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.

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 under-educated 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.”
Teach History

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 is essential to understanding the whole story. Future generations need to know how America’s people survived the worst of times just in case similar times roll back around. An understanding of what produced the best of times will prove beneficial. 

Shouldn't we teach the value and the fragility of freedom? Our children need to discover the sacrifices made for them to live without fear, to have freedom from want, the freedom to worship, and the freedom of speech. To value what we have today, and to press on toward our goal, we must study the past.
It's my hope future generations will absorb the richness from the true stories of America.

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