How United States History SHOULD be Taught
How United States History SHOULD be taught
Why is United States history so hard for students? (Because they are asked about things that happened before they were born.) What do Alexander the Great and Kermit the Frog have in common? (The same middle name.) Where did Montezuma go to college? (AZ Tech.) Why does an article on history — boring, boring, boring — start with jokes? Because history is fun, entertaining, educational and EVEN MORE IMPORTANT, IT IS THE ONLY ACADEMIC SUBJECT THAT PREDICTS THE FUTURE.
Well, if it’s all those things, why is history so boring, boring, boring? Quick answer: the way it is taught in schools. In fact, it is so boring, boring, boring that many schools are considering removing history from the list of classes required for graduation. Real smart: remove the one class students need to read the future like a book.
So, how should United States history be taught? How can you teach history so students can use history as a guide to the future — without boring, boring, boring, boring them? Good question. The answer: show students the cycles of history in real world terms and give them a guide to predicting the future.
Well, if history is so important, why it is so boring?
It’s a very short answer — in three parts.
First, it’s easier to test students using names, dates and one-liners. So, a lot of teachers over a lot of years liked the idea of teaching a class where they could grade students with a true/false, multiple choice test. Then they taught to the test.
Second, it is easier to write textbooks that offer history as a chronological story. That way no one can ‘get lost in the details.’ If you want to know about the Great Minnesota Gold Bullion Robbery of 1894, all you had to do was flip through the pages of a Minnesota history text to the chapter that covered 1894 and there it is. [Don’t look for the Great Minnesota Gold Bullion Robbery. I made it up.]
Third, Americans, unlike Europeans, feel they and their country are ‘on the road’ to a better world. Europeans, on the other hand, can see the relics of the past in their backyards and know things in the past have not always gone well. They also know, historically speaking, things can go horribly long very quickly. Americans do not have this pessimistic view of the future. In a nutshell, Americans have an orthogenic view of history.
A little bit of history is required here. Generally speaking, after Charles Darwin presented his theory of evolution, it was begrudgingly accepted as both realistic and probable. But not everyone was happy with the concept. Thus there arose, in religious circles, the theory that while evolution was probably realistic, there was a ‘hidden agenda’ involved. Yes, the evolution of species was affected by mutation, migration, adaption and natural selection, but there was a predetermined destiny for each species. The evolutionary process was therefore not random. All species were evolving toward a perfect entity. This theory allowed the religious segment of society to accept the concept of evolution while, at the same time, still find the fingerprints of God in the process.
American history in America schools is orthogenic in the sense it is presented as a progression toward perfection. “We have made a lot of mistakes in the past,” history teachers will say, “but we are progressing toward a bright future.”
Actually, we are not.
Humans are the same today as they were in the cave. There were liars, cheats, conmen and sniveling cowards among the cavemen and there are liars, cheats, conmen and sniveling cowards among us today. We keep making the same mistakes over and over again in spite of the fact we know from history we are making those mistakes. You can outlaw liquor and gambling but that does not mean people will stop drinking or playing cards. If there is a way to make a dollar, someone will be doing it. It will make no difference if the way to make that dollar is legal, dangerous or foolhardy. It’s all about the money. People only stop doing an illegal, dangerous or foolhardy activity when it is no longer profitable. If you want to stop the drug wars, legalize drugs. Once the profit motive is gone, the drug gangs will go on to some other illegal activity. But we will not legalize drugs because that’s just not moral.
History is all about the money.
And who has it.
The story of who’s got the money and the struggle to get it is the solitary dynamic of history. Those who have it want more and to keep what they have. Those who do not have it want it. Everything else is just like the first half of a football game: killing grass.
If you learned United States history the way it’s being taught in schools today, you will probably say, ‘Yes, and it is the social groups that forged the change, like the Civil War forced an end to slavery, unionization forced companies to pay higher wages and the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s forced America to recognize the equality of minorities.
This illustrates the greatest failure of how American history is taught today. Social movements like abolition, unionization and the Civil Rights movement ARE CREATED by economic factors. Not the other way around. And the social movement ARE EXTINGUISHED by economic realities. The abolition movement is no more because slavery is no more. Unions today are focused on wages, benefits and working conditions rather than organizing, and civil rights inequalities are resolved by the courts, not mass marches.
“But, but, but …” I ‘hear’ you thinking. ‘The end of slavery, higher wages and civil rights inequality would never have happened without the mass meetings, mass marches and mass demands for a change.”
But all of these problems had economic roots. Slavery was not economic. Slavery has never been economic. If it were economic, we would still have slaves today. The market value of cotton was going down before the Civil War. After the Civil War the price of cotton did not rebound. It kept falling. Slavery was economic in the early decades of the 1800s but by the time of the Civil War the salad days were over.
Unionization is inevitable because you can only cheat people for so long. Even more important, technology changes the landscape. It was possible to underpay workers in the days when labor requirements were mind-numbing. But as technology made steel, trains and communication systems more sophisticated, there was a need for a more sophisticated workforce. The more sophisticated workforce expected to be paid more for its expertise. If the pay did not come from the company voluntarily, the workers demanded the change en mass, in the form of a union.
As far as the Civil Rights movement is concerned, the 1950s were one of the most economically fruitful in American history. Unless you were black. Particularly in the South. Just as important, while blacks in the South were taxpayers, they were not getting the same economic benefits as whites. Black schools were receiving less public money per student than white schools, as an example. The Civil Rights movement was born of this inequality and there were enough angry whites and blacks to make it social movement.
America does not have social problems; it has economic problems. It has uneven playing field problems. Significant tax breaks go to the rich, not the middle class or working class. As the rich — and particularly the rich who are called companies, corporations and trusts — make more money and pay fewer taxes, there is less public money for schools, roads, fire and police departments. To bolster declining revenues, states, counties and cities cut services. These budget cuts do not affect the rich but cause more than a bit of grief to the middle and working classes. As the rich save more and more money, there is less and less for public service. Then, at some point, there is an upwelling of anger which results in a social movement.
When it comes time for those social movement to emerge onto the American landscape, there is a Niagara of ill will. This often results in violence. In most cases, the incidents of violence are scattered in both time and location. But if the economic inequality is not resolved, there will be a violent revolution. The British government did very little to resolve the smoldering economic issues of the 13 Colonies and it resulted in the American Revolution. The failure of the United States Congress to resolve the economic inequalities in the South — lack of internal improvement dollars and the tariff, for example — lead to the Civil War and the abolition of the root cause of the national divide: slavery.
Not all of these upheavals are violent in the sense there is massive bloodletting. But massive dissatisfaction generates profound economic and social change. All civilizations, empires and nations experience the same progression. Over a varying period of time, the rich drain money away from the rest of society. When the drain becomes intolerable, there is explosion of some kind. In the United States, we know this explosion comes in 50-year cycles.
THIS 50-YEAR CYCLE IS WHAT STUDENTS SHOULD BE STUDYING IN AMERICAN HISTORY CLASSES.
This is so important I am going to write it again.
THIS 50-YEAR CYCLE IS WHAT STUDENTS SHOULD BE STUDYING IN AMERICAN HISTORY CLASSES.
You cannot predict the future unless you understand the past. History is not the story of the past; it is the study of the future. There is no here-and-now. The present is just the instant when the past meets the future. What is coming has already been set in motion. Magicians do not generate their tricks in the present. Long before the magician says, “and for my next trick,” all of the preparation for that next trick are already in place. What you think “the future holds for America” has already been set in motion. You study American history so you will know what is coming and how you can change what you do not like and take advantage of that which you cannot change.
For a specific example, let’s take a brief look at the nuts-and-bolts of the 50-year cycles in American history and see if YOU can get a glimpse of the future.
Let’s see if it is possible to sum up this era in a few lines. There were mass shootings across the nation, election of an unpopular president and a massive tax cut which only benefited the rich. Terrorism was a national concern and we had troops in foreign countries in harm’s way fighting for reasons we know not. Immigration and women’s rights were red-hot national issues, Congress was as popular as the Bubonic Plague and racial incidents were so widespread there was distrust of the forces of law and order. America was dividing into tribes — liberal, conservative, far left, far right, African American, Hispanic, Latino, Native American, Japanese-American, Chinese-American, Jewish, Evangelical — and “we have never been more divided as a nation.”
OK, let’s take a look at America 50 years ago. We were in the middle of an unpopular war with the rich — called shareholders in companies making money off the Vietnam War — making huge profits. At the same time, young men from the middle and working class were being drafted to fight a war in a foreign nation for reasons that are still unclear. There were bombs going off across the nation, the Weathermen and Black Panthers were making headlines, and two of the guiding lights of the liberal movement, Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. were assassinated in the same year. Women were being paid less than men for the same job and blacks in the South could not ride in the front of the bus or drink from the same fountain as whites. Then the Democratic National Convention in 1968 descended into free-for-all on the street of Chicago and “we had never been so divided as a nation.”
Half a century earlier than that we were in the midst of the most violent era for terrorism in American history. The decade started with the bombing of the Los Angeles Times (October of 1910) and ended with the Wall Street Bombing, (September of 1920). In-between were the Preparedness Day Bombing in San Francisco and the Black Tom Explosion, both in July of 1916. The Black Tom Explosion occurred on an island in New York Harbor and involved one megaton of explosives. The concussion was so great it was felt in Maryland. The rich — again, shareholders in companies — were rolling in wealth because American companies were selling everything the warring nations in Europe needed. At the same time, the shortage of domestic products on the American market generated a staggering inflation rate. America was plagued with labor strikes, women were marching in the streets in favor of passage of the 19th Amendment and in 1917, young men were off to fight in a foreign war which many did see as having any benefit for the United States. Again, “we had never been so divided as a nation.”
Now flashback half a century to the 1860s. We started the decade with a Civil War and midway through the decade it ended. For the North. The South was not so lucky and we are still feeling the impact of that war. The middle class in the South all but disappeared and the working class became sharecroppers. The Ku Klux Klan was riding rampant across the South and even after the disintegration of the original organization, lynchings, segregation and discrimination against blacks would continue into the next century. In the North, by contrast, the economy was booming. The war had created the wealthiest class of Americans ever. They spent wildly while the workers were forced to accept a pittance for wages. Labor strikes were common and many became violent. And, again, in both the North and South, “we had never been so divided as a nation.”
Back again half a century to the decade of 1810 to 1820. The decade started with animosity between the United States and England which became the War of 1812. The decade ended with animosity between the United States and Spain when General Andrew Jackson invaded Florida during the Seminole War. The decade ended with the Panic of 1819, the first nation-wide financial crisis in our history. Women were treated as chattel and slavery was on the upswing in the South while in the north, the abolition movement was growing in strength. “We had never been so divided as a nation.”
Five decade earlier, we were on a crash course to war with England. The French and Indian War had ended and now all British subjects in all parts of the British Empire were expected to pay for war. In spite of the fact Americans had fought the French in America and took the lion’s share of death and destruction in America, these same Americans were expected to pay for a share of the Seven Years War, a debt considered by many Americans to be ‘someone else’s war.’ The British did not look at it that way and imposed taxes — progressively — on sugar, glass, paint, lead, paper, and tea. Then came the Stamp Act, the enforcement of the ancient Navigation Acts along with the Quartering Act. Americans felt as though they were being drained of their cash with very little coming to America to repair the damage done during the French and Indian War. There were riots and skirmishes between British forces and Americans from one end of the colonies to the other. When the situation became intolerable, the colonists formed a secret revolutionary organization, the Sons of Liberty, and the decade ended with the Boston Massacre. As more than one patriot said of relations with England, “We had never been so divided as a nation.”
Yeah, yeah, yeah, you say. That’s all history, so to speak. So how can a student look at these events five decades apart and peer into the future.
A good question.
And a fair one.
The answer: look at what united us AFTER these eras of division. It was all economic. After the American Revolution, it was the so-called Second American Revolution with the invention of the cotton gin in the South and Samuel Slater’s textile revolution in the North which combined with the rise of the garment industry in New York and dropped of the cost of shirts and trousers to the growing population of Americans. Suddenly we were American made. Money was no longer leaving the United States. It was circulating in the United States. There were lots of jobs, though many were not high paying — which planted the seeds of the next era of violence.
After the decade which started with the War of 1812 and ended with the invasion of Florida, the Mississippi and Missouri River watersheds were clogged with steamships. Again, it was economic nirvana. American products from East Cost factories could now make their way upstream. When those products were offloaded, crops from the West were loaded onto the steamboats. Now the farmers of the Midwest did not have to float log rafts of wheat and barley all the way down to New Orleans. They could sell their crops at the local dock and buy goods brought upriver by the steamboats. The steam engine also stimulated the railroad industry and by the end of the Civil War, the Transcontinental Railroad was delivering East Coast goods to California. As the rail line was being built, the Homestead Act encouraged tens of thousands of immigrants to try to make a start in what is now the American Midwest. When the Transcontinental Railroad was completed, crops from the Midwest could be sold on both the East and West Cost. Violence? This was the last gasp of the Indians on the Plains, the end of the buffalo herds and the transportation industry components in the North skyrocketing to wealth and power — and leaving the worker behind again, planting the seeds for the next era of confrontation.
Fast-forwarding to the 1920s, the era after the decade of terrorism, American industries switched from implements of war to domestic products. It was the Roaring Twenties and everyone had money to burn. Until 1929 when the Stock Market crashed. And the 1960s saw the rise of the computer-generated economy from which we are still benefiting today.
Fine, you say, now that I understand the cycles of history, how can I predict what is going to happen over the next decade? Simple. In America, the economy blossoms with technology. Artificial intelligence is going to eliminate millions of jobs. But it is going to create tens of millions of other jobs. Where are those jobs going to be? Study history. We know — because we study history — that you need five (5) ingredients for business success. They are
1. You must have something to sell,
2. There must be someone willing to buy what you want to sell,
3. There must be a communication system to allow buyer and seller to communicate,
4. There must be a banking system to allow money to be exchanged, and
5. There must be a transportation system to allow the product to reach the consumer.
The take advantage of the opportunities which have not yet arrived, you have to determine which industries are going to be expanding in the next decade and be an early bird in those industries. From the items listed above, it is clear the weakness in the coming age of Artificial Intelligence will be in the communication system. Though there are a myriad of ways to advertise what can be sold it is still — and will continue to be — incredibly expensive for the seller to connect with the receptive buyer. In many cases, the potential buyer may not even know the product or service is on the market. Advertising is unbelievably inefficient. And expensive. The old advertising saying is that 90% of all advertising dollars are wasted but no one knows which dollars were the ones that were wasted. Peering into the future with the benefit of history, I’d say developing some manner of business-to-receptive buyer is going to be a huge industry.
Many age-old industries we take for granted are going to change dramatically as well. Water will be a commodity to watch. To date, water has been a cheap and plentiful resource. Not anymore. There has a decade-long drought in many parts of the country. With global climate change, this is not going to ameliorate anytime soon. So recycling water is going to be a huge industry over the next 50 years and that will include how sewage is handled.
Garbage is another new frontier. The recycling of garbage is going to be a HUGE industry because more and more people will be getting home delivery. All of that packing material is going to go into personal garbage cans and then go into landfills. It will not be long before someone figures out a way to make a profit from recycling cardboard, glass, plastic, aluminum and other metals. The recycling industry will not just be localized. We will need to remove plastic bags and bottles from the oceans, sewage from rivers and all manner of debris from ocean shores — in addition to handling spent nuclear waste and removing carbon from the atmosphere.
The power generation industry is already well along the way on the march to the future with nonrenewable and its progress will accelerate as the price of oil goes up. On the human front, the population will continue to rise and this means more health and dental professionals will be needed. The same is true of human resource personnel. Schools are going to change dramatically. There are going to be more and more online courses which will be bad for the in-class teacher. But the good news is that teachers will no longer be stand-in-front-of-the-class-and-lecture. They will be one-on-one with students. The good students will need no help which will grant the teacher the time to tutor those who need the extra help.
However, the best news will be the Rise of the Purple Squirrel. A purple squirrel is someone who is eminently qualified to do a job but does not have the degree to be hired for the job. A high school dropout who ended up as a field medic in Vietnam was more than qualified to be an EMT or even an RN. But that field medic did not have the degree necessary to qualify as an EMT or RN. So, that purple squirrel was stuck in a lower-level job with other high school dropouts. The purple squirrel had value but without the degree is not valuable.
To date, the route to fame and fortune is down the established footpath. To make the big bucks in research, for instance, you need a Ph. D. and be associated with a university. To make the big bucks in publishing and the movies, you needed a good agent and a connection to Hollywood. These routes are being obliterated. With the internet, companies looking for subcontractors can find them online, not only through universities. Writers no longer need to print 1,000 books and hope to make their investment back. With POD (Print on Demand) and Kindle, they can sell their books on-line. Technology has made movie-make possible in someone’s garage and the finished product can be marketed online.
If you are a purple squirrel, there is VERY, VERY good news for you! We are about to enter a Golden Age. To date, large companies had to settle for what was available through established networks. A pharmaceutical company had to settle for the Ph. D.s on staff at such-and-such a university because that was how the system worked. Now that same pharmaceutical company can find a purple squirrel with a laboratory and get just as good results. And cheaper because the purple squirrel does not have to pay for university overhead. Books no longer have to be within the publisher’s envelope. Publishers do not publish good books; they publish books they think will sell. ‘Different books’ had no market because publishers do not think they would sell so the books were not printed. Now those books are available online. Readers who are looking for ‘something different,’ can find it.
Historically speaking, we are at the entrance to a booming economic era. A decade from now we will wonder why we were so worried that Americans seemed to believe “We have never been so divided as a nation.” Industries not thought of now will be mainstream in two decades. But three decades from, the economic progress is going to slow and we are going to begin to have massive social/economic problems which will fester until the 2050s when the cycle of American history will return, 50 years from this era when many people believe “We have never been so divided as a nation.”
History is not the story of the past; it is the study of the future. This has never been more true than today. If we do not change the way United States history is being taught to United States students we are going to have another generation of Americans who are willing to put up with social and economic inequities because they believe ‘we are enroute to a better future’ so all they have to do sit and wait for things to get better.
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*Steve Levi has more than 80 books in print or on Kindle. He specializes in books on the Alaska Gold Rush and impossible crimes. An impossible crime is one in which the detective has to solve HOW the crime was committed before he can go after the perpetrators. In the MATTER OF THE DESERTED AIRLINER, an airplane with no pilot, crew or passengers lands at Anchorage International Airport. As the authorities are pondering the circumstances of the arrival, a ransom demand is made for $25 million in diamonds and precious stones. Chief of Detectives for the Sandersonville, North Carolina, Police Department, Captain Heinz Noonan, is visiting his in-laws in Anchorage when he is called onto the case. For the next 36 hours, he pieces together the puzzle of how the crime was committed. But can he solve the crime, free the hostages and locate the perpetrators before the ransom is paid? https://www.authormasterminds.com/steve-levi