These are polarizing times for everyone, and it's easy to get caught up in this pessimistic idea that America is in the worst shape it's ever been. But honestly, this is just what happens. The country goes through rough times, and then it has good times. It goes in cycles. But, keeping this in mind, I think it's easy to get overwhelmed by things when we don't learn our history.
The National Assessment of Educational Progress reports that Fewer than half of American eighth graders know the purpose of the Bill of Rights. Not to mention 3/4 high school seniors can't name one power given to Congress by our Constitution. Is this the new norm? Knowing the framework, background and values of your country should be essential to all of us, and we clearly aren't doing a good job in teaching it. For how do you fault someone for not knowing something when they were never taught or even made an effort to be taught it to begin with?
History will preserve the records of wars past and events long gone. But those who have passed and remember and experienced those wars will take with them to their graves something only they remember. The fight against fascism during World War II. Brother shooting brother during the Civil War. Airstrikes scorching Earth in Vietnam.
One day, we too, will be gone from this Earth, and we'll take with us memories of September 11, the tragic event that marks our generation. Will anyone remember at all after we are gone?
It's important for each generation to pass down their history to the next generation, for that is your responsibility. And a little bit of learning and a little bit of remembrance causes us all to stop and say, "Hey, maybe these times aren't so bad." At one point in this country, we were literally killing each other. At another, lines ran entire blocks for people who were waiting for just a piece of bread. And in the 1960's, our cities were literally burning.
So take a moment before you compare our political, social and economic situations now, in 2011, to the end of the country. And remember that we've been through this before. And of course we'll get through it again. And if no one was able to teach you what you should already know, then teach yourself. That's the best way to learn anyway. We shouldn't ever forget everything that's happened before us and the lessons it teaches us and the stories it brings. Not only for ourselves, but for our children and their children. Arming yourself with this information is the most effective weapon against demagogues who would try to redeem the dictators of the past, justify slavery and racial and religious persecution, and make heros of terrorists that threaten us today.
History is not just nostalgia, and it's not just an answer to a "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" question. It's what will guide us into the future. So don't be afraid to pick up a history book, and learn from those who have learned before you.