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Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Tools of Freedom

The Tools of Freedom are damaged.

Facts are the tools of Freedom. President Truman once said “The only thing new in this world is the history you don’t know.” A study of the past – knowledge of what works and what doesn’t – helps us all understand and deal better with the choices we are confronted with.

The Media and the Education system seem to be conspiring to limit our exposure to the facts of history. I think this is to limit our ability to judge what they tell us as truth.

In the past, we the prime movers of the American Experiment in Self Governance have made our decisions on facts – on historical facts. We could find them in libraries and in schools but mostly we learned from our self-experience in life. Those life lessons learned along the way. When I borrow money I learned early I have to pay it back or bad things happen. If I tell a lie it always comes out and bad things happen. You know - the lessons of life and how we survive it.

So to our government. We learn by the doing, from studying what worked for us in the past we can learn at least what not to do in the future. For example we as citizens need information to rightly judge a Candidate’s policies. We need a knowledge of history to do that.

Below is a great article in the NYT’s Magazine about the decline of the quality of history being taught in schools and why it is important? This is worth taking a few minutes to read through. Remember this was published in 1985 before the Times went off the cliff.

The Time’s article talks of how our Democratic form of government is dependent on an informed citizenry. It has always been my contention that we learn best by making and correcting our mistakes. History is our tool to learn from the mistakes of others and conversely from the triumphs of others.

This is a great article surprisingly or not, from the New York Times Magazine. The article quotes Naomi Miller a professor at Hunter College as saying: ''My students have no historical knowledge on which to draw when they enter college, they have no point of reference for understanding World War I, the Treaty of Versailles or the Holocaust. They think that everything is subjective. They have plenty of attitudes and opinions, but they lack the knowledge to analyze a problem.''

Sound familiar? Try seriously discussing anything with nearly anybody and what you end up with is an argument not based on facts but attitudes and opinions.

This brings me to the most important tool in our kit that helps keep the individual freedom inherent in “Self-governance” sharp and handy. That tool is simply, how to think. Not learning what we are taught to think but to learn how to think for ourselves. To succeed personally and as a country we must learn how to think through problems using the facts. We do that by learning how to find then weighing all the facts and by knowing which facts are relevant to the situation and which ones aren’t. What helps solve the specific problem and what doesn’t?

Our children need to know how to cut through the clutter which confuses problems and see the relevant facts.

How can they learn this if they are not taught this in school? In fact if they are admonished for doing this by their teachers how will they ever learn? Or even worse by the State/National bureaucratic structure dictating how and what local teachers teach?

What has caused this decline in the teaching of History and how to think?

The article goes on to say the combining of History and Social Sciences was the culprit for the diminished importance placed on history. One telling quote I pulled follows: “Those (History) studies that do not contribute directly to the goal of training students to take their place as members of society ''fail in their most important function,'' said the Committee on Social Studies, formed by the prestigious National Education Association.

Again the Social Sciences are seen as telling students where they fit into society, instead of giving them the tools to make their own decisions.

Further on the article talks about the importance of “Critical Thinking Skills”. “These are important reasoning skills, but it is difficult to understand why they should be learned at the expense of history.” Indeed it is my opinion that History and the facts learned are the very glue – the context that allows “Critical Thinking Skills” to succeed.

Teaching kids anything depends more on the teacher than the subject. A good teacher in the early grades needs to bring history to life and make it exciting. At that age the learning of the facts needs to be taught with a good story to make them stick. Good teachers make that effort. Later after accumulating enough facts the older students can then learn why great leaders did what they did with the facts they had. 

The good teacher at this point will ask their students, what they would do in the same situation. Their following discussion if based on facts is the start of “self-governance”. The students need to learn the good feeling that comes from thinking for themselves.  This feeling is the same as one feels in doing a job well. A contentment of self if you will. The Amish believe that simple “Honest labor, providing for oneself and one's family, is a calling that leads to greater Godliness,” 

Honest thinking through of a problem and coming up with a solution gives that same sense of contentment to a person and collectively to a society. The media and the hub bub and churning of big city life has forgotten the need for that skill. Our sense of contentment individually and as a nation seems to have been slipping away for a while now.

One side note on facts.  They are a convenient face saving excuse for admitting you might be wrong.  "I used the wrong facts and now in seeing your facts I agree with what you say." 
After getting ready to publish this post I received my local Newspaper the weekly Oceana’s Herald-Journal and on the front page was an article titled “Proud to be an American” by Amanda Dodge. 

The article was about Miguel Quinteros a legal immigrant from el-Salvadore. What caught my attention was that Mr. Quinteros was a High School History teacher in Pentwater. While the article was about his life history and his immigration struggles I lifted one quote that seemed appropriate in this blog. It is a quote from Miguel. “I like to show my students how we can connect a historical event to something that is more relevant, and how the foundation of this country have led to what we are as a country.”

That is what I like to do, that is what I think History is for; to show us what worked in the past and how we can make it relevant today.

Or as Harry Truman said, “The only thing new in this world is the history you don’t know.”

I and teacher Mr. Quinteros might add. “Learn from it”.

Regards, Bob Carr
Live Dangerously, Tell the Truth

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