Is It Important to Teach American History?

by Sally Matheny

Is It Important to Teach American History?
Not everyone loves history. I do--especially American history. When I encounter some interesting part of history I’ve never heard before, it's like a treasure hunt. I begin researching primary documents to see if it’s true. I usually end up finding a few more gems along the way.

So many fascinating facts never make the cut for school textbooks. Perhaps if it were possible to incorporate more of them, there would be a greater interest in American history. 

Apparently, there’s a debate on what children should learn about America's history.

In 2001, Lynne Cheney spoke at the Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture. She addressed the importance of teaching American history to our children. Mrs. Cheney shared the importance of teaching our children about other cultures of the world, and then she adds,

   “But if there were one aspect of schooling from kindergarten through college      to which I would give added emphasis today it would be American history.          We are not doing a very good job of teaching it now, as a recent survey of          seniors at the nation's top liberal arts colleges and research universities              reveals. Scarcely more than half,  the survey found, 'knew general                    information about American democracy and the Constitution.' Vast majorities      were ignorant of facts that high school seniors should know: Only a third            could identify George Washington as the American general at Yorktown; fewer    than a quarter knew that James Madison was the 'father of the Constitution.'”

Mrs. Cheney stated, “if there is a failure here, it is a lack of commitment to this nation's history. Of the 55 elite institutions whose seniors were polled in the survey described above, not one college or university--not a single one--required a course in American history.”


I understand that a portion of history's accuracy is in the eye of the beholder. Viewpoints will vary. However, that’s no reason to dilute well-documented historical facts. Nor is it a reason to disregard teaching American history altogether.

All Americans need to learn from our nation’s past—successes as well as failures. Learning lessons from our past provides a firm foundation to build upon for living today. In addition, it's a great springboard for making wise decisions in the future.

Children have a right to know our nation’s roots and how many cultures have been grafted into America’s melting pot family.

If they learn what love and hate produced in the past, they’ll know what it will produce in the future.

America’s children deserve to hear the truth. Which of America’s ancestors relied on God for wisdom and courage? Did it make a difference in their lives and the lives of others?

In an article on Townhall.com, Daniel Doherty wrote an article stating,
“An undereducated and disengaged public, however, is only the beginning. As David McCullough suggests, a firm understanding of history is paramount to the success and effectiveness of our political leaders: 
 ‘All of our best presidents -- without exception -- have been presidents who’ve had a sense of history. Who’ve read history, in some cases who wrote history -- who cared about history and biography. The only obvious two who never went to college would be Abraham Lincoln and Harry Truman, and both of them read history, in particular, all the time.’

McCullough continues, “In other words, if the youngest generations of Americans lack a basic understanding of the past, what kind of nation will we be in ten, twenty or even a hundred years from now? What kind of leaders will we produce?
The purpose of the U.S. education system -- and the reason it was established -- is primarily to provide students with the requisite knowledge and skills to live more successful lives. Yet, when we perpetually fail to teach American history in schools, we inevitably weaken the nation because our children grow up without any real sense of a national identity.”

I'm always curious to know how much of that national identity was steeped in religious faith?
We read in the Bible about the faith and courage of men, women, and children who died long ago. Why? Because there is wisdom and life-changing truth in it.
We study how God interacted with the people in the times of Moses, King David, and Paul. We learn about the important roles Sarah, Ruth, and Mary played in history. We can learn a great deal from the decisions they made—good and bad.
Why shouldn’t we inquire how faith, or lack thereof, affected America’s influential leaders? How much did their faith affect their decision-making, the way they lived their lives and the way they led our country?
Teaching children the ideals on which our nation was built upon is essential to understanding the whole story.
Let’s say you want to write a story of my family’s history. If a true understanding of my family is desired, I’m not going to limit your knowledge by telling you only what has occurred in their lives in the past few years. I’m going to drag out everyone’s baby pictures and tell you how each one has developed from birth to present. I'll share how they interacted with others and what they've learned along the way. Neither will I only choose to tell you the parts I want you to know. You need to know it all—the good, the bad, and the ugly. You need to realize how each one’s faith has faltered, and grown, and how that affected every decision we made. To get an accurate history of my family, you need to gather as much information as you can from other reliable resources. Of course, it may not be feasible to print it all, but key events should be included. Major milestones and life-changing decisions. And wouldn’t you want to know what or who influenced those major decisions, how we managed through the worst of times, and what produced the best of times? If you want an honest portrayal of my family, you would want to know the answers to these questions. You would care.
So, do we want an accurate story about the “home of the free and the land of the brave?” Do we want future generations to know how America’s home folks survived the worst of times, just in case similar times roll back around? Is an understanding of what produced the best of times even desired? Do we need to learn the value and fragility of our freedom? 
Do our children need to discover the sacrifices made for the freedom to live without fear, the freedom from want, the freedom to worship, and the freedom of speech?
Is it important for future generations to learn the true story of America?
Do we care?

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