By Bill Korach www.thereportcard.org
Students of history reading today’s dry, dull textbooks with their generally jaundiced perspective of America’s contribution to liberty tend not to value their heritage. Is it any wonder that an organization like Occupy Wall Street should take hold of America’s youth? The National Association of Scholars points out that today’s history textbooks are dominated by Race Class and Gender issues. In these textbooks, America’s ruling class has oppressed non-whites, cheated the working poor through greed and deprived women of their choices. Little to nothing of American Exceptionalism will be found in today’s textbooks. Not so the textbooks of earlier days.
A friend lent me A Brief History of the United States published for the first time in 1871 by A.S. Barnes & Company, New York. Although the book is withered and the paper dry and frail from age, the words and patriotism crackle like lighting across the pages. It seems, in those days, book publishers considered pride in America a virtue. A Brief History of the United States covers the early settlement of America through Reconstruction. The introduction speaks for itself:
“This work is offered to American youth in the confident belief that as they study the wonderful history of their native land, they will learn to prize their birthright more highly, and treasure it more carefully. Their patriotism must be kindled when they come to see how slowly, yet how gloriously, this tree of liberty has grown, what storms have wrenched its boughs, what sweat of toil and blood has moistened its roots, what eager eyes have watched every out-springing bud, what brave hearts have defended it, loving it even unto death. A heritage thus sanctified by the heroism and devotion of the fathers cannot but elicit the choicest care and tenderest love of the sons.”
Now that is frank admiration that one would seek in vain in today’s history textbooks. The 312-page textbook contains a detailed list of classroom questions on each of the six epochs that Barnes identifies. Here are a few examples:
“Describe John Smith’s explorations at the north. What authority was granted to the Council of New England? What became of the Plymouth Company? Give some account of the landing of the Pilgrims. Who were the Puritans? What was the difference between the Puritans and the Pilgrims? Why did the Puritans come to this country? When?
What was their character? What story is told to illustrate their piety? Describe their sufferings.”
“Tell something of the weakness of the government. What held the colonies together? Cause of Shay’s rebellion? What need was felt? How was it met? When was the Constitution adopted? What parties arose? How soon was the Constitution ratified? How many states were necessary? When did the new government go into operation?”
The right to criticize America is guarantied by the First Amendment. But many of todays textbooks and classroom discussions go beyond reasonable self-criticism and board on neurotic self-hatred. Today’s students and our educational standards could learn a lesson from A Brief History of the United States.