By Forgetting the Past, We Are Sacrificing the Future
America presently finds itself trapped in a moral, cultural, and political morass that threatens our very future as a nation.
An example of this morass is the current kerfuffle to remove the statue of Abraham Lincoln freeing a slave, which was ironically paid for by freed slaves, that is a mere four blocks from the U.S. Capitol. The Great Emancipator has become the latest target of a cancel culture that wants to stigmatize anything it now feels is “inappropriate,” as described by D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton.
Examples like this inspired me to write my new book, Toward a Perfect Union: The Moral and Cultural Case for Teaching the Great American Story.
Our current national problems — incivility towards each other, violence in our inner cities, misconceptions about the role of government — can be tied to two things: America’s ignorance of its past and distorted information about our heritage. The result is that instead of history bringing us together under a collective narrative, it is now taught in a way that divides us and pits people and groups against each other.
Ignorance of the Past
Our ignorance of our past is simply astounding and depressing. For instance, a 2018 survey done by the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation surveyed people in all 50 states and found:
- Only 53% were able to earn a passing grade in U.S. History.
- 37% percent believed Benjamin Franklin invented the light bulb. (It was Thomas Edison).
- 12% believed Dwight Eisenhower led the military in the American Civil War (which ended in 1865 — Eisenhower was born in 1890).
- Two percent said climate change caused the Cold War.
Deliberate Disinformation About America’s Heritage
But it is just not forgetting the past that is the problem. The problem extends to the deliberate disinformation about America’s past that is taught throughout our nation’s educational system.
Much of this deliberate disinformation came through the teachings of individuals such as Howard Zinn, who started his academic career teaching at Spelman College in 1956.
Zinn, for instance, singlehandedly transformed the study of history in American public education from the discipline of surveying facts and events to “reframing” and “reimagining” facts to fit a particular narrative. That narrative was to bring about the demise of Western civilization, re-interpreting America to future generations as a society built on corruption, genocide, and racism. Zinn, and his followers, transformed the cultural narrative from America being about our collective good and responsibility to one of selfish demands and victimization.
An example of how Zinn’s influence and teaching has poisoned our civic well is the “1619 Project” from Nikole Hannah-Jones.
The ultimate goal of cancel culture and items such as the 1619 Project is to destroy America’s foundations through ignorance and disinformation. Hannah-Jones said about the 1619 Project: “The fight over the 1619 Project is not about history. It is about memory.” To get rid of the old memory, a new memory must be created, which is what the far Left is doing.
No one is perfect and no country is perfect. Just like individuals do, our nation learns from its mistakes. But creating a new “memory” means the correct memory of those mistakes will be forgotten, and thus, our future will be nothing more than making the same errors over and over again.
The Great American Story
As Dwight Eisenhower so prophetically said in his first inaugural address: “A people that values its privileges over its principles soon loses both.” The current teaching of American history values privileges over principles, and as a result, unless corrected, we will, as Eisenhower warned, lose both.
It is essential that we make the moral and cultural case to teach the great American story — so we can be united, rather than divided, as a nation, regardless of our personal beliefs. By recapturing the accurate teaching of American history, I believe we will see a new appreciation of our shared heritage and beliefs. The result will be an America that is once again united in purpose, both individually and corporately — which is the ultimate cure to our current morass.
Timothy S. Goeglein is the Vice President of Government and External Relations at Focus on the Family in Washington D.C.