Why History Is Important

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On September 17, Constitution Day, President Bush delivered two speeches concerning history. In the first speech , given in the Rose Garden, he announced three new initiatives: (1)We the People, which will offer grants to improve the teaching of American history and civics, (2) Our Documents, which will place online important American historical documents, and (3) White House forum, which will feature conferences early next year to create new policies to improve the teaching of history and civics.

In his second speech, delivered in Tennessee, he explained why history is an important subject in school.

President Introduces History & Civic Education Initiatives
Remarks of the President on Teaching American History and Civic Education Initiative
The Rose Garden
September 17, 2002

In the last year, in this last year of American history, we have witnessed acts of sacrifice and heroism, compassion and courage, unity and fierce determination. We have been reminded that we are citizens with obligations to each other, to our country, and to our history.

These examples are particularly important for our children. Children reflect the values they see in their parents, and in their heroes. And this is how a culture can be strengthened and changed for the better.

During the last year, our children have seen that lasting achievement in life comes through sacrifice and service. They've seen that evil is real, but that courage and justice can triumph. They've seen that America is a force for good in the world, bringing hope and freedom to other people.

In recent events, our children have witnessed the great character of America. Yet they also need to know the great cause of America. They are seeing Americans fight for our country; they also must know why their country is worth fighting for.

Our history is not a story of perfection. It's a story of imperfect people working toward great ideals. This flawed nation is also a really good nation, and the principles we hold are the hope of all mankind. When children are given the real history of America, they will also learn to love America.

Our Founders believed the study of history and citizenship should be at the core of every American's education. Yet today, our children have large and disturbing gaps in their knowledge of history. Recent studies tell us that nearly one in five high school seniors think that Germany was an ally of the United States in World War II. Twenty-eight percent of eighth graders do not know the reason why the Civil War was fought. One-third of fourth graders do not know what it means to "pledge allegiance to the flag." Graduating seniors at some of our leading colleges and universities cannot correctly identify words from the Gettysburg Address, or do not know that James Madison is the father of the Constitution.

This is more than academic failure. Ignorance of American history and civics weakens our sense of citizenship. To be an American is not just a matter of blood or birth; we are bound by ideals, and our children must know those ideals.

They should know about the nearly impossible victory of the Revolutionary War, and the debates of the Constitutional Convention. They should know the meaning of the Declaration of Independence, and how Abraham Lincoln applied its principles to flight -- to fight slavery. Our children should know why Martin Luther King, Jr., was in a Birmingham city jail, and why he wrote a magnificent letter from that place.

Our children need to know about America's liberation of Europe during World War II, and why the Berlin Wall came down. At this very moment, Americans are fighting in foreign lands for principles defined at our founding, and every American -- particularly every American child -- should fully understand these principles.

The primary responsibility for teaching history and civics rests with our elementary and secondary schools, and they've got to do their job. The federal government can help, and today I'm announcing three new initiatives spearheaded by the USA Freedom Corps and designed to support the teaching of American history and civic education.

The first initiative is called We the People -- it will be administered by the National Endowment for the Humanities -- which will encourage the teaching of American history and civic education. The program will provide grants to develop good curricula; hold training seminars for schoolteachers and university faculty; sponsor a lecture series in which acclaimed scholars -- like David McCullough -- will tell the story of great figures from American history; and enlist high school students in a nation essay contest about the principles and ideals of America. We will use technology to share these important lessons with schools and communities throughout America.

The federal government conserves and protects some of our greatest national treasures, and we need to make them more readily available to Americans in their schools and local communities. Our second initiative is called Our Documents, an innovative project that will be run by the National Archives and the National History Day. This project will use the Internet to bring one hundred of America's most important documents from the National Archives to classrooms and communities across the country, provide lesson plans, and to foster competitions and discussions about these defining moments in our history.

Students and their teachers will see documents online in their original form -- well-known documents such as our Constitution or the Emancipation Proclamation or the Civil Rights Act of 1964. They will also see other important but less widely available documents, such as the Lee Resolution, which first proposed independence for American colonies, and Jefferson's Secret Message to Congress regarding the exploration of the West.

Third, early next year we will convene a White House forum on American history, civics, and service. We will discuss new policies to improve the teaching of history and civics in elementary and secondary schools, and in our colleges and universities. We will hear from educators and scholars about ways to better monitor students' understanding of American history and civics, and how to make more of our great national treasures, how to make them more accessible and more relevant to the lives of our students.

American children are not born knowing what they should cherish -- are not born knowing why they should cherish American values. A love of democratic principles must be taught.

A poet once said, "What we have loved, others will love, and we will teach them how." We love our country, and we must teach our children to do the same. And when we do, they will carry on our heritage of freedom into the future.

Remarks by the President on Teaching American History and Civic Education
East Literature Magnet School
Nashville, Tennessee
September 17, 2002

It is very important for our youngsters to understand history, the history of our country, the ideals that make our country strong. This morning at the Rose Garden I kicked off a national initiative, and I'm going to describe some of what we're going to do to make sure that we teach more history to our children.

Especially important in a time of war that our children understand the context of why we fight. You see, ours is a history of freedom. One of the most precious ideas we have is freedom for everybody. We love our freedoms. We love the idea of being a free society. And throughout our history, people have fought for freedom. Whether it's been in the Revolutionary War, or the heroic struggle to end slavery, or civil rights wars in the United States Congress, or whether it's World War II where we fought to free people from tyranny, the history of this nation has been a history of freedom and justice.

Our children are growing up in a difficult time for America, because they see on their TV screens the fact that America is now a battlefield. When we were kids, a lot of us were kids, growing up, oceans separated us from danger. We were confident in our ability to resist evil because evil could never make it to our shore, unless it was created internally. But now we've entered a new period where we're vulnerable. It's tough for our children to comprehend that, I know.

But you've got to understand why we're vulnerable, and that is because there are people in the world that hate the fact that we love freedom. People cannot stand the fact that your great nation not only allows, but encourages people to worship an almighty God in any way they want to. We welcome that in America. (Applause.)

We speak our mind freely. All you've got to do is remember it's an election year. (Laughter.) We believe in a free press. And we're not going to change. We love our freedoms. Our history has taught us that. And today, we love them just as strongly as others in the past have.

The other thing the children are learning is the notion of people serving something greater than themselves in life. You know, I think one of the most defining moments of the recent American history was Flight 93. Flight 93 is an amazing lesson. Laura and I had the honor of going to the site there in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, the other day to hug and cry and visit with and smile with if they wanted to smile, with the family members of those brave souls who were on that airplane.

But it's a lesson of people loving freedom so much and loving their country so much, that they're willing to drive a plane into the ground to save other people's lives. What a powerful message, that part of being an American is to serve something greater than yourself. Part of being a citizen in this great land is to not only take from the land, but to give.

So today, when you realize there are military people looking in caves in Afghanistan, or moving around the world to try to fight tyranny and terrorism, they do so to serve something greater than themselves -- because of a strong ideal, a strong sense of purpose, a strong sense of country.

You've got to understand there are some in this world that simply do not adhere to the ideals we believe in. In Iraq, they don't put their hand over their heart and say, "Liberty and justice for all." They don't believe in liberty. The dictator who runs Iraq doesn't believe in justice. He only believes in liberty and justice for those who he decides get liberty and justice.

There's a lot of talk about Iraq on our TV screens, and there should be, because we're trying to figure out how best to make the world a peaceful place. There's an old saying in Tennessee -- I know it's in Texas, probably in Tennessee -- that says, fool me once, shame on -- shame on you. Fool me -- you can't get fooled again. You've got to understand the nature of the regime we're dealing with. This is a man who has delayed, denied, deceived the world. For the sake of liberty and justice for all, the United Nations Security Council must act, must act in way to hold this regime to account, must not be fooled, must be relevant to keep the peace.

Part of the American history teaches us that we must lead toward a more peaceful world. Part of the history of the world shows that as threats develop, we must deal with them before they become too acute, unmanageable. Part of our history is, is that we're a peaceful people. We love and long for peace, that we want peace for generations to come. But sometimes we must act in order to achieve the peace.

And all our history says we believe in liberty and justice for all, that when we see oppression, we cry; that when we found out that young girls in Afghanistan could not go to school because they were in the clutches of one of the most barbaric regimes in the history of mankind, we acted not only to uphold doctrine and to fight the war against terror, we acted to liberate people. Our history shows that we're not a nation which conquers; we're a nation which liberates.

History is important for our children to understand, to give them a better sense of how to understand what we do and a sense of what it means to be an American; a sense of importance of serving something greater than yourself in life.

The first initiative that we're going to put out is called We the People, which will encourage American history and civic education all around the country. There will be a grant program to encourage the development of good curricula and a lecture series, and essays by high school students on liberty and justice and freedom.

We've got a great store of documents here in America, and so we're going to put out a program called Our Documents, the National Archivist is going to work with us to make sure all of the archives of America are now on-line, so schools can easily tap in to find out how our history developed through the archives of the country. It ought to be a really interesting way for our students to learn more about America. [Note: White House aides later clarified that officials with the National Archives plan on putting only a small percentage of the millions of documents they possess on-line.]

We're going to have a White House forum there in Washington, D.C. -- obviously; that's where the White House is -- in January or February of next year, to call in experts as to how better teach our history, and at the same time, teach the ideals that make us a great nation. We're going to do our part at the federal level; it's very important that you all do your part here in Nashville, Tennessee, and insist upon good civics lessons, the true lessons of history, to make sure our children understand the ideals that make us great.

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oooo - 9/28/2003

fuck this page

doghunt. - 4/12/2003

Your page is empty.

mike - 4/10/2003

i want a nickname that has to do with my name that makes fun of a famous RAPPER


I thought the president's speech was great! I thought he hit on a lot o great points: Strengthen and change our country for the better, needing to build from last years sacrifics' and serives, citizenship being bound by ideals, and finally that history should be the core of American educational system. I though with the last commit the president hit the bullseye, history should be the focal point of our great country. The three policies I feel are going to go a long way to the future success of our country's upward climb to improving history in America.

Rabid Junk Yard Dog - 9/24/2002


Do you honestly think the Founding Father "were able to transcend so many of their contemporary prejudices?" I say that they did what they had to do in order to both create the United States and remain relevent and in power.

The Constituition says "all Men are created equal." If they honestly believed that, why did it take, what almost a century more for a black man to get the right to vote? Why did it take until 1920 for women to get the vote? How is it that the United States Supreme Court held in its infamous Dredd Scott decision that a man can be the property of another and therefore have NO rights. Many years later, that same body stated that it was Constitutional to inter Japanese American in what amounted to concentration camps where many were beaten, starved and raped because of their race/ancestry? Oh, do not be so proud of this, sir! Our children need to know all of it! In all of its horrific pain and anguish. tehy need to know about Jonas salk and his cure for polio, Henry Ford and the autombile, Albert Einstein and his works. Yes, they need to know it all so that they do not become the mindless automatons of our over reaching government.

Additionally, is this a place we need the national government to step in? I think not. The teaching of values, morals and ethics should also be done at home. Why isn't the government telling parents to get up off the Barcolounger and teach their kids honesty, love of country, to make sound, moral judgments and some sense of decency? Why? Because that kind of thing makes people look/feel bad and voters HATE being reminded their shortcomings.

Blame the schools, blame the teachers, hell, blame the damned textbooks even, but do NOT blame parents or the students and them to take responsiblity for their actions.

So now we are going get a new initiative that is actually some just old rehashed stuff from the seventies that didn't work then and won't now.

GW is a puppet, repeating the party line. If you don't believe that, watch Dick Chaney's lips move when GW speaks.


Rabid Junk Yard Dog - 9/24/2002

You are so right, man. I do like like Alec's politics and I am afraid of the President's agenda. To me, it smacks of the ultranationalism of the "Ubermenschen Era" of Pre-WWII Germany. i am sorry to make that comparison, but it is not completely without merit.

What do you think?


Rabid Junk Yard Dog - 9/24/2002

Allow me to make fun of you. You just don't get it do you?

History is not dead, it evolves, it changes with time and it will not wait for you to reach it well.

George Washington was a slave owner and you say we should acknowledge that and move on to his finer points, like he wanted them freed after his death and things like that. Isn't that swell? Well, I have some news for you, virtually everyone of our "Founding Fathers" owned slaves. Thomas Jefferson was a slave owner and even, a slave lover, I am told.

I do not want the government involved to this depth in the education of my child. They are not teachers, they are politicians. The officials put in charge won't answer to me in Washington. Hell, their boss (if you believe the rumors about the how the last one was robbed)may not EVEN be accountable at election time to the people he represents.

I am thoroughly disguste with your tone and content of what you write. Geaorge W. is not smart...but he ain't too dumb, either. Hey? Have you ever noticed GW quits talking whenever Dick Cheney has a drink of water?

I thought Republicans were for less government, not more...funny how GW has created how many new agencies since his election and the events of 9/11? How much more is government going to reach into our lives while releasing its grip on big business, the environment and the Constitution?

Well, that is for another. Remember, if you don't get help at Charter, please get help somewhere.

Mike Jardine - 9/24/2002

Thank you for coming to the party, yourself. Although I might agree with you on more than several fronts, I must take great exception to your notions that professors are sophomoric when they criticize this President. Most professors I have come into contact with are dedicated, hard-working individuals who, stay with me now, ACTUALLY care about what they teach and how they teach it. The thought that they want to wrest control of the educational process for their own egoes is beyond the pale. You poor thing, you must never had a good professor. What sadness! In any profession, there are good and bad practitioners. Woe to you for apparently not having any.

Moreover, I also think it is pretty much a gimme that Shrub, Jr. did not work as hard as he should have or possibly could have from his days at university. In short, as far as GW is concerned, I can think it is accepted that he is not a Rhodes Scholar. To use the vernacular, "He ain't the sharpest tool in the shed." You may now take a step back from the yellow line, please. You are about to go over the edge.

So you can honestly sit there and think that it is okay for anyone to tout "the good ole USA's" point of view in its history? Do you really believe that it is alright to "gloss over a few details" white out some of our darker moments and change the reality of what really happenes and happened (as it were) to those races and peoples that went against the grain of white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant Americans? What scares me is this, what happens if GW lose the election? What will replace his adminstration's philosophy? Do you really think that by turning a blind eye to the ugliness that our nation has
perpetrated upon others not to its liking we are going to "save America?" Pull your head from the sand!

America is a nasty country when it wants to be. We are responsible for just as much murder, chaos and despair as any of the old colonial powers ever were. We are the only nation to have ever used a nuclear bomb on another nation--yet we rail against the injustices heaped upon us by pissant countries who cannot even begin to fathom the freedoms we have here. And you say let the Shrub whitewash that, sanitize it and feed it to MY DAUGHTER? If you thinks that is okay, I say you are sadly mistaken.

Before you take me as "un-American," I think that you should note that I am a former soldier, a combat veteran and I am am almost done with my degree in Social Studies with a History emphasis. I am going to teach secondary school. I am very proud of my nation, good and bad. As a student of history, I feel it is in our best interests to teach our children ALL (the GOOD, the BAD and the UGLY)the aspects of American History we can. The knowledge of what we have done is out there for them to find. If they catch our sanitization (one should say, "whitenization," or "bleaching")of history, they are going to call us on that. What do we do then? "Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!" (Still, Dorothy looked, didn't she?) What then, oh, Great Critic? What? No answer? The tongue of your pseudo-intellectual mouth and wit been caught by an alley cat?

I find your piece just a bit nasty and too subtle for my liking. It is full of the same intellectual clap-trap as mine. At least the Shrub's critics are out in front, in techni-color banging away at him. You resort to being snide and insidious. How does it feel to be so smart?

You don't understand the first thing about teaching anything other than how to throw insults and tiny daggers at other people who are out here dedicated not to themselves, but to teaching others. You have been a student far too long. You need to be in the trenches being taught as well as teaching. Maybe then you will have some appreciation for the for the hard work.

Moreover, just because some people make sophomoric judgements doe NOT necessarily make them untrue or the people insipid. Sometimes an idiot is an idiot. The sun is yellow and I am not happy with the back handed way you mad it through your writing.

Oh, and just when you thought I was done...if you need anymore lecturing on government involvement (on any side of the aisle!)in corporate malfeasance, look up, savings and loan scandal, Love Canal, Whitewater, Enron and many others. Just because it sounds ridiculous does not mean it cannot be true.

One last thing, you may have been more intellectual than the people you insulted so well in your piece, but the fact that you insulted them makes you no better than they. More finesse, more panache and bigger words, to be sure, but according to your own thoughts, just as dumb. Why don't you try helping people out instead of faulting them?

Have a nice day in your little, all white and sanitized world of America, apple pie and Chevrolet.

P.S. I hope this missive teaches you some humility. It is easy to use big words and subtle machinations to make others feel small (or yourself feel bigger. It was not meant to be anything more than what you wrote to other people couched in terms you can understand. From the context of your letter you are not headed the right way. Help be a part of the solution. You obviously have the tools, please use them.

Gene Hazel - 9/22/2002

Sorry Leslie, being from a military family establishes credibility for your dad (or mom) not for you. Don't recall anyone advocating "bombing 'em to hell" but nice try. Don't recall anyone mentioning "commies" or "foolsoh radicals" but nice try.

Next time argue against what was said rather than what you wish was said.


Gene Hazel - 9/22/2002

Well that was easy wasn't it? Read an entire speech and find one statement that wasn't fully explained, assume the worse, and then criticize the President for your assumption.

Give it a rest.

Bill Heuisler - 9/21/2002

Mr. Luker, Trolls afford guidance to the intellectually malnourished - epiphanies to the foolish. If we didn't occasionally show ourselves, well-meaning Liberals would grovel themselves to a grey, stateless, proletariat oblivion.
And please don't thank us. as Emerson said, "The only reward of virtue is virtue; the only way to have a friend is to be one."
Bill Heuisler

Ralph E. Luker - 9/21/2002

Trolls may abound, Mr. Heuisler, but why must they expose themselves in public?

Bill Heuisler - 9/21/2002

Mr. Harbison,
Your puerile bluster is certain to embarrass anyone with wider horizons than MTV. Mr. Lloyd is represemtative of a majority in this country and a robust fraternity on this site. Count me among your Trolls and try not to break your crayons during future tantrums.
Bill Heuisler

Alec Lloyd - 9/20/2002

Mr. Lester remarks: “My point is not to relentlessly emphasize the negative but to point out that Washington, Jefferson, Hamilton, Madison and Paine were all products of a very different time period and culture, which thought about politics and society in very different ways than we do today. Efforts to rummage through the past looking for heroes and moral exemplars for young people generally ignore this.”

We are in more agreement than you admit. Any study of the period MUST take this into account. That is precisely what makes the Founding Fathers so remarkable: that they were able to transcend so many of their contemporary prejudices. That they remained bound by others should be contrasted with the great ideals and movements they set in motion.

He continues:
“While I'm certainly sympathetic to any effort to improve young people's knowledge of American history, I'm also skeptical of any initiative which seeks to use American history to find "role models" or promote "patriotism" rather than to understand the past on its own terms and assess how it has affected the present. I'd be equally skeptical about efforts on the left to find "heroes" and "villains" in U.S. history.”

What common bond is there to unite us, then? We are an immigrant republic, unlike the nation-states of Europe or Asia. Without a shared sense of history, a common goal, an “American Way” and an “American Dream” we are nothing more than a bunch of people who happen to live together. For more than 200 years Americans have flourished and liberty has flowered through this method of teaching. Far from creating an a hypernationalist tyranny, The U.S. has continually expanded its definitions of freedom and equality. I fail to see the danger of continuing and reinforcing this tradition.

“Alec Lloyd's comments show precisely what is wrong with this initiative. Rather than seeking to promote a genuine understanding of the complexity of the nation's history, it attempts to use history to indoctrinate students in the correct "values" (something the right, often groundlessly, always accuses the left of doing). This effort to use history as a source of "role models"
not only involves minimizing the negative aspects of U.S. history but denying the differences between other historical eras and our own.”

What good is history if not to provide an object lesson? Why do we read biographies if not to draw inspiration? Using this logic, the Black History and Women’s History posters that dot every high school in the land must immediately be removed because they offer role models.

Maybe I’ve been reading too much Livy. While I don’t endorse his decision to bend truth to the moral lesson at hand, I do agree with using the example of history to foster good character and inspire future generations. Lacking that, history is nothing more than a dry chronicle, lacking meaning or relevance to a generation obsessed with Gameboy and the Osbournes. It is no coincidence that popular interest (and basic proficiency) in American history collapsed as the traditional lessons were cast aside.

And no, I don’t support “indoctrination.” Requiring students to read founding documents is hardly indoctrination.

History must have a moral context. Otherwise, the lessons it teaches can be easily perverted. Was Hitler evil or should his cunning be admired and emulated? It seems a hilariously simple question, but increasing numbers of American children can’t bring themselves to make a call. This is an alarming development that we should all take to heart.

Richard Lester - 9/20/2002

Leaving aside the issue of slavery for the moment, it should be pointed out that George Washington and many of the framers of the Constitution also thought that white males who didn't own property should not be allowed to vote. As President, Washington tended to support Alexander Hamilton and the Federalists, who not only distrusted popular majorities but were often essentially undemocratic. The Washington administration's policies were first criticized as undemocratic not by neo-Marxist historians but by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison (who both certainly were themselves vulnerable to criticism based on the contradiction between their democratic ideals and their ownership of slaves).

Even Thomas Paine, one of the most democratic figures in the Revolutionary generation, only argued that the vote should be extended to all people who paid taxes, liberalizing but still maintaining property qualifications for voting.

My point is not to relentlessly emphasize the negative but to point out that Washington, Jefferson, Hamilton, Madison and Paine were all products of a very different time period and culture, which thought about politics and society in very different ways than we do today. Efforts to rummage through the past looking for heroes and moral examplars for young people generally ignore this.

While I'm certainly sympathetic to any effort to improve young people's knowledge of American history, I'm also skeptical of any initiative which seeks to use American history to find "role models" or promote "patriotism" rather than to understand the past on its own terms and assess how it has affected the present. I'd be equally skeptical about efforts on the left to find "heroes" and "villains" in U.S. history.

Alec Lloyd's comments show precisely what is wrong with this initiative. Rather than seeking to promote a genuine understanding of the complexity of the nation's history, it attempts to use history to indoctrinate students in the correct "values" (something the right, often groundlessly, always accuses the left of doing). This effort to use history as a source of "role models"
not only involves minimizing the negative aspects of U.S. history but denying the differences between other historical eras and our own.

Robert Harbison - 9/20/2002

You know, on other message boards Alec Lloyd would be called a TROLL. As in trolling for Flames. Are you trying to piss people off or are you really like this? I really hope the former, because I would hate to think that there is actually a real person like you out there.

Robert Harbison - 9/20/2002

Umm, You might really want to check again. It may not be RIGHT NOW, but it sure as heck is getting close. Constitution? Who needs it. Congress? Who cares? History? MY history.

Nigel Sellars - 9/20/2002

My complaint about Bush is that he either doesn't know history or he is actively engaged in an attempt to rewrite it to suit his agenda. I hope for the former,m but fear the latter. Anyone with a real knowledge of American history would realize Bush's administration, especially through AG Ashcroft, is blatantly ignoring the Constitution. I honestly believe reading the Constitution in any form is preferable to an initiative that would send a copy of it around under security so people can "Ooh and aaah" over how it old it looks , then go away none the wiser.

Shrub is an intellectually deficient man, I don't have to prove that as he's proven it way too many times. He's also a shrewd operator whose business ethics are more than questionable. That should be common knowledge. He has, on several occasions, said how much easier it would be to be dictator.

I can only hope this initiative will open peoples' eyes, but given the motivations behind it at this time, I fear this will not happen. After all, the Serbs argued their history gave then the right to keep Kosovo under their thumb. How will Karl Rove and his gang of Quislings use this initiative to justify thgeir agenda?

Alec Lloyd - 9/20/2002

I don’t know, I avoided referring to the president as a “shrub.” So you can’t even bring yourself to write the his proper name, yet I am “knee-jerk.” Interesting.

I congratulate your family on its military service. It is utterly irrelevant to the point (unless we are living in Robert Heinlein’s “Starship Troopers” universe in which case I, too would qualify for the vote) since I wasn’t aware we were discussing foreign policy here.

Once again, we have historians taking cheap shots without any justification other than an overpowering ideological hatred of the president. As I said, fascinating that federal money can suddenly be tainted. I guess you’ll be giving up all those other grants, too? Perhaps we should just abolish the Dept. of Education lest it compromise scholarly independence? Oops, there I go again.

You have refuted none of my points, save to tell me that the neo-Marxist pap being force-fed today is what I had coming. Gee, thanks. You also raise the tired, hackneyed fear of “jingoism,” which supposedly will spring into being the moment more American school children learn when the Declaration of Independence was signed, what it says and that George Washington was more than just a dead white slave holder. Yes, that IS dangerous.

I am a traditionalist. History cannot be divorced from morality and one can and should draw moral lessons from it. By any measure, George Washington was a great man. He was imperfect, and no attempt should be made to hide his flaws, but they cannot obscure the scope of his greatness.

There is much talk about finding role-models for young people today. Instead of rappers and sports figures, why can’t our students look to the colossi of the past? Yes, he was white, but he was also an AMERICAN. His example of self-discipline and courage is applicable to anyone. Once upon a time, this was recognized. Now historians have so Balkanized history that one must find a “race appropriate” hero for inspiration. “I’m sorry, your skin is too dark to emulate George Washington. Have you studied Cesar Chavez?” This is hardly conducive to building one from many.

What this initiative proposes is exactly what you mention in your first paragraph: getting BOTH sides of the story out there. Yes, Washington (to continue my example) owned slaves. He also wanted them freed on his death, and specified that those young enough to find employment should be taught an appropriate trade; those too old or infirm to work would be supported by his estate. He was not a great thinker, but had good judgement and listened to those around him. His physical courage was peerless. Is this knowledge dangerous? Why can it not be taught?

If balance is what you crave, this proposal is your dream come true. Why not give it a chance?

Alec Lloyd - 9/20/2002

So let me get this overwrought rant straight:

The wholesale relocation of peoples is on the same order as deleting an archived government web site?

“1984” this ain’t.

Tom Beaman - 9/20/2002

At first blush, I was excited about the History Initiative. And then I realized:
1. We The People has been around since 1976. 1976!! It's a good program, but EVERY student I know who is exposed to it as it is presented in the textbooks provided by the Civics in Education Foundation get bored silly. So what's new?

2. Documents Online...great! Now we can see these documents on a 15" computer screen instead of a 17" textbook. Oh wait...the computer I have in my class (yes, I'm lucky)is a MAC LC III, so it is not capable of going on the internet, since it doesn't support JAVA. And even if it could, Bush's "update" may end up sending much of our history into an electronic round file. Never mind.

3. We'll have a white house forum. Did Alec Lloyd get his invitation yet? Enough said.

The point of his initiative is good. We need more, better history. Clearly, our nation is historically illiterate. It's true, we can't recognize the Declaration of Independence, and the Constitution, especially Article One, Section 8, Subsection 11, seems to be non-existent. But I join Leslie Buffone in weeping at what I fear will be another opportunity lost in a 90 minute photo op and a 9 second sound bite.

Tom Beaman
Gresham, Oregon

Leslie Buffone - 9/19/2002

and you're a historian??

sorry, you just sound like more of that knee-jerk conservative bs I've been hearing since the Gingrich revolution. So, what I gather is that you'd gladly trade oppressive, blind nationalistic revisionist history for hmmmm.... what do we call it when one ooks at all sides of an issue?? Oh yes: objective.

You blame liberal educatiors for being closeminded: historian, heal thyself

by the way, I do love my country and America-bashing isn't the intention. I come from a military family (3 tours in Vietnam thank you very much, but don't believe "bombing 'em to hell" is the answer. This is another sad attempt by bush supporters to dismiss all who dissent as commies and foolish radicals. jingoistic? you just need to rely on your own observations instead of those force fed to you by the selected administration.


Leslie Buffone - 9/19/2002

this goes beyond press releases. did you read the part about eliminating information that "does not reflect the priorities, philosophies, or goals of the present administration"? well I assume that eliminating the native americans from the southeastern united states doesn't "reflect the priorities, philosophies, or goals of the present administration" but it is still important information to have. not that this is the case -- just an example. what about information that shurb just doesn't understand or makes poppy look bad ... is that going to be eliminated?? Oh wait, he fixed all that with an executive order didn't he. ... The problem -- and my point -- is that the administrations in washington (appointed or elected) can't get rid of historical references that don't correspond with their point of view, religious affiliation, or desperate attempt to gain daddy's approval.

Did the link not show up or did you just not read it?


Alec Lloyd - 9/19/2002

I don’t know. What was yours? Any professors remember you? The fact that President Bush’s don’t may speak more of the assembly-line nature of higher education than a lack of personal involvement on his part. I’m sure before you peruse the latest scholarly article you call the author’s alma mater and find out if he skipped class as an undergrad.

Talk about knee-jerk. This web site is supposedly filled with highly educated professionals and yet their critiques of a major educational initiative could come from a seventh grader. I’m sorry, are you distinguished faculty or members of the Midvale Junior High Chess Club?

Let’s summarize the objections raised to this initiative:

1. The president is an awkward public speaker and therefore unfit to govern,
2. The president did not get a 4.0 GPA and is therefore unfit go govern,
3. The federal money will encourage a pro-American view of history and will therefore indoctrinate our youth with neo-fascist jingoism, and of course
4. Text-book makers are in the pocket of the president and will make an unseemly profit.

The first two are sophomoric and therefore unworthy of discussion, let alone refutation. They belong in a secondary school cafeteria, right alongside such intellectually stimulating debates as whether Justin Timberlake is hotter than Lance Bass, who is taking whom to the Junior Prom and can we play some more practical jokes on the new fat kid with a learning disability.

It reveals more about how low supposedly sophisticated people will stoop to discredit a political opponent than it does about the strengths of their argument. “He has a funny accent! He said ‘aint’t!” Boy are you guys ever sharp. Did you learn debating techniques like that during your masters or your doctoral dissertation?

Point 3 is amusing if only because it promises to challenge the current “America the Ugly” orthodoxy now being rigidly enforced across this great land. Pride in one’s country? Pure “jingoism.” Love of freedoms? “Simplistic.” In many areas, American history is now looked upon as a lesson in the evils of the capitalist system and a catalogue of all the Republic’s crimes. The tale of years carries only atrocities and hypocritical treaty-breaking, all bankrolled by Boss Tweed, Standard Oil and Dead White Men.

I have sat through classes which purported to be a basic overview of American history and instead were naked political indoctrinations (complete with a requirement to buy the professor’s book, which I’ll get to in a second). The reason why our young people don’t have even a basic knowledge of American history is because too much time is spent teaching peripheral episodes.

How odd that people who normally rush for federal dollars now have qualms about taking them. So the conservatives were right about the dangers of federalizing education? Glad to have you aboard at last.

This leads us to Point 4, which is yet another one of the tired “Republicans are on the take!” lines. First it was oil, now it’s textbooks. Soon we’ll own the world!

Anyhow, I find it quite amusing. If anyone runs a paper-pushing cartel, it is the tenured mandarins who insist on releasing “new, revised” editions of their books every semester so that a new batch of conscripts can shell out $80 for something they would never choose read on their own and can’t even sell to the next incoming class to recoup the cost. Are you mad that Bush may disturb your racket or do you fear an end to your ideological monopoly?

Topics like these are great at flushing the blind ideologues out of the faculty lounge and into the open. Thanks for participating and showing how truly “open minded” the academy really is.

My question is this: is there any proposal Bush could make short of offering to unilaterally cede power to Ralph Nader (or Ted Kaczynski for that matter) that you people would actually support?

Alec Lloyd - 9/19/2002

This is a non-story.

Gee, appointed political officials don’t want to archive their predecessors’ press releases. Did you not know this?

David McKinney - 9/19/2002

>Ah yes, “Bush is dumb” part MCLXXVI. Yawn

Yes, as he displays time and again, it is getting old. But, Bush is best when viewed on tv, especially the deer in headlights look he gave us in Memphis. Transcripts do not come close to revealing the man.

Bush said monday, "There's an old saying in Tennessee -- I know it's in Texas, probably in Tennessee -- that says, fool me once, shame on -- shame on you. Fool me -- you can't get fooled again."

Yes, he has an instant retention of facts and figures that makes Churchill look like a piker, but is poor at old local sayings.

At least he likes The Who.

The big issue no one has mentioned is Bush' ties to Hill and Knowlton publishing that essentially gives them the task of re-educating americans. Professor Howard Zinn's task to bring popular history to the masses just got a bit harder.

Leslie Buffone - 9/19/2002

I completely agree with your reservations. Thanks for not letting me be the lone person out.


Leslie Buffone - 9/19/2002

Okay guys, before you bush backers begin gloating too much, perhaps you should check this site out:


this is about shrub's latest attempt to bend history to his own agenda. I'm sorry, as promising as this 'initiative' sounds I just can't get jazzed up about the idea. Honestly, this guy has bragged about being a C student ... those aren't high marks in my book. I'm a single mom holding down a house, job, and attending grad school (Oh did I mention that I have 2 kids?!) I'm sitting proudly on my 3.8 gpa because I busted my butt. You can't tell me some priviledged Ivy league jerk with a silver spoon can't pull out anything better?! He didn't make the grade because he doesn't know the subject --- witness his horrific record to date as appointed president. As historians you bush supporters should know better! I'm truly disappointed. I'm neither repub or dem or green or socialist ... so don't try to pin political labels on my because of my perspective. This man inspires no confidence in me whatsoever. History education in America in hands will be little more than a whitewash.

This breaks my heart.

Robert Harbison - 9/19/2002

Advanced degree? Better grades? Was this from the same institution from which the professors said they don't remember him? What was hi attendance record at these institutions, I wonder.

Robert Entenmann - 9/19/2002

These initiatives deserve our support. Yet I'm disturbed by President Bush's notion of history, an uncritical and parochial understanding of the past aimed solely at promoting jingoism rather than really understanding history. Our children ought to know what we fought for in World War II, but if we think of our victory as "America's liberation of Europe," we ignore the part played by our allies (including the Soviet Union). Does the president think we won the war by ourselves? No wonder he's such a unilateralist.

Paul Le Blanc - 9/19/2002

I think it is important to separate Bush's History initiative from what one thinks of the President personally or politically. (I don't know him personally, and I am in fundamental disagreement with him politically.)

This is an important and positive initiative. Regardless of one's political standpoint, I think it makes sense to fully support all efforts to promote the learning and understanding of our country's history. To the extent that is successful, it can be valuable not only for the History profession, but for all the people who will benefit from it by having a greater understanding of their own history -- a greater understanding of themselves and of the realities that have shaped their lives. Such a development would be positive for our whole society.

An obvious concern from those seriously engaged with the historical discipline is to reject any notion of One True History, to understand (and help others understand) the value in both the diversity of our history and the diversity of historical interpretations. That must be built into any serious effort to teach the history of our country (and of the world). As students become aware of that, that will encourage them to be open to new ideas and to be critical thinkers. This is essential in the world today, and it is essential for a better world tomorrow.

I think those critical of Bush (and I would hope his supporters as well) can and should not be fixated on the person of the President, but instead help advance this important initiative along these lines.

Alec Lloyd - 9/19/2002

Ah yes, “Bush is dumb” part MCLXXVI. Yawn.

How amusing that a man with an advanced degree is considered to be a total rube by academics who rely on the same yardstick to prove their alleged intellect.

The thing I don’t understand is: if Bush is so stupid, how come he posted better grades in grad school than Albert Gore Jr., that paragon of knowledge? Oh wait, sorry, mustn’t question the Received Wisdom of the Intellectual Mafia.

Jon Blackman - 9/19/2002

Thank God

Fred Mills - 9/19/2002

President Bush is on the right track. "Ride on."

steven gimber - 9/18/2002

An interesting and important address. I wholeheartedly agree that people need to know the facts he mentioned - and more. I have a PhD and teach American history at a university. Based on the results of a short quiz I give them on the first day of class I have been consistently astonished at what incoming students in my US history survey courses don't know about our nation's past. In light of his speech, I'm wondering if Mr. Bush knows (without a teleprompter or the benefit of a "cheat sheet") the dates of the American Revolution or when and why the Civil War was fought? Can he identify the words of the Declaration of Independence or those of the Gettysburg Address? Did he know - before his speech - that Madison is the "Father of the Constitution?" Does the man who is acting as our chief executive know anything about the Constitution and the Bill of Rights? Somehow I doubt that he knows much about American history at all.... It seems to me that Mr. Bush is probably an example of someone who succeeded in life - and even became President of the United States - without the benefit of any real understanding of our history.