Five years have passed since 9/11 – a fateful day that changed the course of history. This past Monday night, President Bush commemorated 9/11’s anniversary with an address to the nation, calling our war against terror the “decisive ideological struggle of the 21st century, and the calling of our generation.”
Veterans reflecting on 9/11 compared the attacks to the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor more than 60 years before, on December 7, 1941. Like Pearl Harbor, 9/11 was a day that “will live in infamy.” Both events shocked and unified Americans, serving as flashbulb moments in history when all else ground to a halt. Those of us not yet born in 1941 have much to learn from World War II veterans, and those who have gone before us. Their recollections inform our views of American history and the fight for freedom. So it will be for future generations who learn of 9/11.
On Monday, classrooms across the nation remembered the 9/11 attacks in heartfelt ways. As time passes, however, more students will turn to written record to replace personal experience.
That means getting the facts straight is of paramount importance. After all, history plays a pivotal role in shaping beliefs – about civic duty, culture, and patriotism. Unfortunately, U.S. and World History are infinitely more vulnerable to abuse and political spin than subjects like math, reading, or science. And when academic curricula mingle political agendas with fact, students are taught a revisionist history that threatens our fundamental ideals.
Some commentators believe a touchy-feely spin and revisionism have already permeated depictions of 9/11. Martin Davis, senior writer and editor at the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, has this to say about 9/11: “Whether perusing websites offering lesson plans about September 11, or reading the state standards addressing that day’s horrific events, too many educators, it appears, remain more committed to helping students understand their feelings than understanding the enemy that we as a nation face.”
When it comes to taking liberties with history, North Carolina takes the cake. A 2003 Fordham Foundation evaluation of U.S. History standards (.pdf) gave North Carolina a grade of “F,” calling our state curriculum “a blueprint for historical ignorance and civic disaffection.” Consider this: how can we ever expect our children to defend our essential freedoms if they don’t know what they are?
What’s a parent to do? First, find out what kids already know (or don’t know). Second, make sure they know the facts. Fortunately, there are resources available for parents to help make history relevant and accurate. The Bill of Rights Institute offers programs on America’s founding principles and outlines their importance to a free society (including a 9/11 lesson on America’s civic values).
In the end, we can’t afford to be ignorant. History has a great deal to teach us, chronicling our epic struggles in defense of freedom. And if past is prologue, we just may come this way again.
Lindalyn Kakadelis is the Director of the North Carolina Education Alliance. She writes the regular column, Lindalyn’s Journal.