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History is AWOL

Nov 27, 2013 by

Poppy_flower_wallpaper_0EA52023Will Fitzhugh

The Concord Review
 
The Common Core National Education Standards are, they say, very interested in having all our students taught the techniques of deeper reading, deeper writing, deeper listening, deeper analysis, and deeper thinking.
 
What they seen to have almost no interest in, is knowledge—for example knowledge of history, especially military history. As far as I can tell at the moment, their view of the history our high school students need to know includes: The Letter From Birmingham Jail, The Gettysburg Address, and Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address. 
 
While these are all, of course, worthy objects for deeper reading and the like, they do not, to my mind, fully encompass the knowledge of the Magna Carta, the Constitution of the United States, the Battle of the Bulge and of Iwo Jima and of Okinawa, or the Women’s Christian Temperance Movement, or the U.S. transcontinental railroad, or the Panama Canal, or woman suffrage or the Great Depression, or a number of other interesting historical circumstances our students perhaps should know about. 
 
Nor does it seem to call for much knowledge about William Penn, or Increase Mather, or George Washington, or Alexander Hamilton, or Robert E. Lee, or Ulysses S. Grant, or Thomas Edison, or Elizabeth Cady Stanton, or Dwight David Eisenhower, or several hundreds of other historical figures who might be not only interesting, but also important for students to be familiar with.
 
In short, from what I have seen, the Common Core Vision of necessary historical knowledge includes what any high school Junior ought to be able to read in one afternoon (i.e. three short “historical documents”). 
 
Ignorance of history has, it may be said, been almost an American tradition, and many Americans have discovered in their travels, and to their embarrassment, that people in other countries may know more about our history than they do.
 
We have, many times in the past, even invaded countries our soldiers knew next to nothing about, and sometimes that has been a disadvantage for us. But if the Common Core doesn’t care if our students know any United States history, they are certainly not going to mind if our students don’t know the history of any other country either.
 
But even in schools were history is still taught, and where the Common Core has not yet sunk its roots, one area of history is perhaps neglected more than any other. Was it Trotsky who said: “You may not be interested in War, but War is interested in you.”?
 
And Publius Flavius Vegetius argued that: “If you want peace, prepare for war.” In many of our school history departments, military history is regarded as “militaristic,” and the thought, apparently, is that if we tell our students nothing about war, then war will simply go away. 
 
History doesn’t seem to support that notion, and if war does come to us again, it might be useful for students in places other than our Military Academies to know something about military history. In addition, military history tells absorbing stories of some of the most inspiring efforts ever made in the history of mankind.
 
We talk a fair amount these days about our Wounded Warriors and about what we owe to our veterans, past and present, but for some odd reason, that seldom translates into the responsibility to teach military history, at least to some minimal extent, to the students in our public high schools.
 
It is quite clear to me that ignorance of history does not make history go away, and ignorance of the lessons of history does not make us better prepared to understand the issues of our time. And certainly, in spite of whatever dreams and wishes are out there, ignorance of war has not ever made, and quite probably will not make, war go away.
 
We want to honor our veterans, but we do not do so by erasing knowledge of our wars, past and present, from our high school history curriculum, whatever the pundits who are bringing us the Common Core may think, about and plan for, the teaching of history.
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