Skip to comments.Have We Failed as Historians? ["ideological intransigence" to blame for ignorance, teaching]
Posted on 07/10/2013 6:42:45 AM PDT by Alex Murphy
Any honest assessment of the degree to which historical societies, museums, and schools have disseminated historical information to the public writ large is an agonizing reappraisal because one quickly comes to the conclusion that our endeavors have been shockingly limited in success.
Over the years, for example, I've met adults - many with university degrees - who thought the Quakers massacred the Indians and stole their land (then I had to explain who the Quakers are); that WWII was fought in 1930; that Henry VIII's divorce was the only cause of the English Reformation and slavery the only cause of the Civil War; that educated Medieval people thought the Earth was flat; that Charles Darwin's theory of evolution was just an idea the naturalist "floated" rather than the result of two decades of research (another said evolution was invented by 17th Century Jesuits); that William Levitt infested potato fields with parasitic worms to force farmers to sell; that anti-Asian racism was why Americans dropped the atomic bomb on Japan (which surely would have been used on Germany had it been ready before May of 1945); that the American colonists in 1776 overwhelmingly were in favor of independence; that American Indian tribes were all pacifistic environmentalists; that Franklin Roosevelt knew about Japanese plans to attack Pearl Harbor weeks before December 7, 1941, etc.
The list goes on and on. I nearly fell out of my chair when I heard a popular Irish-American TV journalist say that Oliver Cromwell "conquered Ireland for the British crown".
The manner in which historical information is disseminated is to blame, in part. But I think ideological intransigence plays a greater role in the profundity of historical ignorance than hitherto suspected. Recently I posted the following on Facebook (a great source of research) about a group called "Evolution vs. God": "Evolution vs. God? How absurd! How come we only hear from militant atheists and religious fundamentalists? I'm an Episcopalian student of Charles Darwin; the member of a church led by Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori who's one of the world's leading authorities on the evolution of Pacific cephalopods. Have these people never heard of Tielhard de Chardin (paleontologist and Jesuit), Francisco J. Ayala (geneticist and Dominican priest), Sir Ronald Fisher (father of population genetics and Anglican theologian), Theodosius Dobzhansky (evolutionary biologist and Orthodox Christian spiritualist), and Sir Charles Kingsley (proponent of Darwinism and Queen Victoria's chaplain)?"
Hoping for a vibrant discussion on the historical relationship between science and ecclesiastical institutions, the resulting stream of comments consisted almost entirely of diatribes emitted by the aforesaid extremes. The atheists blasted religion as mindless superstition responsible for every manner of war, genocide, and persecution; unmindful of the historical role organized faith played in the abolitionist, temperance, labor reform, anti-war, public education, and civil rights movements; oblivious to the pacifism of the Quakers, Amish, Janists, and Shakers as to the blood-thirsty natures of Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot's atheistic regimes.
The deep religious faith of many prominent scientists was ignored entirely. The role of the church in establishing universities, schools, hospitals, and charitable institutions was completely forgotten. Likewise, the fundamentalists seemed ignorant of Christian theology, beliefs, and practices, prior to the 19th Century as they were ignorant of scientific thought afterwards. Only one commented on anything directly related to my Facebook posting: the person who thought 17th Century Jesuits invented evolution. He might possible have been thinking of de Chardin who was born in 1881.
What's wrong here can be further illuminated by a Facebook posting about the possibility of extraterrestrial intelligence. For even the most simple multicellular life to evolve, I observed, a planet would have to have the right size, rotation, distance from its sun, atmospheric and hydrospheric chemical composition, and dwell in a solar system whereupon any companion celestial bodies would have to be in reasonably stable orbits. (Widespread belief in extraterrestrials probably has less to do with science and science fiction than the fulfillment of some psychological imperative on the part of the ET believers).
Responders, several, suggested that these geophysical and astrophysical factors were insignificant because the laws of physics might be different in another solar system or galaxy; negating a fundamental premise in the philosophy of science pertaining to the universality of physical laws. If one is earnestly going to say the laws of physics differ on other planets than why not say 2+2 does not equal four in Japan, that gravity works differently in France, or that copper does not conduct electricity in New Zealand?
Lacking a basic understanding of the nature of historical scholarship and scientific inquiry is hardly the basis for knowledge of both academic fields and thus might better explain the epidemic of ignorance that's bedeviling our society and those dedicated to preserving and disseminating knowledge.
....The manner in which historical information is disseminated is to blame, in part. But I think ideological intransigence plays a greater role in the profundity of historical ignorance than hitherto suspected. Recently I posted the following on Facebook (a great source of research) about a group called "Evolution vs. God": "Evolution vs. God? How absurd! How come we only hear from militant atheists and religious fundamentalists?....The role of the church in establishing universities, schools, hospitals, and charitable institutions was completely forgotten. Likewise, the fundamentalists seemed ignorant of Christian theology, beliefs, and practices, prior to the 19th Century as they were ignorant of scientific thought afterwards. Only one commented on anything directly related to my Facebook posting: the person who thought 17th Century Jesuits invented evolution. He might possible have been thinking of de Chardin who was born in 1881.
"Religious fundamentalists"? Speaking of ""ideological intransigence"....
“Have We Failed as Historians? [”ideological intransigence” to blame for ignorance, teaching]”
That isn’t even a question!
Just a for instance, take a look at Conspiracy In Philadelphia... it explains clearly how we got where we are today, but who knows about this?????
Author: Gary North, btw...
History as such is SIMPLY NO LONGER TAUGHT.
It hasen’t been since the 1960’s either. Our children’s GRANDPARENTS were not taught it, either. It is a generational gap, and may prove fatal to the USA.
Intellectual leaders have been harping on this loss of knowledge for more than 30 years now, to no avail. It seems to only be getting worse. We are ignorant.
When Education at all levels shifted from the strict regimen (boring) of learning facts, memorizing sonnets, dates, history and core curriculum hard work or as Pres. Reagan called it, “Reading, Riting and Rithmatic” and it shifted to self expression TO THE PUPIL OR STUDENT and feelings about the subject, that is, dancing around the subject by emphasizing the “feeling” aspect of it, we lost the our goals. This shift doomed us.
Learning, working hard and absorbing vast quantities of learned material just wasn't cool or time worthy anymore. Take the easy path, read the Cliff notes or copy it from somebody else. DO NOT WORK HARD - IT'S NOT WORTH IT.
Hanson calls it the “Therapeutic mindset” which is where perceived need is what matters, and all else must adjust accordingly.
It wasn't until college that I was introduced to The University of Chicago “Classics of Western Civilization” or the “Great Books” program assembled by Mortimer J. Adler and Charles Van Doren in 1940.
My Philosophy Professor even required we read their book called, “How to Read a Book”. What gall, Professor, I know how to read, thank you very much”! It was one of the best things I ever did.
It was at this late stage that I realized, I was, as the Professor pointed out, a Wise-Fool or “Sophomore”. This woke me up and with the help of Dr. Carl Sagan (Cosmos) I began to slowly leave my ignorance and became an avid reader of what are called, “serious books”, books one learns from and garners the knowledge from the ancient world to present.
Sagan stood in the Library of Congress showing us that if we read a book everyday, for our entire lives we would only cover a infinitesimal area of the shelves where he was standing and as the camera panned back, one was suddenly struck by how small he and that shelf of books that I might be able to read from, in my lifetime, really was. It was nothing!
In high school this is essentially what we learned about WWII:
December 7th 1941 Pearl Harbor, WWII starts
June 6th 1944 Invasion by allies at Normandy
August 6th 1945 Hiroshima bomb, US wins.
And, oh, by the way, there was this thing called the Holocaust where about 6 million Jews were murdered.
That's it! Can you get more superficial than that? we need to return to basic and make History and Knowledge interesting and stimulating and yes, stop with the highbrow, snootiness of education and History. We need to use modern technology to ignite the youth while they are still in Elementary school. Full frontal lectures by teachers with bushy eyebrows and elbow patches on their smoking jackets just will not do anymore...
My thoughts on the teaching of history, since it is what I do....
1. The current mantra in education is all about ‘critical thinking skills’. It focuses on approaching every subject as a skill to be learned. History does not fit under that rubric; it is a body of knowledge to be learned. Because of this, there is less of an emphasis on facts and sequence. And consequently, less knowledge of history.
2. Our direction in teaching history, in the pre-college parts, should emphasize Western Civilization. The United States is the penultimate product of the 18th century Enlightenment, and therefore, the apex of Western Civilization. Our students should learn the historical facts that impacted the development of this nation before they learn anything else.
3. The teaching of history at the high school levels is both organized poorly and done in a pitifully small matter. Take NC as a good example. In this state, the whole of World History (a huge amalgamation of the history of the entire world, with no great detail save whatever the instructor can find time to do) is taught in one 18 week semester course. Then, the students take a Civics/Economics class the following year, where the government is cursorily studied, for most of the semester, with a shallow study of economics at the end. Then, until recently, US History was given a similar treatment. What is wrong here? History is a big topic- to be explored thoroughly, it should be broken down into multiple courses and taught as often as English and Math, if not more so. Trying to wedge it all into three classes is a formula for failure.
4. As far as have historians failed, it is more a case of becoming overspecialized. There are historians of this, and historians of that, who know little outside the area of their research. The bad part is, they wind up as curriculum advisors, and before you know it, strange anomalies such as the constitution of the Iroquois Confederation assume great importance in the founding of the US.
The rot must have set in sooner where you were. History was reasonably well taught in Pennsylvania high schools into the late 1970’s.
Just heard of this book and purchased a few weeks ago. Very, very disturbing to me but an interesting piece of the puzzle of how we got where we are today.
I rather doubt that Gary North would refer to himself as an “Episcopalian student of Charles Darwin”.
He is using a common ambush reporter trick, which is you find someone walking down the street, jam a camera in their face and demand a question obscure enough so that the answer does not pop into mind, but possibly could be answered if you thought about it while not under pressure.
“Can you name the associate justices of the Supreme Court?” is a common one.
Or, you give them a leading question with a false basis, which if they don’t immediately grasp that it is false, makes them look stupid.
“that educated Medieval people thought the Earth was flat”
The Medieval period lasted from the 5th to the 15th century.
“Educated people” in 3rd Century B.C. Greece knew that the world was spherical. This pretty much meant that many “educated people”, mostly scholars, knew this since then.
“a popular Irish-American TV journalist say that Oliver Cromwell “conquered Ireland for the British crown”.”
Trick question. He actually did conquer Ireland, but not “for the British crown”, since there was no king at the time, him having been deposed by Cromwell. He did so for the short lived “Commonwealth of England”, specifically the “Council of State.”
But heck, anyone who studied 17th Century British history knows *that*. Right.
as “they” say..... doubt in your right hand...xxxx in the other, see which one fills up first...
This thread has too few posters, showing that not even Freepers are interested enough in history or the dumbing down of education.
Our Montessori school starts at age 4 telling the story of George Washington - the best hero you can imagine for little kids: he wore a cape, carried a sword, and won out over the bad guys. There is a great selection of picture books available about him.
Alas, what we can accomplish is only a drop in the bucket. When our students go into the public schools they study other things.
Thank you for your response!
The truth is out there—on the I’net and a select few writers/researchers—but few there are receptive to truth...nuff said...
God is intransigent.
You are correct. I think that some of us are expecting it to deteriorate into another incessant Crevo fight and so are not bothering. And that's too bad, because the topic is really quite different.
Certain of the author's objections are about factual inaccuracy, others a matter of overly broad interpretation (Cromwell, for example, whose activities in Ireland are not to be minimized even if they were in Parliament's interests) - what I think these have in common is the tendency of an impatient reader to place these events in a narrative that is more digestible than accurate. That isn't necessarily a function of teaching. Forcing another narrative through education is not necessarily the answer. Anyone who has had to slog through Howard Zinn is painfully aware of that.
There is the impression by those of us for whom history is an interest that everyone should be equally interested. Actually I might make a fair case for that, but it isn't inherently truer than that everyone should be equally conversant with integral calculus as an engineer. Education can only go so far. You have to pick your objectives carefully. And anyway I'm terrible at integral calculus.
It never stops, Alex.
The author is Catholic, I take it?
“Very, very disturbing to me but an interesting piece of the puzzle of how we got where we are today.”
And interesting as to a solution as to the only way back...stop playing the Alinsky game of chasing effects; go back to the cause and correct it and sayonarra to big gubmint and with it goes exec.legislative, judicial and all the alphabet soup agencies with it; and back comes states right...maybe the Articles Of Confederation w/the Bill of Rights this time...Think of it—50 confederated Republics !!!!!
It would be fantastic.......But how? (Other than daydreaming) That society was very well educated, the common people were mostly believers(even if many of the leaders weren’t), and the people also had a level of self discipline that hasn’t existed in years in modern America.....very few today have a clue as to why our govt is so corrupted.
Who also happens to think that the Resurrection is a myth.
“It would be fantastic.......But how?”
IMO, somebody has to start (it’s called sticking yer neck out...cannot be just anyone, the right guy (or gal) has to show up..it could turn out to be a Joe SixPak, a general/admiral (unlikely), a politician/official (very unlikely), etc.
“I AM SPARTACUS”! THAT moment.....But it’s gotta fit the moment!
Or...an event and not an individual...