How Our History Education Failed Us

 

Ask a High School student if they enjoy reading and the vast majority will say no. I used to be one of them.

Ask a High School student what is the meaning and significance of the Declaration of Independence and they will hopefully at least be able to tell you about some details of the war, the basic purpose of the document, and they will probably mention freedom. 

But ask them what is the difference in the nature of tyranny versus liberty and you will get blank stares from most. Our educational bureaucracy has failed to meet the needs of freedom and the human student in many ways over the generations but perhaps none more than this.

How can a nation remain free if students and citizens do not understand the nature of freedom? How can students grow up to be virtuous, independent, creative, brave, and resilient without the appreciation of those principles in our Founding history and by seeing them through the history of our nation and our people? 

Our history and civics education has been rote memorization that has gone in one ear and out the other for decades. Sure, students can circle “C” for the Stamp Act on a multiple-choice test. Students can tell you about the Boston Tea Party, but students can not articulate the type of liberty America was founded on. They cannot tell you the power that the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God should have in a society and a Government. They cannot tell you how tyranny destroys the spirit and the soul of man, it distinguishes virtue, and it makes once-great minds feeble and little. 

They cannot tell you that there is a natural and intrinsic relationship between our Rights and our Duties, that we cannot and should not have one without the other, and when you ignore the latter you violate the former. 

An education steeped in virtuous Liberty is active and assertive. It is knowledge, wisdom, prudence, and an application of these principles in your life to a good end. It is about reasoning to the root and thinking deeply and freely on timeless principles that keep us free, ground us in wisdom, and inspire us to be great. 

College and career readiness is about compliance to a corporate order. It makes us less human, not more. 

I read a Twitter thread recently written by a University of Chicago student talking about what he noticed about his peers and he explained that the vast majority are submissive, compliant, and robotic and all I could think to myself is what an absolute shame that THAT is the final result of 12 years of K-12 education here in these United States. 

Our education system has been so focused on being “neutral” (which they haven’t) that it has forgotten how to be inspiring, grand, and profound. 

And what do we have to show for it? 

Not enough “manly virtue,” not enough prudence, and not enough wisdom that transcends the talking points of the day. 

Our civics/historical educational results are unsustainable. A nation cannot be both ignorant and free, we will either become all one thing, or all the other. 


Hi all! Excited to be here. My name is Gary Vesper and I am a former High School history and home school academy government teacher turned educational entrepreneur. I built my own course and virtual classroom to teach High School students a better, more human story of our Founding Principles. If you have a High School student I’d love to teach them! You can check it out at www.PreservingFreedomUSA.com 

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  1. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    GaryVesper: Hi all! Excited to be here.

    Welcome, Gary.

    • #1
  2. Gossamer Cat Coolidge
    Gossamer Cat
    @GossamerCat

    GaryVesper: Our education system has been so focused on being “neutral” (which they haven’t) that it has forgotten how to be inspiring, grand, and profound. 

    Welcome!  Great post and I agree 100%.   Reminds me of something on “Last Man Standing” when Mike Baxter said something to the effect:  We’re trying so hard not to offend that we fail to inspire.

    Good luck in your quest.  It is sorely needed!

     

    • #2
  3. Dr. Bastiat Member
    Dr. Bastiat
    @drbastiat

    Welcome!  Outstanding post!

    My parents both taught high school.  I share your concern. 

    • #3
  4. BDB Coolidge
    BDB
    @BDB

    Welcome!  More welcome than many!

    • #4
  5. Cassandro Coolidge
    Cassandro
    @Flicker

    GaryVesper: But ask them what is the difference in the nature of tyranny versus liberty and you will get blank stares by most. Our educational bureaucracy has failed to meet the needs of freedom and the human student in many ways over the generations but perhaps none more than this.

    That’s funny, just a day or two ago, I had to look up what tyranny was and it turns out that (to condense about ten pages of the Oxford English Dictionary) Liberty is not positively defined as a thing but essentially as the absence of a thing, the absence of Tyranny; tyranny being absolute rule, despotism, noted by cruelty and oppression.

    But I don’t recall ever being taught that that way.

    And welcome!

    • #5
  6. RushBabe49 Thatcher
    RushBabe49
    @RushBabe49

    Welcome, cubed!  Hillsdale College is doing what you describe in its Classical Charter Schools and seeding them across the country. I love your business idea and hope it is massively successful. You will love it here. 

    • #6
  7. DonG (CAGW is a Hoax) Coolidge
    DonG (CAGW is a Hoax)
    @DonG

    GaryVesper: Our history and civics education has been rote memorization that has gone in one ear and out the other for decades. Sure, students can circle “C” for the Stamp Act on a multiple choice test. Students can tell you about the Boston Tea Party, but students can not articulate the type of liberty America was founded on.

    I did well in History classes in public school (I am very good at remembering dates), but I was never taught the things that mattered and why.  There is lots of room–a vast chasm.   Best of luck on filling it. 

    • #7
  8. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Cassandro (View Comment):
    That’s funny, just a day or two ago, I had to look up what tyranny was and it turns out that (to condense about ten pages of the Oxford English Dictionary) Liberty is not positively defined as a thing but essentially as the absence of a thing, the absence of Tyranny; tyranny being absolute rule, despotism, noted by cruelty and oppression.

    Now, what’s the difference between liberty and license?

    • #8
  9. RushBabe49 Thatcher
    RushBabe49
    @RushBabe49

    Arahant (View Comment):

    Cassandro (View Comment):
    That’s funny, just a day or two ago, I had to look up what tyranny was and it turns out that (to condense about ten pages of the Oxford English Dictionary) Liberty is not positively defined as a thing but essentially as the absence of a thing, the absence of Tyranny; tyranny being absolute rule, despotism, noted by cruelty and oppression.

    Now, what’s the difference between liberty and license?

    Morality. 

    • #9
  10. Cassandro Coolidge
    Cassandro
    @Flicker

    Arahant (View Comment):

    Cassandro (View Comment):
    That’s funny, just a day or two ago, I had to look up what tyranny was and it turns out that (to condense about ten pages of the Oxford English Dictionary) Liberty is not positively defined as a thing but essentially as the absence of a thing, the absence of Tyranny; tyranny being absolute rule, despotism, noted by cruelty and oppression.

    Now, what’s the difference between liberty and license?

    They are similar but distinct.

    Liberty by definition, is not permission or the right to do something, it is the absence of coercion, force, or prohibition.

    License is an exception from standing prohibition, permission to do something, granted authoritative permission, deviation from form or standard, leave to do something; OR licentiousness, libertinism, excessive liberty, abuse of freedom, disregard of law or propriety.

    • #10
  11. DonG (CAGW is a Hoax) Coolidge
    DonG (CAGW is a Hoax)
    @DonG

    In Florida, schools teach about the evils of Communism, which I like.   It is easier to understand the US system, by contrasting with other forms of government.  In Texas, schools teach about Texas history, which seems to be of limited value. 

    • #11
  12. Charlotte Member
    Charlotte
    @Charlotte

    GaryVesper: Not enough “manly virtue,”

    Nor enough “womanly virtue”, for that matter.

    Welcome to Ricochet.

    • #12
  13. GaryVesper Coolidge
    GaryVesper
    @GaryVesper

     

    Cassandro (View Comment):

    Arahant (View Comment):

    Cassandro (View Comment):
    That’s funny, just a day or two ago, I had to look up what tyranny was and it turns out that (to condense about ten pages of the Oxford English Dictionary) Liberty is not positively defined as a thing but essentially as the absence of a thing, the absence of Tyranny; tyranny being absolute rule, despotism, noted by cruelty and oppression.

    Now, what’s the difference between liberty and license?

    They are similar but distinct.

    Liberty by definition, is not permission or the right to do something, it is the absence of coercion, force, or prohibition.

    License is an exception from standing prohibition, permission to do something, granted authoritative permission, deviation from form or standard, leave to do something; OR licentiousness, libertinism, excessive liberty, abuse of freedom, disregard of law or propriety.

     

    • #13
  14. GaryVesper Coolidge
    GaryVesper
    @GaryVesper

    Arahant (View Comment):

    GaryVesper: Hi all! Excited to be here.

    Welcome, Gary.

    Thanks! 

    • #14
  15. GaryVesper Coolidge
    GaryVesper
    @GaryVesper

    Gossamer Cat (View Comment):

    GaryVesper: Our education system has been so focused on being “neutral” (which they haven’t) that it has forgotten how to be inspiring, grand, and profound.

    Welcome! Great post and I agree 100%. Reminds me of something on “Last Man Standing” when Mike Baxter said something to the effect: We’re trying so hard not to offend that we fail to inspire.

    Good luck in your quest. It is sorely needed!

     

    Thank you! Great show btw and agree with the statement. I would argue that the quest of “not being offensive” is a greater moral evil for what it has done to our education then being offensive – because Americans really aren’t. 

    • #15
  16. GaryVesper Coolidge
    GaryVesper
    @GaryVesper

    Dr. Bastiat (View Comment):

    Welcome! Outstanding post!

    My parents both taught high school. I share your concern.

    Thanks! Glad to hear it – and the thing is we all for the most part when through the same system. This erosion isn’t a few years in the making. Hence why the solution and recovery will take time and why education is the only true long-term solution to preserving freedom. 

    • #16
  17. GaryVesper Coolidge
    GaryVesper
    @GaryVesper

    BDB (View Comment):

    Welcome! More welcome than many!

    Thank you! 

    • #17
  18. GaryVesper Coolidge
    GaryVesper
    @GaryVesper

    Cassandro (View Comment):

    GaryVesper: But ask them what is the difference in the nature of tyranny versus liberty and you will get blank stares by most. Our educational bureaucracy has failed to meet the needs of freedom and the human student in many ways over the generations but perhaps none more than this.

    That’s funny, just a day or two ago, I had to look up what tyranny was and it turns out that (to condense about ten pages of the Oxford English Dictionary) Liberty is not positively defined as a thing but essentially as the absence of a thing, the absence of Tyranny; tyranny being absolute rule, despotism, noted by cruelty and oppression.

    But I don’t recall ever being taught that that way.

    And welcome!

    Thanks! Yeah, tyranny really isn’t taught in school by its nature more as specific events that are broadly used as examples of tyranny. If you want you can go to my page here and I put up a free lesson from my course that teaches through primary sources and stories of the nature of tyranny. Very unique way to learn it as it isn’t a lecture. https://preservingfreedomusa.com/pages/online-course-1

    • #18
  19. GaryVesper Coolidge
    GaryVesper
    @GaryVesper

    RushBabe49 (View Comment):

    Welcome, cubed! Hillsdale College is doing what you describe in its Classical Charter Schools and seeding them across the country. I love your business idea and hope it is massively successful. You will love it here.

    Aw thanks for your kind words! Oh, I am a big fan of Hillsdale College and what they are doing across the board. Really is beautiful stuff. I consider them in a lot of ways my true ‘college degree’ due to how influential their courses, youtube videos, Imprimis, books, etc has been over the years. 

    • #19
  20. GaryVesper Coolidge
    GaryVesper
    @GaryVesper

    DonG (CAGW is a Hoax) (View Comment):

    GaryVesper: Our history and civics education has been rote memorization that has gone in one ear and out the other for decades. Sure, students can circle “C” for the Stamp Act on a multiple choice test. Students can tell you about the Boston Tea Party, but students can not articulate the type of liberty America was founded on.

    I did well in History classes in public school (I am very good at remembering dates), but I was never taught the things that mattered and why. There is lots of room–a vast chasm. Best of luck on filling it.

    Thanks! Yes, and the thing is I actually think memorization is a very important skill. I will write more on the topic. The problem is that we never move past that. For example, kids should have the basics memorized by 8th grade and then move on to deeper analysis. They are never expected to truly memorize and actually have knowledge – instead, it is around and around year after year. Then they graduate knowing nothing and are vulnerable to college manipulation. 

    • #20
  21. GaryVesper Coolidge
    GaryVesper
    @GaryVesper

    Cassandro (View Comment):

    Arahant (View Comment):

    Cassandro (View Comment):
    That’s funny, just a day or two ago, I had to look up what tyranny was and it turns out that (to condense about ten pages of the Oxford English Dictionary) Liberty is not positively defined as a thing but essentially as the absence of a thing, the absence of Tyranny; tyranny being absolute rule, despotism, noted by cruelty and oppression.

    Now, what’s the difference between liberty and license?

    They are similar but distinct.

    Liberty by definition, is not permission or the right to do something, it is the absence of coercion, force, or prohibition.

    License is an exception from standing prohibition, permission to do something, granted authoritative permission, deviation from form or standard, leave to do something; OR licentiousness, libertinism, excessive liberty, abuse of freedom, disregard of law or propriety.

    I meant to write in my original post that understanding the difference between liberty and tyranny AND liberty and licentiousness is vital – both are unknown at a fundamental level. 

    • #21
  22. GaryVesper Coolidge
    GaryVesper
    @GaryVesper

    DonG (CAGW is a Hoax) (View Comment):

    In Florida, schools teach about the evils of Communism, which I like. It is easier to understand the US system, by contrasting with other forms of government. In Texas, schools teach about Texas history, which seems to be of limited value.

    I think what Florida is doing is great. Also, great point, and I teach this – standard education compares America to a Utopia that doesn’t exist. We should be teaching our Principles AGAINST those other systems and principles. Contrast is a power learning tool. 

    • #22
  23. Kirk Spears Coolidge
    Kirk Spears
    @Kirk Spears

    For a while, I’ve half-jokingly suggested that we need a class action law suit on behalf of all Americans against those who have taught Civics/History in this country over the last 20 years.

    • #23
  24. GaryVesper Coolidge
    GaryVesper
    @GaryVesper

    Charlotte (View Comment):

    GaryVesper: Not enough “manly virtue,”

    Nor enough “womanly virtue”, for that matter.

    Welcome to Ricochet.

    Thanks! Indeed! I put quotes around “manly virtue” as it was a phrase our founders used a lot to describe the strength, courage, and honor necessary for freedom. 

    • #24
  25. GaryVesper Coolidge
    GaryVesper
    @GaryVesper

    Kirk Spears (View Comment):

    For a while, I’ve half-jokingly suggested that we need a class action law suit on behalf of all Americans against those who have taught Civics/History in this country over the last 20 years.

    Lol you aren’t kidding! To be honest it’s also the system that people are put in that destroys it. What came first? The system ruins the people, the people ruin the system. And around we go. 

    • #25
  26. David C. Broussard Coolidge
    David C. Broussard
    @Dbroussa

    DonG (CAGW is a Hoax) (View Comment):

    GaryVesper: Our history and civics education has been rote memorization that has gone in one ear and out the other for decades. Sure, students can circle “C” for the Stamp Act on a multiple choice test. Students can tell you about the Boston Tea Party, but students can not articulate the type of liberty America was founded on.

    I did well in History classes in public school (I am very good at remembering dates), but I was never taught the things that mattered and why. There is lots of room–a vast chasm. Best of luck on filling it.

    You have to know what happened before you can learn the why. In a way, history, like martial arts really starts when you get that black belt that shows you know all the basics. It’s not the end, but the beginning.

    I describe myself as a historian by training but not by profession. My degree is in history, but I’ve always worked in IT. History is great becuae you learn to read original sources and to correct for bias. History as it’s taught is reading secondary and tertiary synopses which are someone else’s interpretation of why something happened. That type of learning doesn’t teach critical thinking and it doesn’t teach how to look at what people wrote in the moment and to recognize that everyone lies, especially to themselves.

    Reading original sources is hard, but it’s also necessary because you hear it in their voices not someone later on spinning it. Secondary works are OK especially for surveys to learn when things happened, but if you stop there it’s harder to make your own understandings of why things happened.

    I read (some of) a fascinating series written by Eric Flint (an avowed ultra-leftist) that is an later ate history of a rural West Virginia town that gets transported to the middle of Thuringia (Germany) in the year 1632 (the title of the book is 1632). The series is co-written by many other authors (part of what makes it so fascinating) and I highly recommend it. It actually was the best explanation of the Thirty Years War I’ve ever seen. In High School the Thirty Years War is often converted as a shorter version of the Hundred Years War and few people grasp the depth of how important it was. I had an discussion once about if we are going to name a “Common Era” for dating purposes as opposed to the Birth of Christ, then I proposed the date be the Treaty of Westphalia (1648) because that was the point that the modern nation state was recognized.

    The real fun of history comes when you can look at it and say, what if this had been different, what would happen next? There is an entire genre of literature on that, The Man in the High Castle is considered the first. 

    • #26
  27. David C. Broussard Coolidge
    David C. Broussard
    @Dbroussa

    GaryVesper (View Comment):

    DonG (CAGW is a Hoax) (View Comment):

    GaryVesper: Our history and civics education has been rote memorization that has gone in one ear and out the other for decades. Sure, students can circle “C” for the Stamp Act on a multiple choice test. Students can tell you about the Boston Tea Party, but students can not articulate the type of liberty America was founded on.

    I did well in History classes in public school (I am very good at remembering dates), but I was never taught the things that mattered and why. There is lots of room–a vast chasm. Best of luck on filling it.

    Thanks! Yes, and the thing is I actually think memorization is a very important skill. I will write more on the topic. The problem is that we never move past that. For example, kids should have the basics memorized by 8th grade and then move on to deeper analysis. They are never expected to truly memorize and actually have knowledge – instead, it is around and around year after year. Then they graduate knowing nothing and are vulnerable to college manipulation.

    Yes, YES, a thousand times yes. History is like math in that. Everything in math up to algebra is just preparation for real math. Heck, even algebra is just preparation for calculus which is preparation for even more complex math. Calculus is the first step in modeling the world. Newton had to invent it to explain his theories…but he couldn’t do that without algebra, and that required arithmetic and a concept of zero. In history, you have to know what happened and in what order to get to the why. We never get to the why anymore. Even when I w as in college in the mid 80s, most intro or survey courses were about learning what happened as opposed to why. One of my favorite classes was a course on Roman History taught by Dr Colin Wells. He played for us a project he had been apart of when he was in Canada for their version of NPR. They had gone through history and had mock trials of various famous figures who would show up to defend themselves. He played one in class about Marc Antony being tried for the murder of Cleopatra that was funny and informative. It inspired my one history publication called Murder of the Ides of March which was a gumshoe detective story about Julius Ceasar seeing if Cicero was trying to kill him.  To get to that I read many of Plutarch’s Lives on Julius Ceasar, Brutus, Cicero, Marc Antony, and Cicero’s letters to Atticus to get a feel for the man and write my story.

    Absent those memoirs, and they can be literary like The Red Badge of Courage, you are relying on someone else’s opinion of why something happened and that means you don’t form your own opinion. 

    • #27
  28. David C. Broussard Coolidge
    David C. Broussard
    @Dbroussa

    GaryVesper (View Comment):

    DonG (CAGW is a Hoax) (View Comment):

    In Florida, schools teach about the evils of Communism, which I like. It is easier to understand the US system, by contrasting with other forms of government. In Texas, schools teach about Texas history, which seems to be of limited value.

    I think what Florida is doing is great. Also, great point, and I teach this – standard education compares America to a Utopia that doesn’t exist. We should be teaching our Principles AGAINST those other systems and principles. Contrast is a power learning tool.

    I grew up in GA, but live in Texas and both my kids took Texas History in 7th Grade. I think it’s a great idea and was very valuable. For one, Texas was it’s own country that came from a totally different system of values from the US. In my recent post about potentially merging Canada, the US, and Mexico, we discussed the deep differences between the Mexican culture and govt and the US that would likely make such a merger impossible. How Texas, first broke from Mexico, existed as it’s own nation, then joined the US and then the Confederacy is an underpinning of the mythos of Texas, just like our own founding and expansion forms the mythos of the US. Teaching about those stories and reinforcing them is a critical task for our educational system. In fact, it could be said that it is more important that our education creates good citizens with civic virtue than it is to train competent workers for the labor force. We have lost sight of this. 

    • #28
  29. Stina Member
    Stina
    @CM

    DonG (CAGW is a Hoax) (View Comment):

    In Florida, schools teach about the evils of Communism, which I like. It is easier to understand the US system, by contrasting with other forms of government. In Texas, schools teach about Texas history, which seems to be of limited value.

    In Florida, 4th grade social studies focuses in on local history. It’s all about knowing your community. My daughter did city and state history in her current district. It was really very good and had an end of year scavenger hunt around the town.

    Middle School begins the expansion into national and global history.

     

    So, I posed the question of tyranny vs Liberty to my soon to be 8th grader and his answer was that tyranny is when the government exceeds its authority and ignores and tramples the rights of the people and that liberty is when the government is limited to its role of protecting the rights of the people.

    Not too shabby for a public education with parent supplementation.

    • #29
  30. Doctor Robert Member
    Doctor Robert
    @DoctorRobert

    Stina (View Comment):

    DonG (CAGW is a Hoax) (View Comment):

    In Florida, schools teach about the evils of Communism, which I like. It is easier to understand the US system, by contrasting with other forms of government. In Texas, schools teach about Texas history, which seems to be of limited value.

    In Florida, 4th grade social studies focuses in on local history. It’s all about knowing your community. My daughter did city and state history in her current district. It was really very good and had an end of year scavenger hunt around the town.

    Middle School begins the expansion into national and global history.

    What a great idea. Local History.

    • #30
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