The youth deserve better history education

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons | 28% of Americans believe the Civil War was primarily about states’ rights according to the Pew Research Center.

Max Marcello | Staff Writer

At the turn of the twenty-first century, a silent overhaul in America’s education system began, championed by both major political parties. President George W. Bush signed the “No Child Left Behind Act” in 2002, a watershed piece of legislation that would directly impact not only my life but my fellow Gen Z-ers.

In addition to ushering in standardized tests in elementary schools (which have their own controversies), this law signaled a shift in American teaching, as these reforms brought about a period of STEM focus. STEM, a popular catch-all acronym for science, technology, engineering and mathematics, expanded in classrooms all across America.

Funded by both private and public initiatives, STEM won the battle for America’s education before the War in Iraq was declared. But like all battles, there are innocent and unplanned casualties, with the greatest one of all being the future of the United States of America.

Pushing children toward STEM invariably means that other subjects, such as history, are overshadowed. How historical education is pursued is often a contentious issue, largely because of the significant influence it has on shaping young minds. The way we introduce children and young adults to the past leaves a lasting impact on their perspectives as they mature.

Historical study is not just about memorizing dates and events. It demands a fundamental level of thinking. Students of history must recognize patterns, analyze trends and contextualize events within broader social, economic and political frameworks. While it may lack the immediate visual impact of a math formula written on a chalkboard, the intellectual rigor of historical analysis is equally as valuable.

I am not suggesting that STEM education is unimportant; rather, I am advocating for a balanced approach that does not sideline history. It is imperative that our education system does not neglect this fundamental discipline, as a comprehensive understanding of history is essential for the development of well-rounded, critically thinking adults. In neglecting history, we risk depriving students of the ability to fully understand their own society and the world at large.

Yet, under our current system, history is often underfunded and at times taught from a virulent, political angle, leaving generations to be undereducated at best and deliberately miseducated at worst. This places the nation in a very precarious position as more people are being shortchanged with their historical education, which can have a tangible impact on society. Deficiencies in historical education can have profound real-world consequences, influencing how individuals understand and engage with contemporary issues.

It is my contention that many of the challenges facing our nation today can be traced back to this neglect and distortion of historical education, with the evidence being unignorable. From the widespread acceptance of pseudo-historical narratives about the American Civil War, to genuine belief in the overly simplistic and Disney-fied retelling of the United States: our country seemingly cannot grapple with its past. We create these lies and distort our children’s perspectives because our nation believes in comfort over truth. By failing to provide a robust and unbiased historical perspective, we deprive future generations of the tools they need to critically assess and effectively address the complexities of modern society.

Remedying the long-standing deficiencies in America’s historical education is a substantial task that will not produce immediate results. Implementing reforms to enhance historical understanding across educational systems will take time — possibly several years — before we see significant changes, but these changes are still necessary.

Several challenges to such reform will need to be addressed, most importantly the undue influence politics has on historical education. Criticisms and anger at our nation’s past are bound to be met with accusations of “hating America” or being “unpatriotic.” But I would argue that those who possess a burning drive to make this nation better for the children who come after are the most patriotic among us. I will never cower or apologize for expressing my sincere shame in my country’s past, nor will I conceal my enthusiasm in forcing the United States to live up to its potential.

Such a nation can only begin to take shape once the people understand the consequences of actions taken many years before their lifetimes began. It is for that reason we owe it to ourselves and younger generations to equip them with the education and true historical perspectives they deserve so they can make informed observations and decisions. In our age of limitless information, ignorance is a choice, and we as a collective must make that option unacceptable.