Why History Education needs Improvement

As individuals we, hopefully, learn from past mistakes and successes if we want to be successful in life. So too, as a nation, we need to learn from our past. I’m convinced that the only way to do that is to have a good knowledge of where we’ve been as a nation. In order to avoid continually repeating our mistakes, we need to learn from our history. It’s often been said that knowledge is power and the way to obtain that power as a nation is to know our history.

Like that of every other nation, American history is full of success and failure. Many of the problems we have as a nation today, originated at some point in our past. And if we ever want to solve these issues, than we need to understand the past and truly examine the causes. At one point or another almost every nationality of people who have come to this country have been discriminated against and faced tremendous racial prejudice. And yet without the contributions of these minorities, the United States would not be the nation it is today. In too many of today’s history classes the past is glossed over and students are often given poor or false information based on the teacher’s knowledge, personal viewpoint, or even political leanings. It seems that, unlike math, or science, there is little conformity in what students are being taught.

Each year history text books are being published and used in classrooms across the country which contain numerous factual errors. In the late 1990s, Reader’s Digest did a poll of recent college graduates. They found that an overwhelming majority had no idea of what happened on December 7 1941. A surprising number had little or no knowledge of the American Revolution, the Civil War, or even more recent events such as World War I, the Great Depression, World War II, or even of the Vietnam Conflict. In that same time frame, Reader’s Digest noted that a high school history text being used in Texas contained over 400 factual errors, among others the so called fact that the United States used atomic bombs in the Korean Conflict of the 1950s.

All of us should know that as a nation, we have not only had tremendous accomplishments in the past, but we have also made some horrendous mistakes. There is no denying that enslavement of blacks for over 200 years, mistreatment of the Native American tribes, particularly the reservation era, internment of the Japanese Americans on the West Coast during World War II, and a whole litany of other mistakes represent some of the darkest days of our past. And let’s not forget the “Jim Crow laws” that were enacted in many states following the Civil War and continuing into the 20th century, to deny blacks of their rights as citizens. Yet, how many of us know of the contributions of black soldiers during the Civil War and the Indian Wars, or of the Tuskegee Airmen during World War II? The Tuskegee Airmen, an all black squadron, was the only group of fighter pilots in World War II to never lose a bomber they were escorting on a mission. How many of know of the exploits of the Japanese American Regiment in World War II that fought with distinction in the Italian campaign and others? The first Transcontinental Railroad could not and probably would not have been built if not for the thousands of immigrant Irish and Chinese who made up the vast majority of its workforce. Texas Independence would not have been won if not for the contribution and heroism of its Mexican citizens. Black men and women like Harriet Tubman, Rosa Park, Booker T. Washington, George Washington Carver and so many others have made significant contributions to the fields of education, science, freedom, and equality. A black doctor discovered plasma which saved numerous lives in World War II and Korea, yet died following a traffic accident when an all white hospital would not admit him. Numerous protest marches led by the late Dr. Martin Luther King, and others,and energized the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s and changed the face of the American political landscape forever. How many of us know that a regiment of Cherokee Indians fought for the South in the Civil War or that there were blacks who were willing to fight for the South?

How many of us know of the contributions made by the mountain men in leading and enabling settlement to the West Coast? All of these issues and events and so many more make up our past as a nation and have shaped who we are today. And if we forget that past, or the issues that face us as a nation today; we are putting future generations of citizens and the future of this country at risk! Remembering and understanding the past gives us the knowledge to make intelligent and compassionate decisions not only now but in the future. It has the efforts of countless generations of immigrants, beginning with the earliest settlers, to get our country where it is today. And it will take the efforts of future generations to learn from the past and continue to keep this country great and to make it even better in the future. Millions of people worldwide continue to try and come to this country each year to start a new life for themselves and their families.