Thursday, March 22, 2012

Don't know much about history

Jim Geraghty explains one of the reasons most Americans don't know their country's history very well [another reason is that many of their teachers don't either]:
To the extent that our high schools teach American history, they begin before the Revolution and work up to as close to the present as time permits. If your classes were like mine, the process of advancing through history inevitably slowed at points, and everything after World War Two was cramped and rushed to get in before final exams. Maybe the class got up to Vietnam or so. Even in higher education, the not-too-distant history — say, post-Watergate — is relatively uncovered and unexplained, in part because it’s too recent to be “history” and in part because it’s less “interesting” than the bigger conflicts. .... In this country, we’re blessed with a popular fascination with history, but only on certain topics and eras: the American Revolution, the Civil War, the “Old West,” World War Two, the era of Prohibition and Gangsters...

So as much as it may seem that Americans walk around with only a cursory knowledge of key eras of the nation’s history, they’re probably even less informed about not-so-distant history. About a decade ago, among a group of otherwise smart and well-informed friends, I made a reference to Idi Amin. (This was before the release of the movie The Last King of Scotland.) No one knew who I was talking about.
The 9th grade classes I taught were the second full year of US history presented to my students. I began with the turn of the 20th century. Even so, it was difficult to do justice to the post-WWII era - and that amounted to about fifty years. We'd reach the end of the Cold War in foreign policy and a little past Watergate in domestic political events.

Our Recent History: The Undiscovered Country! - By Jim Geraghty - The Campaign Spot - National Review Online