Teaching History

US map“This book is dedicated to the people of America-strong, outspoken, intense in their conviction, sometimes wrong- headed but always generous and brave, with a passion for justice no nation has ever matched.” Paul Johnson, Dedication, A History of the American People.

As governor of Indiana, Mitch Daniels was thought to be a top contender for the 2012 GOP nomination. Instead of joining the crowded field, Governor Daniels decided to become the president of Purdue University. Recently, Mr. Daniels was in the news regarding some emails where he did not want a certain book to be taught in Indiana’s high schools. The book in question was Howard Zinn, “A People’s History of the United States.” Who was Howard Zinn? A professor at MIT who viewed U.S. History as one in which the success of this nation was built on exploitation. Governor Daniels described the book as “crap” and “anti-American.” Needless to say, professors throughout the country were angry, including Purdue University. Ironically, this episode brings us a teachable moment.

The teaching of our history is very important. It is how we as a nation pass down our freedoms. Teaching history encourages our children that they have an interest in our country. Teaching history helps develop our future leaders. Today, there is either an ignorance of our history or an under appreciation of it. If you do not believe this, consider the polling results time and time again when people do not know who their Congressman are or even fail to answer basic American history questions correctly. Part of the problem comes when teachers present a vision of America that is advocated by Howard Zinn. This opens the door to a generation that would give up its freedoms. Think about it, what motivation is there to protect your freedoms if you were told that your country is a rotten place and built on exploitation.

Is our nation perfect? No. There are things in our history that we need to remember and vow, “Never again.” Things like slavery, the Trail of Tears, segregation, and so forth. But the true purpose of history is to be a teacher. History teaches us the mistakes that our leaders made and to learn not to repeat them. That is why George Santayana’s quote, “Those who cannot remember the past are bound to repeat them.” is very relevant when learning history.  Our history and our ideals inspire us. It was the ideals of this nation that made men like Frederick Douglas and Dr. King to hold up our ideals as a mirror and made the country reflect on the state of its our soul. It was men like Patrick Henry who inspire us to have the courage to fight for our liberties. It was men like Abraham Lincoln who inspire us to persevere in the difficult of circumstances.

Teaching history requires a balance of perspectives. Something that Mr. Zinn did not have when writing his book. This balance is also missing when many college professors teaching history. Those who defended Mr. Zinn’s bias argue that the anti-American allegation is the last refuge of a politician who is quite ignorant of the discourses in many quarters of American intellectual and activist life.   Unfortunately, academic freedom is the last refuge of the ideological professors who is more interested in teaching his ideology than teaching the truth.

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