American Elephants

Our Colleges And Universities Are Failing History, And It Shows by The Elephant's Child


I dislike  President’s Day, which is a mixture of Lincoln’s Birthday and Washington’s Birthday, supposedly honoring both of our most important presidents, but mostly an occasion for a three-day weekend and special sales. I liked it better when little kids cut out pictures of log cabins and cherry trees and axes, which at least indicated the possibility that schools might actually be talking about President Lincoln and President Washington, albeit with faulty symbols.

The warfare between President Obama’s Democratic Party and the Republican-led House over the budget, the national debt, entitlements and regulation represents an historic chasm over the size and scope of the federal government. Understanding accurately just what is at stake in the struggle requires  knowledge of American History. That is the very subject that today’s liberal education is denying to today’s college students.

The Constitution begins “We the People of the United States , In Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.” Note that We the People is in great big letters for a reason.

A recent report from the National Association of Scholars (NAS) “Recasting History: Are Race, Class, and Gender Dominating American History?” clearly demonstrates that our colleges and universities are doing a bad job. History departments promote a distorted vision of America by concentrating on the teaching of race, class, and gender at the expense of nearly everything else. Universities usually avoid transparency and accountability, so it’s hard to determine what is actually being taught in their classrooms.

Texas mandates that undergraduates in the public universities take two courses in American history, and that faculty member’s backgrounds, research interests, course assignments be easily available.At the University of Texas, 78 percent of the courses through which students could satisfy the American history requirement  devoted half or more of their readings to issues of race, class and gender. At Texas A&M 50 percent of the courses did the same. Key documents  of American history were rarely assigned. In 2010 not one qualifying course for the history requirement asked students to read the Mayflower Compact or Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address.

I took little history in College, largely because my history professor was a date freak. His concept of history was ordered by dates rather than understanding of how events followed each other. He was big on snap-quizzes on Saturday mornings at 8:00 a.m. in which he would ask us to enumerate what happened between 1872 and 1893, for example. That turned me off of history for several years, until I discovered that not all historians approached history in that way, and learned that history could be fascinating. Many universities do not require any American history.

Last week we learned that according to a study of 2,200 people by the National Science Foundation, one in four Americans do not know the Earth orbits the Sun, and fewer than half know that humans evolved from earlier species. The survey is conducted every two years and is reported to the President and Congress. The president believes that sending more Americans to college is the answer to economic growth. Andrew Cuomo has just announced that he wants to send the people incarcerated in New York prisons to college. Where apparently, studies in race, class and gender will make them employable in the 21st century. At least they couldn’t cut class.

If we are to retain our liberty, we must have some understanding of our own history and some understanding of how the country is supposed to operate. When a president takes it upon himself to revise laws, change laws in direct contradiction to his oath of office under the Constitution, why would those who have never read the whole Constitution nor learned about past struggles to preserve our adherence to the Constitution think it is a big deal?

“The clear lesson of history is that individual liberty, the basic underpinning of American society, requires constant defense against the encroachment of the state.” (Walter Wriston) Will the people who don’t know that the Earth orbits the Sun understand what is important about the preservation of individual liberty and why? Sending more kids to college to study race, class and gender isn’t going to do it.


Let’s Ban President’s Day by The Elephant's Child

There was a time when American schoolchildren celebrated two birthdays in February, Lincoln’s birthday on February 12, and  George Washington’s birthday on February 22. They cut log cabins out of construction paper for Abraham Lincoln, and usually an axe and a cherry tree for George Washington which left the kiddies with a rather warped vision of why the two birthdays were important.

So to clarify this historical misinformation, starting in 1971, we celebrated the birthday of the father of our country on the third Monday of February rather than his birthday, so that working people could have a three-day weekend, and since Lincoln’s birthday is also in February, added him to the weekend,  which is celebrated by a golf trip by our current president, a ski-vacation by his wife, and sales at most retail stores.

The cutting down the cherry tree story is apocryphal. George Washington did not want to be president after the long years of war, he wanted to retire to his farm, but the people wanted him, and he strove mightily to be worthy of their choice. He was very conscious that he was setting an example for future presidents, and conscious that the war just ended was a revolt against a monarchy and its overreaching taxes and limits on American liberty. Many were prepared to make Washington a king, but he resisted the pomp and  settled for plain, much to his credit. His restraint and moral stature did much to set the nation on its future path.

Abraham Lincoln’s statesmanship in saving the Union is the greatest challenge faced by a president. And it is a truly American story of a self-made man, indeed rising from a log cabin the highest office of the land and presiding over the bloodiest war in our history, emancipating the slaves and assassination. A tragic war and a tragic president whose intellect and character set an example for the ages and helped to reaffirm America as a free and self-governing nation.

We really need to set aside the two birthdays as a time to learn about our two greatest presidents. Let’s cancel “President’s Day.” There are things more important than three-day weekends.

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