Why History Education needs Improvement

When I look back on the course of my required classes, it went something like this: grade 4: Indiana history; gr. 5: US history; gr. 6: Canada & Latin/South America; gr. 7: world history; gr. 8: Indiana/US history; gr. 9: [we were somehow exempt, but normally it’s geography]; gr. 10: world history; gr. 11: [AP] US history; gr. 12: government/economics. That seems like a lot of history, but it was often repetitious.

I’m not saying that from a student’s prospective. There are some parts of our history that bears repeating, each year with more detail and critical thinking behind it. Everyone in this country should be aware of Columbus’ landing, the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, etc. But now that I’ve been out of high school for nearly ten years, I’ve realized that there are huge portions of our history that have been glossed over or merely “touched on.”

For example, I don’t remember talking that much about the taking of Texas from the Mexicans and the war that ensued because of this. We mentioned it in passing. I do remember discussing at length about World War I (or the Great War as it was called at the time). But we only discussed World War II for about a week. The one war of our grandparent’s generation, and we only give it a week. There was barely any mention of Korea or of Vietnam. And only a reading assignment was given for the Iran-Contra affair or anything of the 1980s. For me, 20th century history stopped with World War I.

I also fault the history books (and possibly to an extent the history teachers). It also seems that there is only a little mention of anything that was socially turbulent. We wouldn’t want to show our country in anything other than the best (and rosiest) of lights. Of course, Susan B. Anthony is mentioned, as well as other suffragettes, and the convention of Women’s Rights at Seneca Falls, NY. There is little mention of the beginnings of the large corporate banks, including the Federal Reserve (which by the way is no more “federal” than Federal Express). I feel that history is presented, but not wholly presented. I don’t think they represent the whole story: the books only tell which version of history they want to present. (Japan has also been accused to limiting history in textbooks to show Japan in a better light.) There isn’t enough emphasis on how atrocious and corrupt some of the top leaders have been. I find it funny how when I’ll watch something on the History channel, and I think, “Hmm that’s different from what I thought happened.”

Jay Leno sometimes does a segment called “Jay Walking,” where he picks people and interviews them on the spot, asking them various questions. It amazes me there are people who have no idea who our founding fathers are or other basic history highlights that you, as an American citizen, should know about your own country. Foreigners know more about our country than our own citizens. I just don’t know how you can go through school and NOT retain some of these things. I don’t expect people to remember polling data from the 1896 presidential campaign, but I think you should at least know the presidents presiding during each of the major wars. You should be aware of the major wars and have an idea of about when the wars were waged and against which countries. I think you should know all 50 states and be able to spell them correctly (as well as their capitals). You should know who the presidential candidates are and for which party for the current election. It’s just a sign of ignorance and irresponsibility. It’s not cool to be dumb about your own country.

History education is lacking, and it seems that (judging from the people on Jay Walking) they just don’t think it’s that important to know all that history junk. But I can tell you that it is important. Everyone has heard the old adage that history repeats itself. It does. The reason we study history is to learn from the mistakes we’ve made in the past. It’s also so that we learn to think critically and analyze situations, and to see the view from the other guy’s point vantage point. If we don’t start learning from history, we’ll be history.