What is History, and How Should It Be Taught?

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About a week ago, Indian Country Today Media Network, ran an article “Rewriting History…For better This Time.” The story relates how the new high school Advanced Placement exam for U. S. History students has raised the ire of many school board members across the south. As I read, I vaguely recalled a similar column written by Dr. Thomas Sowell and carried by the Atlanta Journal Constitution. Dr. Sowell’s article is titled “The Role of ‘Educators,’ and appeared in January, 2013. He recalls that “schools were once thought of as places where a society’s knowledge and experience were passed on to the younger generation.” He continues by saying “…we are seeing schools across America indoctrinating students to believe in all sorts of politically correct notions. The history that is taught in too many of our schools is a history that emphasizes everything that has gone bad, or can be made to look bad in America—and that gives little, if any, attention to the great achievements of this country.”

In the ICTMN story, Mr. Ken Mercer, a member of the Texas School Board of Education, states flatly that “the purpose of history in schools is to ‘teach students to be proud American Citizens,’ and that means a strict emphasis on the Founding Father’s, the military exploits of national icons, and the depiction of the colonization, settlement, and Christianization of North America as a great achievement.” To both gentlemen, I say REALLY?

According to Merriam Webster’s dictionary, history is defined as “The study of past events. A chronological record of significant events including an explanation of there causes.” That definition has remained constant since the first publication in 1831, a time when both gentlemen would probably agree to be the “good old days.”

To study history is to not only ask Who, When, where, but to also ask WHY. When we study the fall of the great Roman Empire, do we not have to describe the events that lead to her downfall? Of course we do. But that’s okay for Mercer and Sowell, because it doesn’t reflect on person’s civic pride to point other country’s faults. Is it right to whitewash history just to prevent embarrassing our “Founding Father’s?” What these men are advocating is a belief that “might makes right,” and “the end justifies the means.”

You see, we can’t sing “America the Beautiful, from sea to shining sea,” without at least a foot note that says we got there by seizing 1.5 billion acres of land from 1776 to 1887 that belonged to America’s indigenous people. That doesn’t count the land seized prior to our Independence.

The entire argument regarding truth in education reminds me of the scene from A Few Good Men, when Tom Cruise tells Jack Nicholson that all he wants is the truth, and Nicholson shouts “You can’t handle the truth!”. In America, where we have a first amendment as well as a second, who, under the Sowell/Mercer system, gets to know the truth and who gets to decide?

These men, and the many others like them, are concerned that our children are being “brainwashed” by teachers who tell the history of our country the way it happened. My question is, what is it called when you teach only the good and the glorious? Propaganda!

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