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Good, the bad, the ugly when teaching history

June 29, 2020

Education is crucial for a democratic society to successfully function as designed. America’s failure to provide an education is evident and contributes to the violence and anarchy currently occurring in our country, as demonstrated by deplorable acts of vandalism, looting, censorship and total disregard of the law. Such unlawfulness harms us all. For the past couple of decades, there are two subjects that have become the primary focus in American schools: Math and language arts. These subjects are state tested. These are the subjects in which the majority of instructional time is dedicated.  Others, especially our own history, have been ignored and devalued to the point that some school districts and colleges no longer require successful completion of an American history course as a requirement for graduation.  In 2016, a U.S. News and World Report reported that only 23 undergraduate history programs at the top 25 U.S. national universities, public institutions, and liberal arts colleges require a single American history course. If a course is required it does not have to be a course that is all-encompassing. It can be a small segment of American history that could potentially fail to provide significant background and information, thus making it valueless.  I have met students who could not tell me the difference between the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution. Students who were unable to explain the purpose, the content of these documents, and why/how these documents came into existence. Students who did not know or understand how our government is structured and how it functions. Students who have no conception of what their role and responsibilities are in a democratic republic. Students who have no idea how our past impacts our present and our future. American history is important. History, taught properly, provides us great skills. The following are a few of these skills. Analysis. History requires us to critically read and evaluate multiple types of information and trains us to provide a logical factual conclusion or argument both orally and in writing.  Cultural awareness. It teaches us respect and tolerance for others, and an understanding of their historic journey and experiences. It provides all citizens a shared history and a personal reference of who we are and teaches how the freedoms and rights we value should be protected and applied. We must include the good, the bad, the ugly when teaching history. For example. The good, the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution abolished slavery in America. The bad, the 13th Amendment states, “except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted.” The ugly, the words, “duly convicted” motivated the increase of arrests of black Americans for crimes not committed in order to establish a “new slavery” after the American Civil War. History provides us a guide of where we were, where we are and where we need to get. American history is our inheritance. We cannot change it and if we censor or eradicate it, we do so at our peril. But, like all inheritances there are things of value worth keeping and items of little or no value that we can change or discard. We must be smart enough, educated enough, to be able to differentiate between them.  If we do not teach Americans how to be citizens and caretakers of a healthy and properly functioning democratic republic, in which the law must apply equally to all, the unlawful silencing of differing opinions, the violence, the anarchy, the destruction will continue and escalate.  Those truths that are self-evident, that all are created equal and entitled to certain unalienable rights of life, liberty and happiness will no longer exist for anyone. 

Joan Nisler
Lewes
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