Forgetting the Past

My radio partner Brian Ward of Fraters Libertas noted an appalling instance of historical ignorance in the Minneapolis public schools, and added his thoughts on the current epidemic of amnesia:

When asked what historical figure they’d most like to study this year, an astounding 22 of the 35 students in Ms. Ellingham’s eighth-grade history class at Susan B. Anthony middle school in Minneapolis answered, “Yoko Ono” and/or “John Lennon.”

I weep for the future.

The great historian David McCullough was on C-SPAN this past week, looking like a beaten man while describing the crushing level of historical ignorance among America’s youth. He summed up with the warning that one can never love a country one doesn’t know. It sounded like an epitaph.

Brian quotes from McCullough’s address when he accepted the National Book Award:

We, in our time, are raising a new generation of Americans who, to an alarming degree, are historically illiterate. …

Warning signals, in special studies and reports, have been sounded for years, and most emphatically by the Bradley Report of 1988. Now, we have the blunt conclusions of a new survey by the Education Department: The decided majority, some 60 percent, of the nation’s high school seniors haven’t even the most basic understanding of American history. The statistical breakdowns on specific examples are appalling.

But I speak also from experience. On a winter morning on the campus of one of our finest colleges, in a lively Ivy League setting with the snow falling outside the window, I sat with a seminar of some twenty-five students, all seniors majoring in history, all honors students-the cream of the crop. “How many of you know who George Marshall was?” I asked. None. Not one.

We have noted several times Barack Obama’s surprising ignorance of American history. But in that context, maybe it isn’t surprising at all. Maybe Obama is above average by today’s standards.

My youngest daughter started middle school this year. After around a month of classes, as far as I can tell the curriculum consists largely of propaganda about recycling. My high school age daughter told me tonight that in Spanish class she has been taught to say “global warming,” “acid rain” and “greenhouse effect” in Spanish. I don’t think they’ve gotten around to translating “hoax” yet.

The schools can teach anything if they care about it. The problem is that they don’t care about teaching history, least of all American history. Public education is agenda-driven, and American history–the facts of American history–is not on the agenda.

Which leaves us with McCullough’s sad conclusion. The heritage that our forefathers sacrificed so much to leave us will most likely soon be lost, because the next generation won’t even know what that heritage is.

To comment on this post, go here.


Books to read from Power Line