We should be deathly afraid and fiercely opposed to a silent but deadly foe that is sweeping across our country: historical ignorance. American schools at every level are failing to teach even the most basic history, and as a result many young Americans are appallingly under-equipped to defend freedom.
Here are some studies and statistics to prove my point:
- In 2010, a proposed curriculum change in South Carolina public schools would have started 11th grade-level U.S. History in 1877, which would not only ignore the Founding era, but anything and everything about slavery, the Civil War, and Reconstruction.
- Common Core curriculum doesn’t include tests on history—the focus is on math and English language arts—so why would teachers teach history?
It gets worse. The American Council of Trustees and Alumni did a study entitled Losing America’s Memory; the findings are disturbing. 81% of undergraduate seniors at 55 of America’s “best” colleges and universities—including Princeton, Dartmouth, Yale, Harvard, Duke, Northwestern, Notre Dame, Colgate, and Georgetown—flunked a basic U.S. history exam.
- Scarcely 23% of students could identify James Madison as the Father of the Constitution.
- Even fewer (22%) were able to identify the quote, “…government of the people, by the people, and for the people…” as a line from the Gettysburg Address.
- Only 52% knew that George Washington’s Farewell Address warned against permanent alliances.
How could students get this far without even basic historical knowledge? The ACTA found that none of the institutions surveyed require a course in American history, and 78% require no history courses at all. A hostile power trying to erase America’s heritage and destroy our national identity could hardly do a better job than these “elite” American colleges and universities.
“Those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it.”Winston Churchill
Most ancient and medieval cultures believed that history was cyclical, inevitably alternating between Golden Ages and Dark Ages. The Enlightenment’s conception of progress introduced the belief in an irreversible and linear history which is widely held today. Human advancement has a forward progression throughout history—but, as Churchill recognized, history does repeat itself if we fail to learn from it.
If each generation takes up even a cursory study of history to understand the patterns of human thought and nature, the reasons for the downfalls of empires and republics alike, and the causes of war and struggle throughout human history, humanity can continue to advance morally, socially, and politically. If, however, we forget the painful lessons of our past, we will soon find ourselves forced to learn them all over again.
Karl Marx, who authored the Communist Manifesto in 1845, knew that to own a nation, one must own the minds of the nation’s children. He advocated taking children from their parents at a very young age, placing them in government schools, and teaching them the principles of communism. Of course, Marxism eventually birthed the Soviet Union, with its economic and social backwardness, oppressive government control, and widespread poverty and starvation—arguably all because the government had worked to change the thought patterns of the young people.
In America during the Cold War, controlling education was recognized as one of the chief weapons of communism’s psychological warfare, for it would ensure at least partial control over America’s future by way of its youth. We feared it then, and we played a vigorous game of whack-a-mole anywhere communism showed its face in American culture, politics, or education. Now however, we are blind to the same creeping foe. We must be on our guard: if we forget the dreadful history of communism in the world, if we allow the government to scrub it from the history books, we’ll be susceptible to its return.
Human nature—its tendency toward selfishness, deception, and power-hungriness—does not change. We have repeatedly witnessed the corruptive nature of power, which is why the American system of checks and balances keeps anyone from obtaining absolute power. Communism, however, insists that an all-powerful, centralized government is best equipped to direct the lives of millions of people—we know from history that this ideology cannot bring about the promised utopia and only results in discord, destruction, and death. But if we forget that tragic legacy, we may be forced to reap the fatal rewards of communism once again.
As history progresses and we gain the benefit of hindsight, we may learn from history and, through understanding and virtue, forge a new path for the future. Or we may reject that understanding and doom ourselves to a repetition of the tragedies of the past—with the exception that more advanced technology, infrastructure, and political development prove to make the new iteration far worse than the original.
Not sure where to start? In this article, I compiled some suggestions for movies and books that are a good place to start when deepening your understanding of history.