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History: A Revolutionary Cure For Peaceful Students?

Christen M. Gray

A report was published recently by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, founded by Lynne V. Cheney (wife of Dick Cheney) in 1995, citing professors in academia as the “weak link in America’s response to the attack [of Sept. 11th].” The report cites professors at peace rallies and points out high student opinion against the war in Afghanistan as proof of this theory. This report, entitled “Defending Civilization: How Our Universities are Failing America and What Should Be Done About It,” goes on to propose that American history classes, a longtime hot topic on the group’s agenda, should go towards solving the problem.

The report infers that because we, the student population of America, along with some (by no means all) of our professors, are too peaceful, we are anti-American. Since when is stating “Recycle Plastic, Not Violence” an act of treason?

Our generation, specifically today’s college students, went through high school under the constant shadow of violence. We watched as the atrocity at Columbine High School unfolded from our very own classrooms. Many of us even had copycat shootings occur where we lived. We had bomb threats made to our schools every year. While our parents went out on fire and tornado drills, we were drilled in what to do when someone came through the school shooting people. Nearly every high school student knew there were guns and knives in their school.

Now, after all of this, Cheney and company are going to tell those of us who survived that we need more Western history classes because we’re too peaceful?

Perhaps it’s the politicians and the rest of the populace who need more education in American history. The report repeatedly cited MIT and Harvard, quoting four MIT professors and giving statistics on Harvard student opinion about appropriate response to the attacks. I would venture to say that most students at these universities are particularly well versed in Western history. I would be interested to find out the number of students that took and passed the Advanced Placement U.S. History exam in high school.

Don’t get me wrong; I think history should be stressed in the curriculum. I was shocked in my senior year of high school to discover that the average graduating student, college bound or no, had no idea what the Nuremberg Laws are. These may be of particular importance in the near future as Constitutional infringements increase. But not only should we teach history; we should teach all of it, good and bad. The typical history class demands no analysis beyond what has already been written in the text. I want to hear about the flip side of things. Sure, teach students about invading the beaches of Normandy during World War II. Let them feel pride in their nation by showing pictures of American soldiers freeing prisoners in concentration camps. But let them understand, too, that they must always be watchful of their own country by teaching them about the American internment camps which held ethnic Japanese people during that era.

History is written by the winners, and the United States has been the winner for a very long time. That should not be confused with being more righteous and deserving a people by inheritance than the rest of the world. The foresight of the Founding Fathers should be understood and employed to help and uplift our worldwide neighbors rather than exploiting them.

I invite you to go read the report at <www.goacta.org/Reports/defciv.pdf>. However, this is really just a silly, biased piece of paper that some group made up. The real point lies in the repeated accusation that the college students and academics who oppose the war and more violence do so because of ignorance. Perhaps it’s really because we understand history at least as well as Cheney’s group does, but still retain the idealism that allows us to love all people instead of just Americans. Perhaps it’s just because we just got tired of all the violence. Whatever the reason, we are not blind sheep, and I think a lot of us are getting tired of being told otherwise.