It is very worrisome that the South Carolina Senate is considering a bill (S.419) that deletes “social studies” (which includes American history) assessments and a U.S. history end-of-course test, and that the House has already passed it
The idea is that if tests on American history were eliminated, students would somehow have more time to learn. But in the end, students can graduate from high school without knowing American history.
This idea is bizarre indeed. Clearly students study mainly to pass tests. If social studies (American history) and U.S. history are not tested, students will not bother to learn the subject matter.
It is the study of history that teaches young people where our nation has been, the successes and failures, the role of government, religion and science in the development of mankind.
History serves as our laboratory and data from the past. As professor Peter Stearns described it in an essay for the American Historical Association, “History offers the only extensive evidence base for the contemplation and analysis of how societies function. ... History helps us understand change and how the society we live in came to be.”
The lessons of history are important to an informed electorate. It is obvious to anyone with a television or a smartphone that the lack of knowledge of American history is a real problem in today’s world. It is astonishing that so many voters — and indeed some recently elected government officials — apparently did not learn the lessons of the American Revolution, the origin and meaning of the Constitution, the three branches of government, checks and balances, the role of the courts or how our federal system operates.
To understand current political controversies — voting rights, representation, the Electoral College, immigration, taxes, the relationship between the power of the states and the federal government, the controversies over monuments — a voter needs to understand American history and social studies to cast an informed vote.
History helps provide identity as to who we are as a nation and how America became what it is today. It is essential for good citizenship. History tells us how our present institutions — our federal, state and city governments — came about. It discusses problems in the past and how they were solved or left unresolved. The study of history is essential to leaders of governments and citizens alike.
The ability to assess evidence, conflicting interpretations and past examples of change, and the ability to read about and understand the society we live in, is essential to democracy.
The study of history is critical for rooting people in time, to know where we came from and how we arrived at the present. It is hard to know where you are going if you do not know where you came from.
In a time when a large percentage of the public feels aggravated and even tormented by the past, and what America is all about, questioning American values and even our system of government, actually learning something about the history of America from qualified teachers — not the internet or social media — is essential to our future health and well-being as a nation.
The S.C. Senate should defeat a bill that characterizes social studies, civics and American history as a subject of secondary importance.
As Marcus Garvey observed, “A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.”
Robert N. Rosen is the author of “A Short History of Charleston” and learned American history at Rivers High School in the 1960s.