Lynne Cheney, former chair of the National Endowment for the Humanities, in 1994 launched an attack on the group then developing National History Guidelines for the schools. In an editorial page article in the Wall Street Journal, Cheney described the proposed history standards as a “grim and gloomy” portrayal of American history.
“Imagine an outline for teaching American history,” Cheney wrote, “in which George Washington makes only a fleeting appearance and is never described as our first president. Or in which the founding of the Sierra Club and the National Organization for Women are considered noteworthy events, but the first gathering of the U.S. Congress is not.”
Cheney continued to fight for truthful portrayals of the glorious events leading to the adoption of our Constitution, when she served on the Bicentennial Commission on the U.S. Constitution in the mid-1980s. I was proud to serve with her at the time.
In their new study, the National Association of Scholars found only one in 75 top universities required students to study western civilization. In 1964, more than half required students take a two-semester course covering the history of western civilization from Greece to the modern era. The other half of the universities had required courses guaranteeing that students understood the history of their society.
The American Council of Trustees and Alumni, asking “What Will They Learn,” found that only 20 percent of universities require students to take a U.S. government or history course. Only 5 percent make students take an economics class. The Council said schools should expect graduates to be competitive in the world.
When parents write checks for $20,000 or more a year for college, they expect a young person to be equipped for a job. But Obamanomics has slammed the door on that prospect for many. Most thinking parents also expect the schooling would yield not only an ability to read and write but also some knowledge of history and politics. The widespread political ignorance was shown in 2008 in the election of Obama.
The National Association of Scholars said young people “are no longer learning about their civilization’s great story, its triumphs, its vicissitudes, and its singular role in transforming the human condition. What is the future of a civilization whose heirs have largely become blinded to its history?” it asked rhetorically.
The widespread emphasis on ‘multiculturalism’ is no answer. Historical scholarship, including our knowledge of interactions with other civilizations and cultures would probably have to be included. “The Vanishing West offers 23 recommendations aimed at better studying the problem and rebuilding the curriculum.
Today, at too many colleges thematic fields can include “comparative colonialism,” “gender and sexuality,” “law and society,” “race and ethnicity,” “urban history,” “Africa and the Diaspora,” and “The Border/LaFrontera.” Often no requirements are specified within the concentration or the field of study, leaving student discretion in choosing such courses as “American Sexual Histories,” “Sex, Lies, and Diaries,” or “Elvis, Dylan and Postwar America.”
Certainly as disturbing as the disappearance of the study of the Western ascent toward liberty is the reality that 1960s terrorist Bill Ayers, leader of the Weather Underground, the communist revolutionary group, and former professor at the University of Illinois, was a mentor to Barack Obama.
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