American Losing its Sense of SelfGEORGIE ANNE GEYER
With tiresome regularity, every few months some group comes forward to reiterate that America is losing its history.
With tiresome regularity, every few months some group comes forward to reiterate that America is losing its history. Young people no longer know who George Washington was, and the next generation of Americans is already hopelessly history-deaf.
But this past week before the Fourth of July (a holiday we supposedly celebrate because it was based on something), the tone of concerned American politicians and historians was markedly different. And when Sen. Joseph I. Liebermann, Connecticut Democrat, convened a meeting on the problem in Congress, a discernible note of desperation dominated the proceedings.
In place of the usual hand-wringing, which salves consciences but doesn’t accomplish much, virtually every one of the respected academics who took part had one message that resonated like the very spirit of an anti-Forth: America is losing itself.
Mr. Lieberman set the tone for the day of woeful predictions as he introduced a congressional resolution calling for restoring Americans’ historical memory: “When we lose the memory of our past, when we lose our understanding of the remarkable individuals, events and values that have shaped this nation, we are losing much of what it means to be an American.”
Gordon Wood, professor of history at Brown University, followed up by saying, “Without some such sense of history, the citizens of the United States can scarcely long exist as a united people.”
Many of the historians, who were either present or sent statements, pointed out how fragile America is without unifying ideas and heritage. “Unlike many people of other nations,” said Theodore K. Rabb, chairman of the National Council for History Education, “Americans are not bound together by a common religion or a common ethnicity. Instead, our binding heritage is a democratic vision of liberty, equality and justice. If Americans are to preserve that vision and bring it to daily practice, it is imperative that all citizens understand how it was shaped in the past.”
James C. Rees, executive director of Historic Mount Vernon, stepped in with a practical example. “With each year that passes,” he said,”it becomes more and more evident that the people entering our gates at Mount Vernon know next to nothing about the real George Washington. ... When it comes to even the most rudimentary facts — what war he was in and when he was president — it is incredible how many people draw a blank.”
And Stephen H. Balch, president of the National Association of Scholars, spoke of “Losing America’s Memory: Historical Illiteracy in the 21st Century,” the shocking new report that found among other things that 81 percent of seniors at top-rated colleges received a D or an F on high-school-level American history questions. He said, “We are in danger of losing America itself.”
Doubtless, after the “celebrations” of the Fourth are over which will have little to do with inspiring Americans to learn the truths of their national heritage, most of this will be forgotten. The academic institutions and associations [printing error] ... understanding that is, equally narrow, fragmented and less than the sum of its parts?” asks the “Losing America’s Memory” report.
The strong resolution brought forward at the meeting called for boards of trustees, university administrators and state officials to review their curricula and add history requirements, for parents to choose schools with stringent history requirements, and for history teachers at all levels to “restore the vitality of America’s civic memory.” But will any of the entrenched interests respond?
One of the worst areas of all is to be found in what is euphemistically called “citizenship testing.” It is particularly dangerous that new immigrants, whose natural rooting and bonding is after all in other cultures, receive almost no serious citizenship training anymore.
In contrast to the past, when immigrants assimilated and became “Americanized” as the norm, many of them remain moored in their old ethnic and national groupings. Does this further presage a time when there will be no united America, but only a “country” of divided ethinic and special-interest groups and lobbies parrying for privilege and position”? That is all too possible.
This dumbing-down of America started in the Cold War — in the cultural part of the conflict, where Marxists and leftists in American universities began the “march through the culture” to wipe out America’s controlling heritage. They have done a good job — and they are still in control in most of academia.
If these trends are permitted to continue, America will not become a Marxist country, and it will not collapse. Notwithstanding, it will become a neutralized country, with no unifying central sense of itself, and with a gradually waning will to influence anything but economics in the world. And the fights between groups interested only in their own narrow, selfish goals will paralyze even further what used to be an effective nation.
That is what it means when these historians speak of no longer existing as a nation.
Geyer, Georgie Anne. “American losing its sense of self.” The Washington Times (July 4, 2000).
Reprinted with permission of The Washington Times.
© 2000 The Washington Times
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