As Schools Open, Those History Classes More Important Than Ever

The America which our high school students left back in May has changed considerably in just these last two months. Many teachers have already heard from their districts about how to address the current political differences withsensitivity. It echoes today’s talk about “both sides.” 

To be sure, there have always been different sides in our remarkable national history; often, however, our students get only one. Generally the one that appears in the State/District approved textbooks. But unlike those critics who argue “bias” in certain science texts, there is historiographic consensus in most history textbooks. Still, it begs the question for those community parents who frequently assume the title “concerned parents” at their district board meetings.

So where are we as we begin the new school term?

Most history classes will help students see the warts as well as the wonders to our national icons. But the really gifted teachers will go further. They will help their class see the warts as being part of our human nature; while valuing the wonders as those exceptions to our nature for which we all strive. Call it a blend of realism and heroism.

A quick sampling may make the point: 

* Yes, it’s true Columbus invaded more than discovered the New World. He ruthlessly exploited the Native American population. Still….his vision and courage to dare the voyage warrants him a place of honor

* Yes, the New England witch trials were heinous examples of ignorance and cruelty without due process. Still….the Puritans and their courts operated upon the noble belief that society is responsible to its God

* Yes, Washington owned slaves, as did many of our Founding Fathers. Still….his courage in battle and wisdom in rule set the tone for our consituional government ever since

* Yes, John Brown’s raid to free slaves can be seen as an example of zealotry spilling over into  violent insurrection. Still….he was then and has been since held high as a reformer who paved the way for emancipation

* Yes, Custer’s Indian raid at Little Big Horn was the act of an ill-prepared narcissist who wasted lives on both sides. Still….he was then and to some still is an example of the military elan of West Point

* Yes, Kennedy lived too short and too inconclusive a term as President. Still….he helped personify for his generation our noblest beliefs in ourselves as a young visionary nation


To the “concerned parents” out there, none of the above is ruthlessly right or wrong. But just maybe it’s a handy start to your next conversation with your high schooler over dinner. How our nation is one of both warts and wonders. And how they should look forward to this year’s history class as more than a credit toward their graduation. Instead, a credit toward their informed citizenship at a time when their country needs them….

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