Teaching the History of a Free People

Earlier this week, my friend Schaeferhistorian wrote on his blog about how we are, in many ways, Expunging Our Past.

Progressive historians like Charles Beard… went to great lengths to discredit the work of America’s first published historian, George Bancroft.  The Nationalist school of American history revered our Founders and proclaimed American exceptionalism.  Beard argued that America’s founding ideals were nothing more than a clever disguise for our true inspiration, greed.  The New Left revisionism that pervades historiography today is a mere continuation of Beard’s fundamentally flawed concept- America really isn’t that great….

[…]

The overriding message should be that historical figures are human and not infallible. We can honor their great deeds and learn from their most human mistakes. 

We must stop this current craze of tearing down and erasing our history because the historical figures did not possess our modern sensibilities. 

I couldn’t agree more and the emphasis is his.

Then comes Jonathan Pidluzny with more of the story in The Federalist.

If “reading maketh a full man,” as Sir Francis Bacon avers, Then the New York Times best-seller list is a window into the American soul. To judge from the view, we are an angry, divided, and shallow nation.

A deeper look, however, can give us some hope even in that bleak landscape of elite Americana. One finds several encouraging entries on this week’s predictable slew of political screeds and celebrity tell-alls. David McCullough’s “The Pioneers: The Heroic Story of the Settlers Who Brought the American Ideal West” is an academic history about the settlement of Ohio written in characteristically beautiful prose. A little further down, “The British Are Coming: The War for America, Lexington to Princeton, 1775-1777,” by Rick Atkinson, is the first volume of his Revolutionary War trilogy.

He mentions a few more including Senator Tom Cotton’s memoir of his time in The Old Guard. And I’d add that if you want your kids to have a better appreciation of what it has cost to build this country – Go to Arlington.

There at General Robert E. Lee’s house, stolen from him by a vengeful US government for use as a cemetery (the first graves were those of colored infantrymen in Mrs. Lee’s Rose Garden). Over time the hurt has faded, and I doubt that the General could find a better use for his plantation than as a beacon of American Duty and Honor. Something he himself epitomized, whatever the loons say, R. E. Lee remains amongst the greats of American history.

But you won’t learn that in a current textbook, you’ll be taught mostly that he was a slave owner (he was, he had one. His wife had some, inherited from her family, that under the law, they couldn’t free.)

In any case, Jonathan is making a valiant effort to show, that while Americans will quite happily read American history. And he’s right, they will. The most-read posts here are the ones on history, which is a good thing because they are my favorites, as well. But quite a few Universities are dropping their history programs.

Bernie Patterson, chancellor at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, explained his university’s rationale for eliminating its history major along similar lines, as part of the institution’s effort to build a “new kind of university” focused on delivering “programs aligned with the career-focused goals of our students and the needs of regional communities and businesses.”

Stevens Point abandoned the proposal after a student and faculty insurrection. Unfortunately, universities elsewhere—including Wheeling Jesuit University and the University of Tulsa, both institutions long known for strong liberal arts curricula—are moving forward with plans to axe programs and faculty in traditional arts and sciences disciplines.

Good-faith concerns about graduates’ workplace readiness in the age of skyrocketing tuition costs may explain a part of the precipitous decline. But so does the abandonment by history faculties of the kind of history Americans hunger for—the kind that catapults a book onto The New York Times best-seller list. As professors move away from offering “big picture” survey courses—Colonial America, American History to 1865, Twentieth Century America, etc.—in favor of “micro-histories” tailored to their specialized research interests (or worse, invocations to political activism welded to histories designed to desecrate the country’s past), their numbers will continue to dwindle.

I also note that UW-Stevens Point, on their website, claims to prepare their student for global citizenship with a catalog which looks to me like a teacher’s college. Well, They are part of the Unversity of Wisconsin, where the revisionism nonsense itself got started, so no big surprise.

He’s correct, it is worrying that we are starting to not teach our heritage, but I also say this, better not to teach history at all than the evil practice of filling young heads with knowledge that is not only wrong but knowingly and intentionally wrong. That is truly evil.

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