Tuesday night I was watching the election returns in the Massachusetts senatorial race, cheering like a drunken KC fan watching the Chiefs win the Super Bowl. I actually did have that much enthusiasm. I knew I was watching something momentous; something that would last beyond the start of the next football season.
As I enjoyed the stream of election returns being broadcast, my daughter was watching with me. She said, “I don’t get it. Why do you care? He is not even our senator.”
I was incredulous. It was not just about “winning”, health care or seeing an incredible turn of political events. We were witnessing history. We were seeing the elegance and beauty of our the Constitution in action. In the true spirit of this nation, we were fed up and making our displeasure known. It was a revolution being fought and won in the voting booth. Excited and exhilarated, I replied, “Are you kidding? This is your future!”
The perplexed look on her face made me wonder if I had spoken Chinese.
I wondered at this reaction and then realized that my daughter had no understanding of the events or their significance. She is certainly not dumb or uninformed of other things (like when the next Lady Gaga concert is). She has just never been properly exposed to history. A true appreciation of history would have shown her why this election was so monumental.
History, as our educational system demands it be taught, is an endless recitation of dates, names and other meaningless items of information to be forgotten as soon as the test is over. Government classes talk about houses and offices and how many of this or that we have. Gods, I am about to fall asleep just writing about it.
The difference between the dull metronome of facts drummed out in school and the true recounting of historical events is the difference between reading a cookbook and enjoying a sumptuous feast.
Not knowing history means not knowing how our extraordinary system of government works. This ignorance makes us despair over how bad things are. It makes us feel like we don’t count and our opinion does not matter. We feel trapped, out of control and hopeless. We wouldn’t feel this way if we knew history instead of laundry lists of meaningless words and numbers. Here’s an example.
During the Depression, unemployment in was 25%, and in some countries rose as high as 33%. Construction was virtually halted. Crop prices fell by approximately 60%. 100,000 acres of farmland was turned to dust and blown away. Livestock suffocated in the field while people died of Dust Pneumonia. There were plagues of insects and Jack rabbits. Temperatures in middle of the country hit 120 degrees. Farmers lost their homes and watched them being bulldozed down. There was no unemployment insurance, no food stamps and no welfare. People lived in holes and depended on the kindness of charities to get enough food to eat.
How did we get out of it? The people got tired of an impotent administration’s policies and staged a revolution at the ballot box. The system worked and a man who turned out to be one of the greatest leaders of our time was elected. In about six years, we became the most powerful nation in the world in terms of economic, military and industrial might.
Are there many people aside from those who lived through this time (and history aficionados such as myself) who appreciate what happened or, more importantly, how it was accomplished?
Maybe if we taught appreciation of history Americans would be more informed and, thus, empowered. They would believe in our system of government and they would know that they, as an individual, can have an impact on the course this nation takes. Knowledge is the true key to freedom. That’s why the Framers went to such lengths to preserve it through protecting speech and the press. All knowledge comes from observing what happened. This is the definition of history.
For now, my best hope is that, someday, my daughter will be raptly watching the results of an election and wondering why her kid does not get it. She will try to explain,“ This is your future, like that time back in 2010…”