Teaching True American History

September 6, 2021 Updated: September 7, 2021

Commentary

In his eloquent and prophetic January 1989 farewell address to the nation (pdf), President Ronald Reagan gave us a somber warning, saying: “If we forget what we did, we won’t know who we are. I’m warning of an eradication of the American memory that could result, ultimately, in the erosion of the American spirit.”

Thirty-two years later, those words have become sadly true. With the continued erosion of the teaching of history and civics in our nation’s schools and universities, Americans have become increasingly ignorant of our nation’s founding principles. Entire generations now have no understanding of how our government works, what powers it rightly has, or how it can justly use those powers. They are also woefully ignorant of the sacrifices made to preserve our history and freedoms.

And, if history is taught, it’s a version that attacks and distorts our American memory, focusing only on America’s failings instead of its triumphs. Our children have been told to mistrust the motives of our nation’s Founding Fathers, seeing them as villains instead of heroes. Instead of gratitude for their courage and sacrifice, they now have disdain for them.

The result is the American crisis in which we presently find ourselves. We are a nation that lacks gratitude, for our history, our culture, and for each other. A huge number of our fellow Americans not only despise the foundational values of our culture, they even despise the idea of extending basic civility toward others, regardless of their views; thus, the poisonous well that is American discourse in 2021.

As Reagan warned us, our nation is in great peril because we have forgotten what we have done, and we have no idea of who we are.

Nevertheless, those who have presented distorted and historically inaccurate depictions of our nation’s history, such as the “1619 Project” and its manifestations, are only escalating their efforts to divide America, rather than unite our nation around shared principles and purpose. Yes, America isn’t perfect, and we have engaged in some egregious things—particularly the sins of racism and slavery—but we can still recognize our imperfections while celebrating the legacy bequeathed to us by those who founded our nation.

As Benjamin Myers, former poet laureate of the state of Oklahoma and a professor at Oklahoma Baptist University wrote: “There is a battle in the Western world over the continuation of Western civilization, a battle between those who would remember because they understand that memory sustains civilization and those who would forget for the very same reason. One side offers continuity based on a rich cultural inheritance. The other side offers capitulation into darkness and barbarism.”

But there’s hope that we can still turn away from the dark view of our past that is presently being promoted and taught, and back toward the light that illuminates the entire truth about America—the good and the bad—and does so in a balanced and truthful manner.

The genesis of this new effort started with the release of the “1776 Project” last year by the Trump administration. Now, Hillsdale College, which spearheaded this effort, is releasing the 1776 Curriculum, a package of American history and civics materials for K-12 students.

Katherine O’Toole, Hillsdale’s assistant provost for K-12 education said: “Our curriculum was created by teachers and professors—not activists, not journalists, not bureaucrats. It comes from years of studying America, its history, and its founding principles, not some slap-dash journalistic scheme to achieve a partisan political end through students. It is a truly American education.”

This is what our children should be being taught. This history, if properly taught, will likely result in a country that is grateful for our freedom, for the sacrifices made to preserve that freedom, and for our fellow citizens—treating all with dignity and respect.

Hillsdale President Larry Arnn perhaps put it best when he said last year: “To present the young people with a full and honest account of our nation’s history is to invest them with the spirit of freedom. … Depriving the young of the spirit of freedom will deprive us all of our country. It could deprive us, finally, of our humanity itself. This cannot be allowed to continue. It must be stopped.”

I couldn’t agree more. Let’s restore our appreciation for our freedom, humanity, and our nation by once again teaching future generations the true history of America. The 1776 Curriculum is a critical first step in such a restoration.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

Timothy S. Goeglein is the vice president of government and external relations at Focus on the Family in Washington, DC, and co-author of "American Restoration: How Faith, Family, and Personal Sacrifice Can Heal Our Nation."