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The importance of teaching history

Published February 06. 2010 09:00AM

If asked what subject I thought was the most important one to study or the one I liked most when I was in school, I probably would have said I love literature. I liked history but not to the extent of literature up until 11th. grade.

My 11th grade teacher made history interesting and easy to understand. In many ways he sparked a fire that has continued to burn inside of me. I'm sure there are hundreds reading this column who remember my teacher, Mr. Richard Davidyock or as we knew him "The D". I was extremely fortunate to have gone to church with him as well as eventually having him for 11th grade history.

While I loved several teachers for different qualities, I liked Mr. D. because he was thorough not only in providing facts about history but explaining why they were important. We just didn't talk about the Depression in broad strokes, for example. We covered it in extreme detail. He made sure he provided us all of the major issues, remedies and effectiveness of the strategies FDR used in trying to pull the United States out of the Depression.

He didn't pull many punches either when he taught history. As another example during the same period of time, he explained how FDR maneuvered Japan into wanting to attack the United States. Since that time, history has borne out that we were aware of an attack on Pearl Harbor hours before it occurred, but for the sake of protecting the secret that we have broken the Japanese PURPLE code, the base was bombed.

His notes on American History were so thorough, I was able to use them to study in college for my history courses. That is an unusual feat to say the least. I also think I was not the only one who took his notes on to college.

I was deeply saddened when he passed away much too soon. I grew up with his family in our church. I knew Mr. D as a personal mentor and friend and not just my 11th grade history teacher. He was a man of deep faith also and he was a great preacher, sometimes controversial but not in a bad way. He believed in God and was definitely devoted to his family, his church and his students.

Over the years, I often wondered what it would have been like to hear his opinions on what is going on today in our country. Now that I'm older and understand the importance of history, I think we may have been able to have some interesting conversations. I thought about him a bit the past day or so especially when I saw a news story on FOX News about North Carolina contemplating the elimination of American history being taught in schools prior to 1877.

If this goes through, North Carolina will begin teaching history at the administration of Rutherford B. Hayes. Do you remember this President? He was the one before James Garfield and after Ulysses S. Grant.

Upon reviewing history, one finds he is the 19th century equivalent in some ways to President George W. Bush. His election was mired in controversy having lost the popular vote to Samuel Tilden and with 20 electoral votes contested a commission was formed from Senators, Representatives and Justices to decide the election as the electoral college was not able to award those votes. Hayes won through pure party politics.

He went on to end Reconstruction, encourage the Jim Crow laws through inaction and tried to build the Panama Canal without much success. He was quite controversial in his day and only through cutting a deal with Southern legislators was he able to become President in the first place.

While every President is important in his own special way, I think it's a crime against students to not teach them about the foundations of this country. North Carolina's reasoning is that they can focus more on modern history. By eliminating the origins of our country, how can anyone possibly grasp the importance of our fundamental rights and freedoms? What a troubling idea!

What good does teaching modern history do for students who don't know why the Senate and the House are structured they way they are? And eliminating the bloodiest war in American History which cost the South deeply both in its rights as sovereign states as well as lives and property? That is a real crime. The Civil War is probably the biggest event since the American Revolution and both should be studied in detail by students who are taught by open and honest teachers. There are so many lessons to be learned in both of those conflicts you could probably fill a school year just on those two periods, but to not mention them at all in a grade or high school curriculum is absurd.

History is important because scholars of history can see what will be in the future by studying what was in the past. There is nothing new on this planet in terms of history. Human nature is doomed to repeat itself over and over again. While the technology may improve, humanity still cycles repeatedly. Understanding history is vital to learning wisdom, and wisdom is what protects us from self-destructing.

I can only hope that North Carolina sincerely understands the disservice it will do to its students with such a preposterous action before it is too late.

Til next time…

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