Thursday, October 1, 2009

Not "warts and that's all"

William J. Bennett promotes one of his projects, America: The Last Best Hope which, if it does a fraction of what he intends, is an eminently worthy endeavor. If only his goals were those of high school history textbook authors, editors and publishers generally....
In 2005, Pulitzer Prize-winning historian David McCullough testified before the U.S. Senate that American history was the nation’s worst subject. Two years later, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (the “Nation’s Report Card”) confirmed McCullough’s findings.

And recently, Diane Ravitch of New York University said, “Every national assessment has shown that students don’t know history … scores for U.S. history are consistently the lowest of any subject tested; typically more than half of high school seniors score ‘below basic,’ the lowest possible rating. In no other subject do a majority of students register so little knowledge of a subject taught in school.”

It is a sad and telling diagnosis of America’s conscience. How can we expect the next generation of Americans to protect and defend the country’s legacy if they do not know their own history? Alexis de Tocqueville once wrote, “When the past no longer illuminates the future, the spirit walks in darkness.” ....

Today, our textbooks are more intent on political correctness, dulled-down event reporting and universal appeal. The dramatic and realistic story of America is mostly absent in the study of American history. Text authors, publishers and higher education experts have desiccated the rich drama and conflicts of history and replaced them with dry narratives that read more like recipe books and less like thrilling, page-turning novels.

.... In Last Best Hope, history is more than rote memorization or tedious facts; it is drama, romance, comedy, mystery, action, tragedy and triumph. I believe in the “warts and all” version of American history—not “warts, and that’s all.” And because of this, our project has been positively reviewed by scholars from all ideological perspectives.

If we are to restore America’s love for its rich and great history, we must begin by telling the truth, not in a prosaic, tiresome fashion, but in a captivating and memorable way. Our story is one of great suffering and great triumph; it is what Abraham Lincoln called “the last best hope of earth.”
A few of the blurbs at Amazon [the reader reviews are also favorable]:
"Bennett ... has a strong sense of narrative, a flair for anecdote and a lively style. And the American story really is a remarkable one, filled with its share of brilliant leaders and tragic mistakes. Bennett brings that story to life."
-Alan Wolfe, The Washington Post

"The role of history is to inform, inspire, and sometimes provoke us, which is why Bill Bennett's wonderfully readable book is so important. He puts our nation's triumphs, along with its lapses, into the context of a narrative about the progress of freedom. Every now and then it's useful to be reminded that we are a fortunate people, blessed with generations of leaders who repeatedly renewed the meaning of America."
-Walter Isaacson, Benjamin Franklin: An American Life

"This lively book acknowledges mistakes and shortcomings, yet patriotically asserts that the American experiment in democracy is still a success story."
-School Library Journal
Bill Bennett : TH Mag Exclusive: Back-to-School Patriotism -

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