27. June 2005 · Comments Off on Those Who Don’t Know History Are Doomed To Repeat It. · Categories: General, History

OpinionJournal’s John Fund looks again at America’s deficiency in history education, with an eye towards Philadelphia’s recent requirement for an African-American history course:

Other critics note that schools already put on programs every February for Black History Month, something not done for other ethnic groups. They fear a separate course will diminish student understanding of the overall American experience. Back in the 1960s, novelist James Baldwin testified before Congress that the triumphs and tribulations of black history should be woven into all history courses, rather than segregated. Diane Ravitch, a leading education reformer, agrees that African-American history should be studied but hopes it will be “based on the best scholarship, not ideology or politics.”

Dream on. What’s more likely to happen is that the creation of a specific African-American history course will fuel demands from other groups, such as Hispanics or gays, for similar history mandates.


We are risking something very basic by failing to communicate the basic ideals of America and instead, as historian David McCullough told me, “raising a generation of students who are historically illiterate.” But many of those students will eventually become curious, and without a solid grounding in the past, they could easily fall prey to revisionist history, whether it be of the Confederate or Oliver Stone variety.


When Ronald Reagan delivered his 1989 farewell address to the nation, he noted there was “a great tradition of warnings in presidential farewells,” and he would make no exception. He told his audience that the “one that’s been on my mind for some time” was that the country was failing to adequately teach our children the American story and what it represents in the history of the world. “We’ve got to teach history based not on what’s in fashion, but what’s important,” he said. “If we forget what we did, we won’t know who we are. I am warning of an eradication of the American memory that could result, ultimately, in an erosion of the American spirit.”

As well-meaning as Philadelphia’s attempt to raise the self-esteem of black students may be, we should take time this coming Fourth of July to realize that our failure to teach America’s story demands far more strenuous solutions.

Philadelphia is notorious for having some of the nation’s worst schools. As is typical, the curriculum is being determined by political fad and fancy, rather than an objective look at what’s required to turn out successful graduates.

Comments closed.