At dinner the other night our conversation turned to things historical, political, economical. One of the group is an English woman who was naturalized a couple years ago. She was discussing the process of becoming a citizen, preparing for the test. She had already live in the US for about ten or twelve years, and she knew a lot, but she wanted to be very sure that she was as completely advised as possible. She read in detail the Declaration of Independence, the US Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the Federalists Papers, and any other documents she could ascertain to give her information about the process. She did this, also, because of her interest.
Once she got started, she was amazed at what she was learning. You see, in England when they study about settling of the Americas, their history stops with 1776! Then it seems to resume around 1950, when the us involvement became important again in their history. At first this seemed strange to me, but then I realized that history as taught in the US is similarly spotty.
If you haven't read it, I highly recommend "Lies My Teacher Told Me," by James W. Loewe. It is astounding and, frankly, shocking to learn what we aren't taught about the history of our nation. The books tend to leave out or note with a single paragraph, any events that are unpleasant, embarrassing, unexplainable as to our involvement or handling of situations. I don't know how anyone could read the book and come away without being stunned. So many populations have struggled and been held down/back and their stories are not known. Anyway, I've talked about this here before, and I won't beat it to death here today. But read the book, unless you're gutless, and I'll go back to my original story.
My friend thoroughly prepared for the exam, expecting to be challenged. She was ready. She took the sample tests on the internet and thought she would be OK.
Then she went to take the test, and was furious when the first two questions presented themselves.
1. What color is the White House?
2. Where is the White House located?
And she thought "WHAT??"
Now there were questions that were more challenging as the test wore on, and she was glad she was prepared, but she wondered why those two would be on the test. I have no idea.
She said she was glad that she learned so much in her study. We all said she probably knows more about the US and its history that we do. She was amazed to learn what she didn't know about the US, having been educated in Briton. And it was the first time she has realized how so much of the history of the US that related to England, post 1776, was acknowledged in her studies.
We talked a while about how history is manipulated in books, in classrooms, even in the media. it is a scary thought that we may know so little that we aren't clear, or fair, or honest in how we perceive both history and the situation in the world today.
I know most people see history as boring. I did for many decades, and then I had some dynamic college instructors when I returned to the classroom in my late 30s and early 40s. I began to absolutely drink it up. The dates aren't important. the general timeline is in order to understand the sequence, but what is really important is the events, the people, and the WHY behind each one. My friend feels the same way. You have to know to understand. and you have to know both sides of it to really understand.
OK, I'm going to end it here. I could go on and on, and it might be unbelievably boring. I don't want to do that to you. I do want you to be aware, to read, to listen, to not avoid learning the painful parts of our history, our politics, who we are. It will benefit you. And me. All of us.