As Students Fail U.S. History, Politicians Distort the Past

Politicians flippantly change history for their own ends. A good example is Sarah Palin’s recent characterization of Paul Revere’s midnight ride as a quest for gun rights. Palin’s oversight was an obvious one that was immediately criticized by the media; however, there is little discussion of those loosely interpreted references to the past that politicians invoke to legitimize their positions and sway voters. It is imperative that the public possess a strong historical perspective through a better education system in order to prevent deception by politicians who present altered interpretations of American history.

Politicians regurgitate historical events and beliefs in an alarmingly careless manner, yet the public appears blissfully unaware of these lenient retellings. This is not surprising as a recent nationwide test, given by the National Assessment of Education Progress, shows that only 12% of America’s high school seniors were proficient in the subject of history.

As the presidential election heats up, the historical references are plentiful. Politicians continue to align themselves with history in order to illicit support. Tim Pawlenty made loosely interpreted statements about the nation’s founding in order to align with history and pander to the religious vote. Although Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) has made very public errors in her historical references, her candidacy only seems to flourish with supporters fervently defending her. Republicans are not the only ones guilty of this; Secretary of State Hillary Clinton claimed to have come under sniper fire in Bosnia in 2008.

The solution lies in education; the public must alter the questions they are asking. For this shift to occur, history must be given the credence it deserves in schools. A civic education should arm the public against manipulation, serving as a protector of our most basic liberties. If our education system placed an importance on history, education would serve as a litmus test for our reality and a template to construct solutions to our most pressing problems. Instead, one of the most valuable tools for cementing the status quo is the misguided nostalgia constantly referenced in stump speeches and promoted across media outlets.

If U.S. students continue to be disenfranchised by an education system that cannot equip citizens with the most basic understanding of history, these contradictory interpretations will continue to be nurtured and advanced. This ultimately leaves citizens ill equipped to discern what is factual and what is simply manipulation by the politician who best plays the game.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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Mallory Logan

I’m a native Mississippian and a current graduate student at Brooklyn College. I have a BA in English and History from Ole Miss, and I am enamored with William Faulkner. My area of historical research centers on the rise of Evangelicals to political, social, and economic prominence, so I am really interested in the interaction between religion and politics, and the ways they influence one another.

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