(I originally posted this at The American Catholic and I thought the history mavens of Almost Chosen People might enjoy it.)
Dave Griffey at Daffey Thoughts takes a look at the old Schoolhouse Rock video Elbow Room:
We watched this with our youngest while back, and my older boys – having come in contact with modern educational standards – dropped their jaws. We had it when they were little, but didn’t watch it that much. When we watched it this time, they said wow, did you really learn that Westward expansion was a good thing? When they were in school, this was compared to Lebensraum. Manifest Destiny? That’s like praising Mein Kampf. Did we really think it was good?
Yeah, we did. Not that we didn’t admit to the bad. I remember learning about the Trail of Tears all the way back in the mid-70s. And we weren’t the first to generation hear about it. Same with slavery. It isn’t as if Americans thought slavery was an awesome chapter in our history before Roots. America has been wrestling with the more sordid episodes in its history pretty much from the beginning. Heck, we even learned that Manifest Destiny wasn’t all that and a bag of chips. What makes it different today is that there is nothing but sheer condemnation. We were not a great nation with evil and injustice in its past, increasingly we are seen as an evil, racist nation with only the slightest hope of redeeming itself.
It would be better if we learned American history the way we learn about Islam. Their high school World History book laid out the template. Sure, the Islamic world launched invasions and conquests, indulged in a vibrant slave trade and even made multiple attempts at invading Europe. But let’s not dwell on the negatives (which the textbook didn’t). Those don’t define Islam. Most of the lesson was on the nuts and bolts, or on the positives. Which is good. If only we applied that standard to US history, imagine how youngsters might see things today.
Go here to read the comments. I am old enough to recall public schools before so many teachers became leftist hacks, more interested in indoctrination than in education. I learned such facts as that Abraham Lincoln opposed the Mexican War and that General Grant thought the Civil War was the punishment of God on the nation for the Mexican War. General Lee also thought the Civil War was punishment for the national sins of America. As for popular entertainment, look at this scene from Walt Disney’s Davy Crockett that virtually all kids watched in the fifties and sixties:
Honest history is always the best history. Instead of the leftist tripe that today infests too many American classrooms we need truthful history that reveals the good and bad of our past. My own view mirrors that of Stephen Vincent Benet in The Devil and Daniel Webster in Webster’s closing argument to the jury of the damned:
Till, finally, it was time for him to get up on his feet, and he did so, all ready to bust out with lightnings and denunciations. But before he started he looked over the judge and jury for a moment, such being his custom. And he noticed the glitter in their eyes was twice as strong as before, and they all leaned forward. Like hounds just before they get the fox, they looked, and the blue mist of evil in the room thickened as he watched them. Then he saw what he’d been about to do, and he wiped his forehead, as a man might who’s just escaped falling into a pit in the dark.
For it was him they’d come for, not only Jabez Stone. He read it in the glitter of their eyes and in the way the stranger hid his mouth with one hand. And if he fought them with their own weapons, he’d fall into their power; he knew that, though he couldn’t have told you how. It was his own anger and horror that burned in their eyes; and he’d have to wipe that out or the case was lost. He stood there for a moment, his black eyes burning like anthracite. And then he began to speak.
He started off in a low voice, though you could hear every word. They say he could call on the harps of the blessed when he chose. And this was just as simple and easy as a man could talk. But he didn’t start out by condemning or reviling. He was talking about the things that make a country a country, and a man a man.
And he began with the simple things that everybody’s known and felt—the freshness of a fine morning when you’re young, and the taste of food when you’re hungry, and the new day that’s every day when you’re a child. He took them up and he turned them in his hands. They were good things for any man. But without freedom, they sickened. And when he talked of those enslaved, and the sorrows of slavery, his voice got like a big bell. He talked of the early days of America and the men who had made those days. It wasn’t a spread-eagle speech, but he made you see it. He admitted all the wrong that had ever been done. But he showed how, out of the wrong and the right, the suffering and the starvations, something new had come. And everybody had played a part in it, even the traitors.