Libby Lukens: Let history be a guide
May 16, 2017
With AP U.S. History tests coming up, many begin to question the teaching of American history. This debate has seen some heated backlash on both sides of the argument, with one group debating that, to quote Ben Carson, "Most people when they finish that course, they'd be ready to go sign up for ISIS," (Lerner, Adam B., Politico).
The other side argues that they want to talk about, "not just the positive aspects of our history but also the parts that are negative and how we as a country strive to overcome those," says Ted Dickson, an AP U.S. History board member and teacher (Lerner, Adam B., Politico).
American history cannot be taught as a simple, one-dimensional editorial in which every major player is regarded as a perfect human being. History can be a guiding light, as through it we can see what has and has not worked in the past.
Our Founding Fathers represent great cases of this. As exemplified in Ron Chernow's biography, “Alexander Hamilton,” these men were not untouchable heroes that sometimes basic history textbooks label them as.
Take Alexander Hamilton, for example. Throughout his life he was often regarded ridiculed by his peers due to his status as an immigrant. His story is like many refugees, as he fled his home in the Caribbean due to a hurricane that destroyed the island he lived on until it was so "calamitous and disfigured" that almost nothing was left (Chernow 38).
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Despite this, Hamilton struggled on to become one of the most important men in American history, as it was through him that our national bank was created, unifying our nation when each state had its own currency and suffered massive debt. None of that would have happened if he were not given the opportunity to live on American soil.
People are repeated in history, too. When Hamilton was arguing the constitution, a man named George Clinton rose to political power in New York City. Known as the "local populist boss" (to quote from Ron Chernow), Clinton "knew how to capitalize on the ‘cold, suspicious temper of small country freeholders,'” yet owned eight slaves and a small fortune. Clinton also punished loyalists in horrific ways, ordering them to be "tarred and feathered, carted, whipped, fined, banished" (Chernow 221).
A man who rose to power through the support of an angry populist party who punished his opposition can be seen throughout history by dictators and in revolutions as a common character.
History isn't just teaching the past; it's teaching the future. The patterns of repetition that one finds when studying history are remarkable, as it is clear that humans have been struggling to solve the same problems and same issues since the first struggle for power began.
And the teachers who are teaching history as a full story, not a fairytale, should be applauded for helping prepare future generations for tackling the same problems that our Founding Fathers faced.
As a student at Steamboat Springs High School, I am incredibly grateful for every history teacher I have had throughout my education, as each has worked hard so that I will have the tools I need to solve my own problems as I go to college and beyond. So pay attention to our past, because history really does repeat itself.
Chernow, Ron. Alexander Hamilton. New York, New York: Penguin Group, 2004. Print.
Lerner, Adam B., Michael Shermer, Susan B. Glasser, Rebecca Burns, and William J. Perry. “History Class Becomes a Debate on America.” POLITICO. Politico, 21 Feb. 15. Web. 17 Apr. 2017.
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