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Topic: A lamentation

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Subject: A lamentation
Date Posted: 2/18/2012 5:09 PM ET
Member Since: 10/17/2006
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In yesterday's newspaper one of the ed-op columnists cited a 2000 study that found that most seniors at America's top colleges could not answer basic questions about American history.  The reason for this, he wrote, is that in many schools, History is no longer a required course.  I had not thought that it was no longer a standard part of the currticulum, in any (or many) of the nation's schools.

When I was active in newspapering, we "Fourth-Estaters" used to remind each other, sometimes, that "The newspapers of Today are the History books of Tomorrow."   What makes me even more sorrowful, in addition to the dropping of history as a "required" subject in school, is the suspicion that younger Americans do not read newspapers, news magazines, or partisan political journals, either.  It saddens me to think their primary sources of information on the current political scene are Doonesbury, The Today Show, the radio haranguers, and the ceaseless cyber-yakking on the Internet. 

Was it Dwight MacDonald who predicted, decades ago, that we would become an "oral culture of pure babble" ?  Boy, was he ever prescient!

Kat (polbio) -
Date Posted: 2/18/2012 7:05 PM ET
Member Since: 10/10/2008
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Sad but true. If you are interested Steve Allen wrote a great book called Dumpth all about the dumbing down of America's schools. He gave some great quotes of what college kids didnt know. I remember one he said was that college kids at a Florida college (dont remember which one) didnt even know the capital of Florida or who the governor was. The book is VERY politcally biased toward democrat, but putting that aside it had some great information in it.

My fight with public schools is the so called New Math. Grr, so frustrating. If you look up its description it says, the purpose is to teach kids how to Guess the answers on standardized test so they can take the test quickly. Their reasoning is that most kids fail standard tests because they run out of time. So rather than shorten the test or provide more time, the beaurocratic answer they came up with is dumbdown math to teach kids to guestimate the answer. Frustrating!!! Ok, off my vent, lol.

Matt C. (mattc) - ,
Date Posted: 2/18/2012 10:46 PM ET
Member Since: 8/13/2008
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I feel like my public school education must have led the way in being dumb.  I actually recieved an award for highest GPA in social studies, despite the fact that I remember more about poodle skirts than WWI and WWII combined.  On the bright side, there was no actual history in 12th grade, just "Citizenship and Life's Skills" which has turned out to be the most useless class I've ever taken.

Date Posted: 2/18/2012 11:03 PM ET
Member Since: 11/15/2008
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To my knowledge our local schools still require the kids to take history, but it made me sad to hear at a back-to-school night a few years ago that the high school US history course now does just a basic overview up until 1900 and then focuses most of the course on the last century.  I can't help but believe that all of it is relevant.

Kat (polbio) -
Date Posted: 2/19/2012 6:52 AM ET
Member Since: 10/10/2008
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Cindy,  My biggest problem with history classes in public schools is that most of history is condensed, generalized and politically correct. So in elementary school they dont teach much about our founding fathers because they owned slaves. In many schools early American history is washed over because of the atrocities. THings like the Trail of Tears, INvasion of Mexico, Seminole Wars, Handing out small pox infected blankets to Native Americans during the French and INdian War, slavery, etc are not mentioned in any detail, just reviewed. Some states are worse than others from my understanding.  In WV, my daughter took Honors US HIstory last year and they covered it in minute detail. The things I mentioned above as generally washed over, she actually covered.

 In NJ (atleast when I went to high school, late 80s early 90s) high schoolers were required to take 3 yrs of History; World History, US HIstory to 1900, and then 20th century. In PA kids are required 4 yrs of history, but one year is Civics. Civics courses are now mandatory nationwide, in both primary and high school. But, if you look at your state dept of edu website, most states are only required to cover the first amendment and a couple of basic governmental information. I was pleasantly surprised when my daughter's American Literature course this year had them read the Constitution and Thomas Paine's Common Sense. Then again, her cyber school curriculum is classical based not politically correct based, so this may not be part of a regular public school curriculum.  This year, my daughter  chose Anthropology and Geography as electives and had Civics as her main history. It was a basic political science course.  PA schools also require economics which surprised me.

However, I took the OP to be about colleges not requiring history, not High Schools. I thought all High Schools require at least three years of History. Where Colleges you have to take humanities classes, which doesnt necessarily mean history courses.

Matt C. (mattc) - ,
Date Posted: 2/19/2012 8:42 AM ET
Member Since: 8/13/2008
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Ah, that's different.  My college (Bridgewater State in MA) did require two semesters of history to graduate.  I personally thought those classes were pretty useless as well, but who am I to judge?

Date Posted: 2/19/2012 5:26 PM ET
Member Since: 10/17/2006
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polbio: I wonder if your daughter happened to run into a history teacher who included an exposure to the 'embarrassing' side of U.S. history that many Americans don't want to think about or dwell upon?    as in A People's History of the United States, by Howard Zinn, among others . . . 

Recently, I was reading about "denialism"---meaning  our refusal to face our nation's grim past of bigotry, crimes, and human rights violations.   Those who engage in it  rather resemble those persons who have come  to be known as  "Holocaust deniers".  

For the actual historical truth, "truthiness" is substituted.  (IMO, it was a stroke of genius when that political satirist came up with that term for what we have, nowadays, in the national narrative of our past.)   We have, mostly, not only an abbreviated version of American history, but a white-washed one---the story we wish  it was . . . .

Personally, much as I love a genuine hero, I love the WHOLE account of History, with all the deeds and doings, both fair and foul, more.  And I don't want the embarrassing parts suppressed to assuage anyone's uneasy conscience.



Last Edited on: 2/19/12 5:29 PM ET - Total times edited: 2
Matt C. (mattc) - ,
Date Posted: 2/20/2012 9:41 AM ET
Member Since: 8/13/2008
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Incidentally, I just borrowed a book from the library called Denying History by Michael Shermer and Alex Grobman about holocaust deniers.  I recently read Shermer's more general book Why People Believe Weird Things, which had a chapter on holocaust deniers, but I'm curious to read in more detail.

Kat (polbio) -
Date Posted: 2/20/2012 12:27 PM ET
Member Since: 10/10/2008
Posts: 3,067
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Bonnie,

Her teacher was a college professor teaching Honors History,and her class was very similar to college courses I had taken. So I think he held the standards higher than the typical public school curriculum. We actually ran into that a lot in Morgantown, WV. Being a college town, the school district was really good. If it was that good back here in PA, I wouldn't be homeschooling.

I agree that I want the true history, not the white washed version. Like the whole Christopher Columbus thing. He wasn't the first to discover America and he landed on an island in the Caribbean, not the mainland. He attempted to enslave the natives and spread disease through out the island, which spread to other islands. Most people don't realize that North and South America were almost as populated at Europe was at that time. They had massive trading centers and cities with over a million residents. Then Europeans came and disease wiped out over half of them before the White setters moved in. But in school you learn that Christopher Columbus was some brilliant explorer who was the only person to believe the world wasn't flat (which wasn't true either) and he discovered this virtually uninhabited continent just waiting to be civilized. Talk about white washed, lol.

There are so many other examples, that I cringed when my kids would learn this crap in elementary school. I have had my fair share of arguments with teachers over the years. My daughter corrected her teacher about something in 2nd grade and was told "your mom is lying, that istn true". I was livid. Not only did the teacher have to apologize to me, but she had to apologize to my daughter, in front of the class. This is the same teacher who told her that American is not a nationality. My kids have 10 different sub - nationalities between me and my DH, what else are they if not American. Our families have been in this country from colonial times and the native american side of my DH's family even longer.  The teacher reasoned that you can be an American citizen but you cant have an American nationality because everyone who lives here originally came from another country. I hated that teacher. In fact when my second daughter was assigned to her, I fought the school and had her put in another class. That teacher and those like her is what gives the education system a bad name.

Ok, off my soap box. Touchy subject, lol.

Kat (polbio) -
Date Posted: 2/20/2012 12:32 PM ET
Member Since: 10/10/2008
Posts: 3,067
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Matt, I never understood the deniers theories. In fact, I didnt even know there were people who denied the holocaust happened until I was in college. It was around the same time I found out that we had internment camps here in the US for Japanese people and others. I will have to look into some of the books you and Bonnie have mentioned.

Matt C. (mattc) - ,
Date Posted: 2/20/2012 3:52 PM ET
Member Since: 8/13/2008
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Some of the holocaust deniers have pretty sophisticated arguments, and mostly just cloud the issue rather than deny it outright...saying things like murder of Jews wasn't an actual policy, that they died of disease, or that the number was greatly exaggerated.  One exception is the fanatical neo-Nazi Ernst Zundel in Canada, but I have to say he's so crazy that I wouldn't take anything he said seriously.

I remember reading about Japanese internment camps in Snow Falling on Cedars in high school.  I'm not sure that was the first I knew about it.  I think they are referred to, at least indirectly, in the movie The Karate Kid, of all places.

(before posting I had to look it up...yes, the movie does mention the camps, and in fact Pat Morita and his family were detained for the duration fo the war.)

Kat (polbio) -
Date Posted: 2/20/2012 4:27 PM ET
Member Since: 10/10/2008
Posts: 3,067
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I am going to have to watch Karate Kid now, lol. I have seen that movie a million times and dont remember it being mentioned. I have Snow Falling on Cedars sitting on my shelf waiting to be read.

Date Posted: 2/20/2012 8:43 PM ET
Member Since: 10/17/2006
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Another book about the Issei and the Nisei (Japanese-Americans) who were rounded up and obliged to leave their homes in the western states behind and go to those barbed wire camps, during World War II, is Farewell to Manzanar, by Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston and James D. Houston.   It's a true story.  Manzanar, in Owens Valley, California, was the first camp to open, in March, 1942.  But the implementation of the infamous Presidential Executive Order No. 9066 led to ten such camps being established .  Manzanar camp did not officially close until November 21, 1945.  (It is ironic that "Manzanar" means "apple orchard" in Spanish.)

Also, you should read When the Emperor Was Divine, by Julie Otsuka, an account of what it was like to be a family of a father, a mother, a son, and a daughter who were forcibly evacuated from their home in California and transported to a camp and obliged to live in that place with searchlight towers and armed guards, no indoor toilets, and other assorted indignities.  (I read this beautiful little book after my grandson handed it on to me after his high school literature class had read it.)

When I was in high school in the early Forties, our English teacher, a maiden lady who really knew her stuff, arranged for us to have pen pals in one of the camps.  Mine was a girl named Haruye Kawano, who told me her nickname was "Halloette".  I don't know how Miss Kite squared this little project with the school authorities ----perhaps Principal Dubach was in sympathy with our teacher's sense that these people were being wronged in being interned "for the duration".

Date Posted: 2/28/2012 3:14 PM ET
Member Since: 10/17/2006
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I would be interested to hear any pertinent (or impertinent) comments you folks could offer about A Renegade History of the United States, by Thaddeus Russell.

I only recently learned that it is now available in paperback format.