Learning American History

Posted By on April 4, 2011

History, growing up few of us liked history classes. They were an intolerable collection of names, dates and places; boring, boring, boring. We couldn’t remember all of them as they apparently had no meaning for us. Our teachers didn’t help matters any as they expected, demanded through their tests that we recall, or shall I say regurgitate these interminable facts. Like me, most of you simply endured history classes.

During my school years I had three memorable history teachers. The first was my eighth grade history teacher who began the task of revealing to me some of the stories behind the facts. Next, in high school, our then basketball coach taught a couple of classes, “Basic Governmental Forms” and “The Thousand Year Reich.” In these, “coach” gave us reasons, motivations, explanations, again, the deeper understandings of the “why’s” and “wherefore’s.” Finally, the third is memorable for all the reasons we normally expect for a teacher of history. In my first semester of college I suffered through a three hour “Old Testament History” class every Wednesday night in a class taught by an instructor who sat at a desk and spoke in a tortuous monotone. A friend and I took turns elbowing each other to stay awake, and dare I say my grade in this class was the lowest I ever received, a “D”.

It wasn’t until years later I began to learn history in a new light. I started to uncover the stories, in detail, behind the facts, and as I did history came alive, it breathed, it moved, it lived and it became exciting. My studies became treasure hunts, my investigations discoveries of metaphorical jewels, gems and precious metals. So, while I still enjoy mathematics and science, I am passionate about history.

What happens when we learn American History in this manner? There is so much more to our national history than meets the eye. Upon the surface America’s history appears only slightly different than that of any other nation, or people. Yet the moment we begin to beyond the surface, past the cursory, we discover our national story is unique, dare I say, miraculous. America’s history stands alone, save that of Modern Israel. When we uncover the treasures hidden within our national chronicles we see evidences of an unseen hand moving, directing events, and we gain a new found love for this great country.

The problem is all too few of us dare to break the surface of understanding America’s story, too few of us ask the probative questions. We have lost the ability to question, to critically think, to challenge the lessons we have been taught.

On the other hand our Founding Fathers were men possessing an innate curiosity to investigate the world around them, to understand the ebbs and flows of human events throughout the ages, to reveal the nature of things. Benjamin Franklin, owning only the most meager of formal educations rose to the heights of his generation in philosophy and the sciences and was awarded a great many honorary doctoral degrees from eminent universities across Europe, as they recognized his knowledge and wisdom. George Washington had no formal education, yet possessed great wisdom and understanding in agriculture, affairs of state and matters of warfare. Thomas Jefferson having acquired a very respectable formal education, never stopped his learning, his investigations, and became a scientist, inventor and farmer extraordinaire.

How can we begin to discover a deeper knowledge of our history? We must begin to ask the questions requiring the answers we have never been taught.

We all have heard of Jamestown, the first permanent English settlement in the New World. Was Jamestown a success, or a failure, or some miserable mixture of both? What was the primary motivation of the English colonists during the first lousy years of its existence, and why was it so readily abandoned years later in favor of Williamsburg?

There is the story of the Pilgrims in Plymouth Plantation in what was to become Massachusetts, and how Squanto the Indian saved them by teaching them the skills requisite to grow crops, catch fish and hunt the bounty of the land to live in this new land. Have you ever wondered how Squanto and the Pilgrims communicated? I’ll spike your interest by telling you Squanto spoke to them in well learned English. How did Squanto learn English, he was a native of a tribe indigenous to the Cape Cod area?

What was the percentage of the taxes on tea which led to the tea parties in Boston and Charleston?

What were the writings of John Locke, and who inspired him?

What of George Washington’s experience during the French and Indian War at the Battle of Fort Duquesne?

Why did the War of Independence begin? Was it initially intended to be a war to establish a new nation? Why were the first battles at Lexington and Concord fought?

Did the Constitutional Convention really look to, and use the examples of Rome and Greece when developing our Constitutional Government? Where do they say they found the inspiration for the three branches of our representative republic?

The answers to these questions are merely the beginning of our quest to discover the great beauties of the History of these United States of America.

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