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Jewish World Review
August 7, 2008
/ 6 Menachem-Av 5768
America is Great Teach that to the Kids
Up until the age of 25 or so, most of everything I knew about the United States of America I learned in school. I've learned more since then, of course, through independent reading, life experiences, and other sources. But by and large we, all of us, get our basic overview of America's history from our early schooling.
I am of the generation that was taught that America is the greatest country on earth. We were taught that assimilation into America's culture by immigrants (who came here legally) was a very important part of being an American. Today's kids are taught something quite different. They are taught that America is flawed. They are taught that assimilation into American culture is not as important as retaining the cultural identity of whatever country it was that you or your people originally came from.
History is still being taught in public schools, but not with the same degree of pride and patriotism that was taught to my generation. American history used to be taught with the goal of making students feel good about being Americans. Now it is taught with an eye to making all students feel good about being themselves - no matter what that may be.
There are racial and gender quotas written in to textbooks now. By law, certain percentages of pages must cover how women, blacks. Latinos, and yes, now even homosexuals and other minorities have contributed to making America the country it is. The white guys are played down and the minorities are played up. The only problem is our country was founded by white guys, not by Latino, bisexual women.
Whatever is still taught in today's classrooms about the white founding fathers is, much of the time, taught with revisionist notions, playing down the greatness while playing up the negative aspects of their lives. And even though there is more history to be taught to students now than there was, say 40 years ago, less time is spent on it today. Thanks to cultural diversity pressure groups, room had to be made for the histories of other countries, so American history was cut back.
Pulitzer-prize winning author and historian David McCullough has taken this problem quite seriously. Mr. McCullough has said that the ignorance of American history among U.S. high school students and teachers is a threat to national security. Five years ago McCullough told a Senate panel that "we are raising a generation of people who are historically illiterate."
McCullough blamed the blending of history with broader social studies curricula for poor student knowledge of the subject. "It is impossible for even the best-trained teacher to do justice to the full sweep of America's history in a curriculum that also covers such topics as geography, the environment, conflict resolution and world cultures," McCullough stated.
President Reagan recognized the problem over twenty years ago and made it an integral part of his Farwell Address to the Nation on January 11, of 1989. Part of it goes like this:
"An informed patriotism is what we want. And are we doing a good enough job teaching our children what America is and what she represents in the long history of the world? Those of us who are over 35 or so years of age grew up in a different America. We were taught, very directly, what it means to be an American. And we absorbed, almost in the air, a love of country and an appreciation of its institutions. If you didn't get these things from your family, you got them from the neighborhood, from the father down the street who fought in Korea or the family who lost someone at Anzio. Or you could get a sense of patriotism from school. And if all else failed, you could get a sense of patriotism from popular culture. The movies celebrated democratic values and implicitly reinforced the idea that America was special. TV was like that, too, through the mid-'60s.
"But now, we're about to enter the '90s, and some things have changed. Younger parents aren't sure that an unambivalent appreciation of America is the right thing to teach modern children. And as for those who create the popular culture, well-grounded patriotism is no longer the style. Our spirit is back, but we haven't reinstitutionalized it. We've got to do a better job of getting across that America is freedomfreedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of enterprise. And freedom is special and rare. It's fragile; it needs protection.
"So, we've got to teach history based not on what's in fashion but what's important: Why the Pilgrims came here, who Jimmy Doolittle was, and what those 30 seconds over Tokyo meant. You know, four years ago on the 40th anniversary of D-Day, I read a letter from a young woman writing of her late father, who'd fought on Omaha Beach. Her name was Lisa Zanatta Henn, and she said, "We will always remember, we will never forget what the boys of Normandy did." Well, let's help her keep her word. If we forget what we did, we won't know who we are. I'm warning of an eradication of the American memory that could result, ultimately, in an erosion of the American spiritů"
Yep, that was President Reagan's plea twenty years ago and we haven't "reinstitutionalized" our teaching of American history yet! What are we waiting for? It's past time to let our kids in on the big secret - that America is the greatest country on earth and it is worthwhile learning about it.
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JWR contributor Greg Crosby, former creative head for Walt Disney publications, has written thousands of comics, hundreds of children's books, dozens of essays, and a letter to his congressman. A freelance writer in Southern California, you may contact him by clicking here.
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