Have you ever watched the late night talk shows when the host leaves the studio going to a mall or amusement park and asks everyday people about a well known U. S. historical event or figure? It’s always good for a couple of laughs when the respondents think George Washington fought in the Civil War or that George Jefferson was our third president and not a 70s television character. We chuckle, shake our heads and wonder what rock these folks crawled out from under. The problem is they don’t live under rocks and they are the same folks we work with, live near or worse yet are related to.
Not too many years ago my husband and I attended our teenager’s high school open house. As we followed his schedule and met each of his teachers we were set on our heels when we learned the rudiments of civic class is no longer taught. The teacher actually said he no longer teaches about the three branches of government with their separate powers and responsibilities. He makes sure the students are aware there are three branches of government and nothing more.
My intention here is not to debate the whys and why nots of teaching civics or American history in today’s classroom. I hold the teaching profession in high esteem. I myself could not instruct students professionally with the calmness and care our teachers do on a daily basis.
My concern is simply the obvious lack of knowledge about general American history and civics among our youth today. We’ve all heard the old adage, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” by George Santayana.
I suggest we also add, “Those who are not taught our history are most certainly going to repeat it.”
So do we throw our hands up in the air, shake our heads and bemoan the fall of the United States of America? Of course not. We act. We take on this responsibility as parents and grandparents. We step in and teach our children about history, civics and our own ancestors who lived through some of these major historical events.
For example, when Veteran’s Day is mentioned on the nightly news we tell our children about World War I, where and when it was fought and that great great Uncle Tom served. We pull out Uncle Tom’s photo and talk about “dough boys.” We can also explain the difference between Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day.
At Thanksgiving we can discuss that the very first celebration of thanks, on this soil, was held by the colonists and Native Americans in 1621. Also adding that it was Abraham Lincoln, who in 1863 during the midst of the Civil War, declared a national day of “Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.” We can continue the conversation by asking our youngsters, “Oh and did you know that your great great great grandfather George Washington Lowery fought in the Civil War? Why do you suppose his parents named him George Washington?” You’re laying the groundwork for family history as well as historical discussion.
Our involvement doesn’t need to be limited to a dinner conversation. Just recently my civic group, Daughters of Union Veterans of the Civil War (DUVCW) was asked to participate in a Veteran’s Day program at our local public library geared specifically for children. There a veteran brought in camouflage military fatigues, flak jacket and helmet. He spoke in front of his display about military service, Veteran’s Day and the Purple Heart. The children had a chance to make cards for a local Iraqi veteran who will spend the rest of his life in a nursing home. The kids stopped at the tables of the other civic groups learning about Blue Star Mothers and the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR). It was a great learning experience for me let alone the children who attended. All we have to do as parents and grandparents is find these type of events and make the time to take our children to experience and learn from them.
Our children are not learning history or civics like we were taught “in the old days,” but they don’t have to be ignorant of the facts. As parents and grandparents we can take a hand in our children’s education of our country’s past as well as our own family history. Not only will our children not look foolish on late night talk shows in the future but they’ll be better leaders in our communities when their time comes.