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Friday, June 24, 2016

When history repeats, look out

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

If you lined up all the famous quotes in history -- from "Friends, Romans, countrymen ..." to "Four score and seven years ago" to "I'll have what she's having" -- perhaps the most important of them all actually encompasses all the others ...

"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

Admittedly, I had to look up to whom that quote is actually attributed. Good, old Wikipedia says it comes from George Santayana, a Spanish-born American author of the late 19th and early 20th centuries."

What Santayana means to say is simply this: Studying history is necessary to avoid repeating past mistakes.

And if you have paid any attention to recent headlines, you know how important knowing your history really can be.

Over recent days, we have had would-be presidential hopefuls linking the Founding Fathers with abolishing slavery (many of them actually kept slaves), relating Paul Revere's ride as a warning to the British (complete with warning shots) and serial killer John Wayne Gacy mistaken for Iowa-born John "Duke" Wayne.

That last faux pas could get a guy (or gal) shot, I'd think.

I hate to repeat myself, but history is the common frayed thread here. A new report from the National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES) sadly suggests Americans have forgotten where we came from as well as how we got here.

Our nation's fourth-graders can probably hack into CIA mainframe computer but barely a quarter of them can explain the purpose of the Bill of Rights or identify what changed after the Civil War for black Americans.

Shockingly, 98 percent of our fourth-graders cannot identify a picture of Abraham Lincoln and give two reasons why he is important to us. Ninety-eight percent! That's the same figure Dunkin Donuts told me is its brand recognition nationally.

So the great majority of nine- or 10-year-olds can pick out a Dunkin Donut, but not Honest Abe. Probably not even with a $5 bill in hand to buy some Dunkin Donuts.

Among the nation's eighth-graders, only 17 percent can correctly identify what the 1st Amendment protects, while only 1 percent (one out of 100!) knows why Richard Nixon resigned as president.

Twelfth-graders were just as bad. Only12 percent knew why the U.S. entered World War II and only one percent knew that in the Korean War the U.S. and South Korea combined forces to fight North Korea and China. Remember, most of those 12th-graders will be voting in the next election.

Obviously, we all want our kids to know and embrace their history, if for no other reason than to avoid being a Jay Leno "Jaywalking" punch line at some point (recently he asked about the first man who walked on the moon, and got "Louis Armstrong" as an answer).

With all that in mind, we hope you will take note of a special "We the People" section the Banner Graphic staff has put together for inclusion in our Thursday, June 30 edition.

Just in time for the Fourth of July, the section includes the Bill of Rights, the Preamble to the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, the Gettysburg Address, Patrick Henry's "Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death" speech and more.

We hope you save the section and refer often to the documents and their byproducts responsible for our country's freedom and independence. Some 50 advertisers backed its publication as a valuable educational tool.

As Americans, we can be quick to rally around the flag at any sign of tragedy or celebration. Waving the flag, however, can be different from comprehending what it means to be an American based on our collective history.

As we continue to face increasing challenges as a 235-year-old nation, perhaps those impediments could be avoided if students (and others among us) better understood how lucky we really are to live in this country. A couple more lessons in American history just might help them comprehend that.

As Michael Keaton loved to say in the movie "The Night Shift"-- "Is this a great country or what?"

Getting serious again for a moment, we need to heed the words former U.S. Secretary of Education William Bennett once used to end a speech on the importance of history:

"Americans are heirs to a precious historical legacy. Let it never be said of us that we failed as a nation because we neglected to pass on this legacy to our children. Whatever our ancestry of blood, we are all equally heirs to the same tradition. In one sense we all have the same fathers -- our Founding Fathers. Let it be said that we told our children their story, and the whole story, the long record of our glories, of our failures, of our aspirations, our sins, our achievements and our victories.

"Then let us leave them to determine their own view of it all: America in the totality of its acts. If we can dedicate ourselves to that endeavor, I am confident that our students will discern in the story of their past the truth. And they will cherish that truth. And it will keep them free."

You have to admit, right now we are the ones failing -- failing to pass on that legacy to our children.

Let's not let history repeat itself with the next student statistics.