Let’s give all candidates a U.S. history test

To the Editor:

American students still aren’t learning their country’s history. In the latest National Assessment of Educational Programs, only 12 percent of high school seniors knew what they should. Even with the text before them, barely 2 percent understood that Brown v. Board of Education dealt with segregated schools. Most didn’t know that we fought against China during the Korean War.

Ignorant students make ignorant voters. Worse, some of them grow up to run for public office. One is even a candidate for president.

Some of Michelle Bachmann’s oft-reported historical flubs — such as claiming to share a hometown with John Wayne or placing Concord and Lexington in New Hampshire instead of Massachusetts — might appear to be harmless. They are not. They show her not to care whether what she says is true and unwilling to admit that she might have been wrong. This is beyond ignorance; it’s a character flaw.

The worst was her claim that the founding fathers “worked tirelessly until slavery was no more.”

The reverse was true. Some founders detested slavery but the majority either approved it or went along. They even embedded it into the Constitution, which the abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison called “a convenant with death and an agreement with hell.” It took the Civil War to end slavery, more than a generation after the last of the founders had died.

People who do not know this history comprehend nothing of how the United States came to be what it is. They tend to cling to the fiction that slavery was somehow incidental to the Civil War rather than the cause of it. And thus they fail to understand the racism that rationalized slavery and haunts the nation even today. The White House is no place for such ignorance.

Confronted with the facts, on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” Bachmann refused to face them. She cited John Quincy Adams as a “founding father” who fought slavery. He opposed it, yes, but he wasn’t a founder. He was a youth when his father, John Adams, became a founder.

Given the indifference to history in American schools — a neglect fostered by the overemphasis on standardized — it is not surprising to find politicians who couldn’t pass an immigrant’s citizenship exam.

So let’s test the politicians too. In every campaign, one debate should be reserved for questions on American history, with professors rather than pundits comprising the panel. Who knows? Bachmann might not be the only candidate who flunks.

Martin A. Dyckman


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