Two years ago, the Pulitzer Prize-winning historian David McCullough told the U.S. Senate that American History was our nation’s worst subject in school...Our children do worse in American history than they do in reading or math. McCullough testified we were facing the prospect of national amnesia, saying, “Amnesia of society is just as detrimental as amnesia for the individual. We are running a terrible risk. Our very freedom depends on education, and we are failing our children in not providing that education.”
McCullough is right, and it is a double tragedy: a) our children no longer know their country’s history and b) the story they do not know is the greatest political story ever told...
In his farewell address to the nation, the large-minded amateur historian President Ronald Reagan warned of what we see in our nation’s report card today, saying “If we forget what we did, we won't know who we are. I'm warning of an eradication of the American memory that could result, ultimately, in an erosion of the American spirit.”
Our history is full of controversy, suffering, struggling, overcoming, and winning. There is no reason to elevate its failings at the expense of its successes, nor is there reason to ignore its failings or, worse, turn it into a snooze-fest....
The great adventurer Bernard DeVoto once wrote to Catherine Drinker Bowen about why her task as a historian was so important:
"If the mad, impossible voyage of Columbus or Cartier or La Salle or Coronado or John Ledyard is not romantic, if the stars did not dance in the sky when our Constitutional Convention met, if Atlantis has any landscape stranger or the other side of the moon any lights or colors or shapes more unearthly than the customary homespun of Lincoln and the morning coat of Jackson, well, I don’t know what is."
Indeed. Our history is all that and more, much more. America was, is, and — we hope — will continue to be the place where, more than anyplace else, dreams actually do come. It is, as Abraham Lincoln described it, “the last best hope of earth.” But to live that dream, to know what hope we convey, and to teach it from generation to generation, we must describe it, appreciate it, and learn to fall in love with it all over again.
Bill Bennett has produced a reminder of what many of us missed unless we struck out on our own to really read our exciting history. This would be a good column to pass along to friends for excellent Fourth of July reading and a reminder of what all of wonderful national holiday really means.