I don’t know about you, but I hated the subject “history” in school. School history courses were almost uniformly boring, and this is a source of wonder to me because history itself is almost unfailingly fascinating and even gripping. To make history dull, one has to work at it.
But work at it they did. They purposely left out (and continue to leave out—although what is deleted now is different than it used to be) the good stuff.
In my day, what was left out was anything that was too complex, and also anything that conflicted with the perception of America as a righteous and near-perfect place—which included any personal foibles and imperfections of the Founding Fathers (and of course, anything remotely related to sex). What’s left out today is anything that isn’t politically correct on either side (which of course is virtually everything of truth) and anything that might make the US look good (I’m engaging in only a slight bit of hyperbole there, I’m afraid).
In short, anything of interest is left out, as well as anything that would meaningfully connect the teaching of history with the problems we are facing today—which would be what would make it most interesting and most helpful.
The consequences of putting history into a blender and turning it into bland, featureless, and easily digestible pap is not just having students who are bored to tears, although that would be bad enough. Nor is it just that history textbooks now have a strong bias on the Left, although that isn’t a good thing either. The worst effect is that such an approach to the teaching of history creates an ignorant and naive populace that is even more condemned than would otherwise be the case to repeat history’s errors.
I’m convinced, for example, that failure to properly teach the history of the wars that we have fought in the past—their complications, controversies, and errors, as well as what led to them and what was accomplished by them—has led to unrealistic and simplistic expectations of warfare itself.
And, come to think of it, perhaps this is not an unintended consequence; it’s possible that the current overarching Leftist bias of the writers of today’s textbooks include a pacifist agenda, of which this is part.
Or perhaps not. I’m not sure it matters all that much, because the effects are the same: a populace that cannot understand what is happening now because it cannot intelligently analyze its own past and apply it to the present. Of course, how to apply that past to the present is a subject on which reasonable—and even well-informed—people can and will differ.
But even though we can never know the truth of what happened in the past with absolute certainly, we can most definitely approximate that truth far better than we’ve been doing so far in our classrooms. Our future may depend on it.