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American History 101

While visiting high school teacher friends, I asked how American history was taught today. I’ve always had a fondness for history, even if the teacher was boring. I especially enjoyed learning about the American Civil War and the events leading up to it. I saw it as an epochal event that defined the American character. The aftermath of the Civil War was also interesting, including the carpet bags and the corruption of the Grant administration. Most of what I learned came from the history and social studies classes I took from elementary to high school. I didn’t take any formal history classes in college, but I learned a lot from the other classes I took. To emphasize the meaning of a subject, teachers have often found it necessary to describe its historical roots.

I was appalled to learn that American history was taught superficially. Remarkably, it was taught from World War II and progressing to today. I also realized that the high school history teacher made extensive use of DVD music videos as opposed to lectures which I found rather odd. Videos provide great stimuli, but their well-written scripts don’t always provide the rationalization of an event.

The school’s interpretation of American history spans 73 years. I guess anything before 1940 was considered inconsequential, like:

– The Great Depression and the Dust Bowl

– Prohibition, smuggling and the rise of organized crime; for example, Al Capone

– Women’s Suffrage and 19th Amendment

– The court-martial of General Billy Mitchell

– The Roaring Twenties, with clappers, “The Charleston” and Jazz

– Isolationism, the RMS Lusitania, Eddie Rickenbacker, Sgt. York, General Pershing and the League of Nations

– Construction of the Panama Canal

– John L. Sullivan, Jack Johnson and Gentleman Jim Corbett

– The Black Sox scandal

– The Spanish-American War, including the Rough Riders and “Remember the Maine”

– San Francisco earthquake and Johnstown flood

– Contributions from Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Edison, Guglielmo Marconi, Henry Ford, Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller, et al.

– World Expos in Philadelphia, Chicago, Buffalo and New York (twice)

– The rise of Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst.

– The works of Herman Melville, Mark Twain, Emily Dickinson, Henry David Thoreau, Walt Whitman, etc.

– The Passenger Pigeon and the virtual extinction of the American Bison

– The Wounded Knee Massacre

– Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse, General Custer and the Battle of the Little Bighorn

– Manifest Destiny and “Seward’s Folly”

– Sutter’s Mill and the Gold Rush

– The impeachment of Andrew Johnson

– Carpet baggers

– Abner Doubleday and the Cincinnati Red Stockings

– Civil war

– John Brown’s Raid on Harpers Ferry

– The Dred Scott Decision

– The Mexican-American War

– Tammany Hall and “Boss” Tweed

– The assassinations of Abraham Lincoln, James A. Garfield and William McKinley

– The Lincoln-Douglas debates

– The Missouri Compromise and the Kansas-Nebraska Act

– Sugar-Rum-Slave Triad

– “Old Hickory” and its dismantling of the second bank of the United States and the repayment of the national debt

– The War of 1812 and the Battles of Tippecanoe and New Orleans

– The burning of the White House and Washington

– Gerrymandering

– The Lewis and Clark Expedition and the Louisiana Purchase

– The Democrat-Republicans of Jefferson against the Federalists of Hamilton.

– The founding of the District of Columbia and Pierre Charles L’Enfant

– The Whiskey Rebellion

– The importance of the United States Constitution and Bill of Rights

– The Articles of Confederation

– Nathan Hale and Benedict Arnold

– The Declaration of Independence

– The Revolutionary War, from Bunker Hill to Yorktown

– “Common Sense” by Thomas Paine

– The effect of the British monarchy and taxation

– The French and Indian wars

– American whaling and fishing industry

– Williamsburg, St. Augustine

– Plymouth Colony and Compact

I guess these topics make no sense and carry no lessons of merit. Without such experience, I seriously doubt that students understand how our country was formed, weathered and evolved. Without such knowledge, I don’t believe students have a true appreciation of what our country is, who we are, why it should be defended, and will likely repeat the same mistakes. I know math, science, and languages ​​are important, but American history is vital to good government and good citizenship.

Beyond that, I was stunned to learn that “world history” wasn’t taught until WW1, which blew my mind. What about ancient Egypt, Greece, Rome, China and Japan, the Inquisition, the Wars of the Roses, Magna Carta, Marco Polo, Vasco da Gama, of Ferdinand Magellan, Amerigo Vespucci, Christopher Columbus, Captain James Cook, Galileo, Sir Isaac Newton, Napoleon Bonapart, Charles Darwin, Joan of Arc, Socrates, Confucius, etc. ?

Guess that meant nothing and wasted my time learning about it.

“We are raising a generation that is historically illiterate and has a very sketchy, very thin knowledge of the system upon which our entire civilization is based. That is unfortunate and dangerous.”

– Historian David McCullough

And, no, Samuel Adams was not our second president.

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