It seems pretty obvious, in light of the recent “monument mess” and discussions/arguments over statues, that our nation’s schools have done a pretty poor job in teaching kids history. The New York Post reported earlier this year that an abysmal 18 percent of American high school students were “proficient” in history.
The Atlantic, NBC News, The New York Times, Smithsonian Magazine, and the Huffington Post all reported the same depressing news: American high school and college students too, apparently) simply do not know American or World history, geography, or civics.
The facts are, most American high school and college students are dreadfully and blissfully ignorant of the most basic information about their own country, government, and the history and cultures of the world around them. This can account for some of the behavior among mobs of “students” attacking free speech and vandalizing property. Do not expect the schools which have been teaching them thus far to turn things around anytime soon.
A good thorough, systematic knowledge of U.S. and World history must be taught to kids for the following reasons. (And since the schools, for whatever reason, are failing us in this matter, parents and grandparents must take up the slack and teach the kids at home. If they don’t, it won’t get done, and our country will continue to suffer as we are now.)
1. Learning history develops character.
From history students learn such virtues as character, perseverance, compassion, and justice. Kids can read great stories of how William Wilberforce for 50 years led the fight to end slavery in the British Empire, and saw success only at the end of his life!
Children also read about the great villains of history like Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, and Mao Zedong. (Ask a student today if they’ve ever heard of Mao and what he did. They probably have no clue that he was the greatest mass-murderer of all time.) In history, kids can compare and contrast the great heroes (like Winston Churchill) with the great villains (like Fidel Castro or Pol Pot), and learn to develop the character that sets heroes apart from villains.
2. History helps kids understand today’s world.
How did North Korea become the tyrannical communist state that it is today? Teachers (parents and grandparents) must take the kids back to World War II when the Japanese occupied the entire Korean peninsula. In the last week of the war, the Soviet Union declared war against Japan, invaded Korea, and set up a puppet state in the northern half of the country.
To understand Stalinism, students need to know who Karl Marx was and what he believed and wrote. Students need to understand Vladimir Lenin and Mao Zedong. They need to know about the tyrannical apparatus these men set up to control millions of people.
Why are American troops still in Afghanistan? Good question (I ask this question often myself!). The other day I was at the Flight 93 Memorial near Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Most of the visitors were old enough to have remembered vividly the horrible day of September 11, 2001. However, there were a number of people there age 20 and under.
Kids are not born automatically knowing all the events we have experienced. They had no idea what happened that day, or what has happened in the past 16 years to put our military in the Middle East. So parents and grandparents must go back and teach about the Quran (not a bad idea to actually read it, along with the Bible and compare/contrast the two), Muhammed, and the history of jihadism in the Middle East the past 70 years or so. We must connect the past to the present.
3. History connects kids to their community.
Do your kids know how your local community was founded? I grew up in the wonderful, beautiful city of Savannah, Georgia. When I was a kid, my community always had “Georgia Week” every February. My friends and I all learned about how General Oglethorpe wanted to start a colony for debtors (very few actually came), arranged a peace treaty with the Yamacraw Indians (Georgia was the only colony never to have a war with the Indians), and actually had slavery banned in the colony in 1735 (tragically, it was legalized in 1750).
I grew up knowing who my people were as Georgians, why Georgia existed, and how Georgians “fit” in the tapestry of America. My friends and I knew about Tomochichi and Count Casimir Pulaski and the Owens-Thomas House and the Ships of the Sea Museum and Juliet Gordon Lowe (founder of the Girl Scouts) … and we were PROUD of our city!
Do kids know this kind of stuff today about their community? Who better to teach them than their parents and grandparents?
4. History teaches perspective.
The uproar in America today is similar to the uproar in the 1960s. I remember well the communist SDS (Students for a Democratic Society) and the Weather Underground. I remember watching on TV the riots at the 1968 Democratic National Convention. I remember well the feeling of fear and depression in our country after the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy (although I was too young to understand what was going on). Americans who lived through this can tell kids today how such events are similar to today’s news and events.
I have taught my kids many of the stories my parents told me about the Great Depression and World War II, and I also pulled out photos and mementos of my grandparents and even great-grandparents from World War I and the late nineteenth century.
Through studying history, kids do not just learn from great world events, but also from personal family history that oftentimes, “we” have faced these trying times before. The 1940s, the 1930s, even the 1850s and the 1770s all had some similar situations. People faced them, overcame them, and went on with their lives.
5. History gives a sense of identity.
Where did we come from? Why are we here? What is our purpose for being here in America? My wife’s family came here 100 years ago from Italy and Hungary. My family came here 300 years ago from England and France. So, in studying our various family histories, my wife and I learned the stories of those nations, and why people emigrated from Europe to America. We learned what they hoped for, what they built, and hopefully what they passed on to us.
Our kids learned that Mom’s family came to Ellis Island literally with nothing. They wanted to become Americans. They were discriminated against, but worked hard and brought up their kids to be Americans. When World War II came, her uncles all fought in the Army against the Japanese. They were proud of their heritage from Europe, but they were 100 percent Americans and proud of that, too. They helped preserve our freedom, so we believe in our family that we all owe them (they have all passed away now), and need to carry on their legacy of preserving freedom.
6. History teaches what works and what doesn’t.
The 20th century was the single most bloody century in recorded history. Over 100 million people were slaughtered by socialist regimes (the German Nazis, the Italian Fascists, and world-wide Communists) in which political and economic power was concentrated in the hands of a few in government. In every country where Marxism has been tried, it has failed miserably, with a tragic human toll (look no further than Venezuela today).
Yet, American high school and college students today are gravitating toward the bloody, repressive failures of Marxism. Why? Aren’t they taught the history of Marxism’s march across the world for the past 100 years? Apparently not. Somebody needs to teach them the truth. They are not getting it in most of their high school or college education.
The only economic system that has lifted the vast majority of the world’s population out of wretched poverty is a free enterprise system (capitalism) which stems only from free governments. Who is teaching this to kids? Don’t wait until they are in high school. Teach them now, before it is too late.
Here is a link to my article on how to “fill in the blanks” when the schools don’t (or won’t) teach history.
7. History teaches responsibility and gratitude.
When I study how America was founded and the cost in blood it took to create a nation founded upon the idea of liberty and personal responsibility, it fills me with a sense of civic duty and gratitude. I have a desire now, to keep this country going, and to defend it against those who want to destroy and erase its history.
History humbles me, and I hope it fills my children with the same attitude. I see how there have been millions before me who built this country and preserved it. Surprise, surprise — the world, after all, does not revolve around me.
My greatest contribution to this world and to freedom in this country is not going to be found in marching in the streets, but rather in working in an honest job, saving my money, maybe creating jobs for others, and raising a decent family that loves other people. Study history, teach it with passion, and tell your kids and grandkids to pass the heritage of this great country on to the next generation.