contributions of Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Edison, Guglielmo Marconi, Henry Ford, Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller, et al.
– The world fairs in Philadelphia, Chicago, Buffalo and New York (twice)
– The rise of Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst.
– The works of Herman Melville, Mark Twain, Emily Dickinson, Henry David Thoreau, Walt Whitman, etc.
– The passenger pigeon and near extinction of the American bison
– The massacre of Wounded Knee
– Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse, General Custer and the Battle of the Little Bighorn
– Manifest Destiny and “Seward’s Madness”
– Sutter’s Mill and the Gold Rush
– The impeachment of Andrew Johnson
– Carpet baggers
– Abner Doubleday and the Cincinnati Red Stockings
– The Civil War
– John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry
– The Dred Scott decision
– The Mexican-American War
– Tammany Hall and “Boss” Tweed
– The assassinations of Abraham Lincoln, James A. Garfield and William McKinley
– The Lincoln-Douglas debates
– The Missouri Compromise and the Kansas-Nebraska Act
– Triad Sugar-Rum-Slave
– “Old Hickory” and his dismantling of the Second Bank of the United States, and the payment of the national debt
– The War of 1812 and the battles of Tippecanoe and New Orleans
– The burning of the White House and Washington
– The expedition of Lewis and Clark and the purchase of Louisiana
– Jefferson’s Democratic-Republicans vs. Hamilton’s Federalists.
– The foundation of the District of Columbia and Pierre Charles L’Enfant
– The whiskey rebellion
– The importance of the US Constitution and Bill of Rights
– The Statutes of the Confederation
– Nathan Hale and Benedict Arnold
– The Declaration of Independence
– The Revolutionary War, from Bunker Hill to Yorktown
– “Common Sense” by Thomas Paine
– The effect of the British monarchy and taxation
– The French and Indian wars
– American fishing and whaling industries
– Williamsburg, St. Augustine
– The Plymouth Colony and Compact
I guess these subjects are meaningless and carry no lesson of merit. Without this background, I doubt very much that students will understand how our country was formed, how it fought through adversity, and how it evolved. Without this knowledge, I don’t think students will have a true appreciation of what our country is, our identity, why it must be defended, and will likely repeat the same mistakes. I understand that math, science, and languages are important, but American history is vital to good government and citizenship.
Beyond that, I was surprised to learn “World History” that was only taught from WWI onwards, which surprised me. What about Ancient Egypt, Greece, Rome, China and Japan, The Inquisition, The Wars of the Roses, Magna Carta, Marco Polo, Vasco da Gama, Ferdinand Magellan, Amerigo Vespucci, Christopher Columbus, Captain James Cook, Galileo, Sir Isaac Newton, Napoleon Bonaparte, Charles Darwin, Joan of Arc, Socrates, Confucius, etc.?
I guess that didn’t mean anything either and I wasted my time learning it.
“We’re raising a generation that is historically illiterate and has very little, very little knowledge of the system on which our entire civilization is based. It’s unfortunate and dangerous.”
– Historian David McCullough
And, no, Samuel Adams was not our second president.
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