Saturday, September 5, 2009

Studying History from this POV

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Example of the lack of historical knowledge

Mark Safranski master of Zenpundit has posted what I would deem the read of the summer. His post comes at the end of a week that gave the world the chance to reflect on two important dates that occurred back to back and marked the beginning and the end of the most horrific event of modern history, A “Teachable Moment”, 70 Years On and Thank you Greatest Generation. These two events, have slipped the pages of memory for most, and are retained amid the shrinking cadre of people who count history as an important craft to be followed or taught.

Mark found the seed for his post in a post, September 1, 1939 by fellow blogger Lexington Green who invited readers to list their favorite book on World War II. Mark drew on Lex's post to pen an important piece on the state of teaching history in our public schools.

The ideological Marxoid craziness of which Lex writes does indeed exist, though it is far more common in university courses than in secondary school classrooms ( Oak Park, though, is a pretty liberal UMC burg) and more common in urban school districts on the coasts than in the Midwest or South. In particular, I have seen firsthand at national conferences, teacher-zealots from California who appear to have been kicked out of Trotskyite Collectives for excessive radicalism and who are more like the mentally unsound homeless than someone entrusted with the education of children. They are largely scary exceptions though. The main problem with the teaching of history in our public schools is that as far as subjects go, history is a tertiary concern of government officials, administrators and school boards; as a result, most of history instructors are hard working and well-meaning people who are by education, totally unqualified for the positions they hold.

Sadly, Mark's observations are on target with laser clarity. Each year the number of students failing to graduate high school continue to fall. Enrollment in colleges and universities have undergone a demographic shift that causes one to ask, Where have all the young men gone?
Can it be that young men, once allowed to read about the acomplishments of their ancestors, have been made content to learn that those forefather's surpressed every other race, creed and gender, leaving them with a inner sense of self-loathing. No wonder that when compared to many men today, the site The Art of Manliness looks foreign.

Mark continues:

Aggravating matters, even if a prospective teacher did major in history in college, fewer of their professors were full-time history instructors than ever before, meaning that even the quality of the small minority of teachers who are history majors is going into decline! NCLB scorns history as a subject, so school districts across the nation will continue to starve it. Poorer districts will fire all the social studies teachers in coming years and parcel out the history sections to unwilling English teachers in order to save the jobs that will preserve reading scores (assuming those are making AYP in the first place). After that, the science teachers will start to get the axe.

As I finished reading this post and began to read the growing list of 41 Comments », I was struck with the impression that much of what Mark was warning about was being illustrated right before my eyes. The majority of the comments began to focus on a debate over the legitimacy of interning people of Japanese ancestry during the war. As much as the debate was lively and civil from both sides, it took away from the main point of Mark's post that history as taught in American schools is barely taught let along, focusing more on the social aspects of history instead of the consequences and effect on civilization. Americans are taught that our government failed to protect the rights of all citizens, at the same time, no mention is made of the interment and torture of foreign nationals by the Japanese government during the same time, or the the 20,000 Japanese-American citizens living in Japan being forced to renounce their citizenship at the point of a bayonet. and

Mark's respondents are a rather astute crowd whom do not reflect the average young American, who for the most part remains ignorant of many of the major events of history. But, many of them, became hung up on discussing a finite point, instead of addressing Mark's original thesis, that history is an almost non-existent subject, or at best used as a medium to chastise and reinforce the negative aspects of American and European history over any achievements.

What I have found in many of the classes I teach, is that the older students who are re-entering, have learned most of their history from watching the History Channel, or a series like Band of Brothers on HBO, and seem to be more receptive and interested in learning and discussing history. If I had a penny for every time one of my students said, "I saw that on the History Channel." I would have a jar of pennies. At least I get that from them, younger students, essays are filled with comments, like "corruption, lies, robbing the poor, crushing the dreams of the people, and a president worse than Hitler," when describing American government. If you try and ask the student to explain their rationale, they respond that it is the truth as they have learned from their history classes in high school and by watching John Stewart and Bill Mahr. It is revealing that during a discussion about World War II, General Patton, was only remembered for hitting a soldier, not his brilliant relief of Bastogne in the Battle of the Bulge.

A few months ago I was privileged to lead a reading group discussing Thomas Barnett's book Great Powers: America and the World After Bush. The touchstone chapter that set the stage to understand America's role in the future can be found in Chapter 3, where Barnett looks back at American history and in the space of seventy some pages outlines the accomplishments that are now for the most part overlooked in high school classrooms. I wrote a post that described my view on that subject, A Few Thoughts on the Importance of Teaching American History, it still has merit and deserves review.

1 comment:

Agha H Amin said...

i am deeply sad that young men are losing interest in reading least in pakistan.perceptions are getting narrow and its rarer to find young people with a mind which questions everything.