Just the Facts, Mam

Just the Facts, Mam

By Patrick F. Cannon

Based on my own education – which began 77 years ago and continues – I can tell you that there was just a smattering of African-American history taught until I got to college. I can’t pretend to know what kids in the South were taught, but even in grammar school in Pittsburgh and Chicago, we were made aware that slavery was an evil and that the Emancipation Proclamation and Civil War ended it, and that was pretty much it.

            By the time I graduated from college, I had a much better appreciation for the appalling effects of slavery; and I grew up with the civil rights movement of the 1960s and later. The problem with Americans is not that they are ignorant of African-American history; rather it is their abysmal ignorance of American – much less world – history in general. Here’s a depressing fact: only one in three Americans were able to pass the citizenship test, which requires only that you answer 60 percent of the questions correctly.

            To me, the answer to this is not teaching more African-American history, but actually mandating that children be taught, in appropriate stages, the entire history of their country, warts and all. Frankly, I don’t think it’s healthy for the kids involved to single out any particular racial or ethnic group for special attention. On Monday, I was informed by the Chicago Tribune (or what’s left of it) that Illinois schools would be required to teach Asian-American history. What next? Native American history? Armenian-American history? Where does this end?

            I won’t go into the subject of “critical race theory” except to say that if factual history were taught at all levels, then an intelligent person would discover on his or her own that it has mostly been better to be white in this country than black. At certain times, it has also been better to be from Western Europe than Eastern; and Protestant rather than Roman Catholic; and anything rather than Jewish. Similarly, courses in world history should not exclude any part of the world. Then, if you’re interested in further exploring your own racial or ethnic background, there are plenty of sources available.

            Although one should be careful about making blanket statements, it seems to me that these mandatory courses are more indoctrination than anything else. How else can you explain little white kids being made to feel guilty for their skin color, as if the mere fact of it means they are tainted by systemic racism at birth. Is racism really genetic?  Some people seem to believe it is.

            And just who teaches our kids history? Or is it “social studies?”  I would be interested to see how many primary grade teachers could pass that citizenship test. In high schools, no one should teach history who was not a history major in college, and who can’t pass a test on the subject he or she is teaching. Not a test on theory, but on subject knowledge. And no teacher should go into a classroom with a political bias. And no teacher should be taught that they are part of a social experiment. As Joe Friday (a legendary TV detective on Dragnet; look him up) was fond of saying: “just the facts, mam.”

Copyright 2021, Patrick F. Cannon

3 thoughts on “Just the Facts, Mam

  1. Once again, you’ve nailed it, Pat! If a majority of Americans had your level of knowledge and common sense, we truly would be the best country in the world!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. You mean, like, history before the Beatles? That’s old history, man. People in wigs, Nazis. that sort of thing.

    My high school history teacher reasoned we should study the subject to avoid repeating past mistakes. Ever the Brooklyn wise guy, I argued it didn’t matter. Even knowing the wrong done in the past, we still did it. Today I might add, if you don’t like what history tells you, you can edit it.

    History as taught in many public schools today mirrors the views of dominant political constituencies. When I was in grade school, the immigrant experience was still fresh in people’s minds. So we learned of the hardship and courage of the Pilgrims who landed on Plymouth Rock (today a rather sad looking stone) in 1620, and of the voyages of Columbus, Henry Hudson, Magellan, De Soto, and others. We could take the subway to Battery Park and see the Statue of Liberty in the harbor. Cowboy movies and shows on TV relived the settlement of the West.

    Now the dominant themes are race and climate. Thus we have the 1619 Project, Harold Zinn’s subversive polemic, slave-owning Founding Fathers, and a bumbling, brutal Columbus who exploited indigenous cultures and destroyed the environment. Every severe weather event is proof of our sins against nature.

    Facts can be hard to come by and fungible. Today’s history teachers get their training in education classes, not the history section of the library where you actually have to read something. They just teach the textbook.

    But history does like to repeat itself. Mussolini dreamed of recreating the Roman Empire. He got as far as Ethiopia and Somalia. Our current political regime seeks a return to the New Deal of the Great Depression, and the Great Society. We may get as far as bread lines and Pruitt-Igoe.

    The more things change, the more they go back to where they were before. Now if only we could change enough to revive the Renaissance or the Enlightenment!

    Liked by 1 person

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