WASHINGTON D.C.—Last week was “Presidents Day.” We used to know it as George Washington’s Birthday, but in the Nixon Administration it was changed to Presidents Day, to fold in Abraham Lincoln, save one federal holiday, and maybe to make a small number of Americans think better of Richard Nixon, because he was, after all, President of the United States.
The point, of course, is that George Washington was unique. There have been many men, and two women I can think of right away, who were great military commanders, leaders who snatched victory from the jaws of defeat. There have been many men, and some women, who were great leaders of governments in time of crisis. There have been a small number of men who played a critical role in creating their own, successful nations. Washington did that, of course, as the President of the Constitutional Convention in 1787.
But in the history of the human race there has been one, and only one, person who accomplished all three of these goals in his lifetime: George Washington. It is the reason for the slogan about him which developed during his public life, and became the common description of the man after he retired from all public service and power and returned to Mount Vernon to live out his years. “First in war, first in peace, first in the hearts of his countrymen.”
The de-emphasis of the study and consideration of George Washington and his times ought to be a concern today. And that brings us to brain-dead, so-called educators in California and North Carolina. There may be other states on this potential list of academic shame, but these two I know for sure. School officials in both states are presently considering whether to cut American history in half. The proposal is to teach American history only from the 1865 forward. That means the people who declared the nation, fought to establish it and wrote the Constitution would disappear from the history books.
As students of history know, most of it is ballistic. Once you know where and how a nation began, and the direction and speed it took, you can predict accurately where it will arrive in time. That is, absent any cataclysmic events, which can change the whole equation. Every gunnery sergeant who has ever served knows what this means, including those who served under Captain John Paul Jones on the Bonne Homme Richard. But what can anyone know about the future of the United States in the absence of knowledge about how and when it began?
The proposal of these so-called educators would be rank foolishness even if the United States were a small nation, with limited impact on world events and limited leadership by example. When you include the facts that the US was the first nation to create a written Constitution, and that Constitution has outlasted every other written constitution among all the 186 nations which have constitutions, the proposal of these educators is downright madness. The history of governments on earth, not just the history of the US, demands that students have a passing familiarity with how and why we created our system of different branches of government, checks and balances, and limits on governmental power, all of which were brand new to the Framers.
Let’s use some examples. Would a history of England be fatally defective without a study of the Magna Carta? Would a study of Rome be fatally defective without a study of Julius Caesar? How about a study of Athens which left out Pericles? Or, to choose negative examples, how about studying the USSR and leaving out Lenin? Or Germany while leaving out Hitler? Students can learn from bad examples; what not to do, correct?
My understanding is that the proposed abandonment of the beginnings of US history is driven by consideration of new history text books which have been dumbed down, and have left the guts of American achievements on the cutting room floor. It might be worthwhile for all of you to find out whether this pernicious idea of crippling US history has reared its ugly head in the text books, classrooms, or school boards in your state. If it has, don’t get mad, get even. Throw out such books and such “educators” and return US history to its essential place in US classrooms.