The opinions stated in this article are solely those of the author and not of The Davis Clipper.
While walking past Ford’s Theater in Washington, D.C. last week, I encountered an elementary school group that had just left the nearby Hard Rock Café. I was amused to hear a young boy ask his teacher, “So Abe Lincoln was shot at that theater. I bet he and Mrs. Lincoln ate dinner at the Hard Rock.”
The teacher laughed and so did I. But I wasn’t laughing the next day at the Smithsonian Museum of American History when a high school student viewing the “American Soldiers at War” exhibit was baffled by the information signs explaining World War II.
“This says we fought the Germans,” he said to his friend. “I thought we fought the Communists in World War II. Why would we ever fight the Germans?”
History may not be the sexiest subject, but it is essential to understand the past in making decision for the present and the future. My own experience with teenagers and college students is that most lack basic knowledge about world events. The current North Korean threats, for instance, cannot be understood without the background of the Korean War and the U.S. and United Nations involvement.
Without knowing history, arguments and conclusions are filled with errors.
Too many Americans, for instance, think that the separation of church and state is contained in the U.S. Constitution. (It isn’t. It comes from a private letter from Thomas Jefferson that has since become tradition and has been sanctioned by numerous courtroom rulings.
Too many Americans believe that the Second Amendment forbids any federal or state government from regulating guns. (Even very conservative Supreme Court Justice Scalia acknowledges that government can enforce reasonable gun laws, and the current court is expected to rule on whether or not citizens even have the right to carry a gun outside their home.)
Too many Americans believe that “ObamaCare” was conceived by socialist Democrats. (The concept was originally proposed by a Republican-leaning conservative think-tank that saw it as a method of making Americans self-reliant and accountable. Later, Mitt Romney pushed it through in Massachusetts as a “conservative” measure.)
While viewing the film “42”, featuring Jackie Robinson’s first season with the Brooklyn Dodgers, I was amazed to hear so many adults saying “Did that really happen? I didn’t realize that blacks were treated so poorly.”
Why didn’t they know? The civil rights movement doesn’t date back to the dinosaurs; Dr. Martin Luther King’s letter from the Birmingham jail happened only 50 years ago, and it was only a few years prior that black singer Marian Anderson was forbidden to ride an elevator to her room at the Hotel Utah.
History teachers must do a better job making history “live” instead of boring students with memorization of dates. Parents must do a better job of explaining historical highlights and perspectives to their sons and daughters. We cannot expect Hollywood to do the heavy work with “42”, “Lincoln”, and “Zero Dark Thirty”.
Otherwise I can envision a college graduate 10 years from now asking, “I wonder what Pres. Lincoln ate that night at the Hard Rock?”