History Lessons: Living or Dying?

Published 11:35 am Friday, April 26, 2019

A recent newspaper headline proclaimed that “Kentuckians don’t know much about history, and it’s about to get worse.”

About a year ago, a national opinion piece raised the question headlined “Why schools have stopped teaching American history.”

Almost 60 years ago, the first verse of the song “Wonderful World” by pop singer Sam Cooke opened with “Don’t know much about history.” Later (1978) Art Garfunkel revived the song, and it again became a best seller in the USA.

Email newsletter signup

But I digress as writers sometimes do.

Richard G. Innes, writing as a guest columnist for this paper, called attention to low scores by Kentucky students on tests of US history. He pointed out that only Louisiana students scored lower and suggested that parents, teachers and concerned citizens should be aware of the situation and prepare to voice concerns to the State Department of Education.

It was Karol Markowitz whose article took a closer look at the national level. She said that “A 2014 report by the National Assessment of Educational Progress showed that an abysmal 18 percent of American high school kids were proficient in US history.”

Markowitz writes for the New York Post and other publications and is a mother of young school-age children who attend public schools. As a concerned mother and a concerned citizen, she recognizes what her own children are missing in their early school years.

From another writer, answers to the question “Why should we teach our children history?” Stacia Deutsch reminds us that “History provides identity. Studying history improves our decision making and judgment. History shows us models of good and responsible citizenship. History also teaches us how to learn from the mistakes of others.”

Ms. Deutsch, with a friend, has published a series of books entitled “Blast to the Past” aimed primarily at interesting third grade students in the history of a great country. And they remind us that there are many excellent books, movies, and websites waiting for discovery; museums to visit; older generations of loved ones who’d love to tell their personal stories. And the list goes on.

We end with the questions: Are history lessons living or dying? And, should we be concerned? Let Neil deGrasse Tyson, noted American astrophysicist, author, and science communicator answer: “I know of no time in human history where ignorance was better than knowledge.”

William H. Baker is a native of Claiborne County and former resident of Middlesboro. Email: wbaker@limestone.edu