Friday, September 7, 2012

Should We All Know Certain Things in History?

I am of the mind that the skills one learns by "doing" history (analyzing, synthesizing, interpreting, and arguing a point based on evidence) are more important than the bits of specific content knowledge that usually get measured on student tests.

HOWEVER, I do think there are certain pieces of information that every good citizen of our nation should know. I think everyone should know what year we declared our independence from Great Britain. I think everyone should know what year the Civil War started - and ended. I think everyone should know what year Pearl Harbor was bombed. I think everyone should know what year Dr. King gave his "I Have a Dream" speech, what year he was assassinated, and where. And, I think everyone should know what year slavery ended. After all, that was a major event in our nation's history, right?

Recently while watching a rerun episode of The Big Bang Theory I was disappointed to hear know-it-all character Sheldon tell his friend Leonard that slavery ended in 1863. I suppose by saying so Sheldon thought the Emancipation Proclamation (effective January 1, 1863) ended slavery, but as we know, Lincoln's edict did not end slavery. It would take the  ratification of a constitutional amendment (13th) in December 1865 to end the "peculiar institution." I don't necessarily expect Hollywood to get everything historically correct. They certainly don't in their feature film historical depictions, so why would they in other ventures.

But, I do hold our political representatives (maybe I shouldn't) more accountable for their historical knowledge. I would hope that they would be using lessons from history to make good decisions for us in the present and for our future. That is why I guess I was stunned to watch a clip from the Colbert Report that featured Yvette Clarke, a congresswoman from Brooklyn, New York. In the clip Clarke showed her limited American history content knowledge by thinking that slavery was still in effect in Brooklyn in 1898 and that the Dutch were responsible for it. And, while The Colbert Report is a comedy show, I didn't get the impression that Clarke was joking around. I would hope that anyone that took an American history survey course in college would know that slavery had ended over 30 years earlier in the United States, and much earlier in New York.

But, then again, maybe I am being a history snob. Would a chef expect everyone to know how to poach an egg? Maybe. Would a mathematician expect everyone to know how to "find x?" Maybe.

Watch for yourself:
 Yvette Clarke on Colbert Report

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