Senator Robert C. Byrd: The Importance of History Education

Roundup: Talking About History

Remarks of Sen. Byrd at a news conference held by the
National Council for History Education (4-19-05) to "Make History Strong in Our Schools":

Good afternoon. I thank you, Ms. Anderson and the National Council for History Education, for hosting today's "Make History Strong in Our Schools" Day event to raise awareness of the importance of history education in the Nation's schools. I am heartened by everyone's attendance today. I am pleased at the opportunity to share the stage with historical luminaries of the likes of George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison, so brilliantly recreated for us by the costumed interpreters from Colonial Williamsburg.

Washington, Adams, Jefferson and Madison lived in a revolutionary time, a revolution fed by their own eloquence and erudition. Of them, President John F. Kennedy said, "Remember that our nation's first great leaders were also our first great scholars." These men read widely and deeply. Their interests and their libraries spanned the ages and included works on philosophy, history, economics, agriculture, the arts - every facet of the human condition. Their knowledge of history, of the mistakes and triumphs of past civilizations and forms of government, permitted them to formulate and describe a simple, flexible political doctrine that worked with our human flaws, protected society, and allowed individual talent and initiative to thrive regardless of the circumstances of one's birth. They believed that the ultimate security for this new government lay in an informed populace, one that could recognize would-be tyrants and jealously prevent their return to power.

We, too, live in a revolutionary time - a time of great technological change and globalization. We face new and uncertain threats. In our fear, we have sought protection in a more powerful and intrusive central government. But if we are to remain a role model of government by the people and for the people, we must not simply wear red, white and blue and proclaim ourselves patriots. We must cherish the heritage of governance bequeathed to us by our Founders and, even more importantly, we must understand its underpinnings and historical roots, lest in our ignorance we allow the return of tyrants.

We cannot let others think for us, no matter their office or their media ubiquity. We must as a people have the knowledge and wisdom to think, and think well, for ourselves. We have not lived under a tyrant, so we have only history to teach us what one looks like.

Perhaps at no time in our history has the study of history been more important. History is not the recitation of dead facts - it is relevant for the present and for the future. Our schools should give history its proper important place, and encourage a love for history. Families would do well to carve some time away from television and sports and beach visits to read about or visit historical sites.

I applaud the efforts the National Council for History Education to promote the teaching of history.

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