In Search of a History
by Richard Hiatt
Go to page one...
Particularly now, our own history as a government and
multi -cultural -ethnic -racial people (discovering that we live best not
as a "melting pot" but "patchwork quilt" - forging the meaning of self from our differences) could not be more critical. The reasons are manyfold--and they warrant serious attention.
First is that history provides a narrative, and narratives
are the most ancient forms of learning. Young children learn best by means of stories. Like any child beseeching a parent for answers by virtue of tangible, physical role models ("show me what you do"), the present needs the context of a beginning, middle and end (a story-line) to warrant any substance.
Providing for an effective history curriculum is the responsibility of the Department of Education. Our schools' weakness in this area should be an embarrassment to the DOE. Somewhere after
grade school the telling of stories (history) is pushed aside.
What is so ancient and indelible about narrative is that
it offers a sense of continuity and the logical application of cause and effect. It also forces one to make judgments and formulate opinions - about character, human motives, right and wrong--learning to distinguish between reality and myth. It is the very backbone of character development.
Another reason for the need of history is more direct and
salient to the present moment. It pertains to telling the truth about our own two-hundred year story as a people and a nation. Not just to solemnly reflect but to serve as a polestar to a better future.
The story of building this nation is not so different than that of any other industrial power. It is a story of aggression, violence, rape, pillage, betrayal, sabotage and subterfuge, annihilation and desecration. Our national infrastructure was built and organized around large-scale agriculture with slave labor. Our forebears virtually exterminated an entire resident population of aboriginal people from their ancient lands, drained the swampy prairies to grow grain, burned forests to make farmland, decimated wildlife, dammed the wild rivers, and disciplined all who were in the way. They assigned the filthiest and most dangerous work to poor immigrants and children. Democracy was doled out to these masses in small doses, with an important dose finally arriving in the 1960s with the passage of the Twenty-Fourth Amendment.
The West alone was won less by the independent spirit than
by the lying government contract, disease, the crooked lawsuit, and the worthless Indian treaty. As one historian put it, "the entire chronicle of the western adventure rings with the whining voices of the not-so-sturdy pioneers, blaming their misfortunes on somebody else, never on their own stupidity and greed." This is a huge chunk of the truth left out of our impression of early Americans, thanks largely to politics and Hollywood mythographers.
...we cannot teach American history to American students...
Copyright © 1998 Richard Hiatt. All rights reserved.