Sunday, October 23, 2011

A Troubling Situation

One of the reasons I like running is the lack of distractions. As you know, I do not play music when I am on a trail.  You can hear birds singing, leaves rustling, and my shoe hitting wood chips, gravel or soft ground.  You can see leaves falling (at least this time of the year), a butterfly, numerous trees and occasionally a deer. I let my mind wander and percolate. Or as Jack Welch, former GE CEO, used to say, "Let's noodle it."

Several weeks ago i went to the Smithsonian American History Museum. You may recall on my Facebook page I posted pics of Julia Child's kitchen.   

I "noodled" over this for several weeks. What troubled me happened in another part of the building. The museum had an excellent exhibit on Southern culture in the 1850s and slavery. I was looking at one piece and standing next to four young ladies also looking at the exhibit (see below).

The young ladies were in high school and talking about how bad slavery was and that they would never approve.  You must admire their sense of fairness and justice. 

As I listened, I realized these intelligent ladies had no sense of history.  They did not know why slavery existed, the economics of slavery, how the slave trade worked, only one knew what Eli Whitney's cotton gin was but not how it impacted slavery, how the country struggled with slavery for over a century, or other times the U.S. treated a race cruelly. A couple of the young ladies asked a few questions and I think were surprised at what they did not know. 

One asked me has the U.S. recently treated any group as badly as slaves.  I think they were again surprised at my answer. Basically I told them other races the U.S. treated harshly were the Indian and the Japanese after the start of World War II. Those are two examples. 

I spent 20 minutes with the young ladies.  It was fun for me and I think for at least one of them. 

I bring this up because I recall the famous saying by Edmund Burke, "Those who don't know history are destined to repeat it."

We need to teach kids history so they have an appreciation of sacrifices older generations of Americans (and others) made to offer them the potential of a better life, the mistakes we made in building the U.S and the importance of their participation in our country and the social fabric. I sometimes think we take this for granted.  But then consider this, how many of your friends' children know their family history and history?  Yes, it may be boring to kids, but later in life these children will be grateful for learning it.

In a broader sense, how can we know an injustice if we are not educated to see it? At its very best, history offers all Americans a sense of perspective or a touchstone. It allows us to contrast a current situation to past events.  That is why history is important. History is a timeline usually in a book that all of us can share, contemplate, discuss, debate, contribute to, and learn from.

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