DO AMERICA’S YOUTH KNOW THE PITFALLS OF “ABSOLUTE POWER?”

March 2, 2019

By Margaret A. McIntyre – “The cave boy of the age of stone”[1], Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2897126

Dear Friends and Colleagues:

Humankind is the highest form of animal life on this lovely earth.  Humans are not the strongest nor the fastest, nor the biggest.  But, by any measure they are the most intelligent and possess the best specialized anatomical tools to create things.  Each human has inherent traits that bind our species, but also a uniqueness that allows each of us to experience life differently from one another.  Two people may look similar but think and act much differently.

Over time, humankind has attuned itself to our environment here on earth by adaptation and knowledge passed on from generation to  generation.  In the beginning survival lore was passed on orally, and perhaps through show-and-tell within the tribe.  “Knowing things” meant not having to discover anew the means to cope with everything from hunger to surviving the cold, to competing with other species for food and shelter, and eventually how to heal illness and mend broken limbs.

As knowledge, obtained through experience, became ever more complex, early humans derived symbols to help them remember and pass on lore more accurately.  As society advanced further, those symbols became writing, first as pictograms and eventually as individual characters (letters) that could be expressed in words phonetically.  So history was not limited to the folklore as to where the tribe had originated and who led who where and how it settled on the territory it occupied; it also included instructions on how to make fire, how to make weapons, how to build structures, how to make measurements, how to count —  and eventually on how to govern and encode rules for acceptable behaviors and punishment for taboos.

So history is not a dry study of names and places.  Rather it is a living guide to a good (if not better) life and a road map for avoiding the pitfalls that befell our forebears.  In short, we LEARN from history.  Even science and mathematics are a type of history – as they record trial and error, success and failure – and the careful study of the reasons for either outcome.  No one need learn twice the danger of mixing bleach and ammonia, for example….

It was the understanding of and reverence for the history of humankind and its capacity for evil as well as good and its difficulties in rejecting temptation that led our Founding Fathers to declare America’s independence from a tyrannical monarchy, and later, to enshrine, in artful genius, the checks and balances necessary to assure good governance in our venerable Constitution.  The enlightened authors of this great document were well-read in history from the Bible to ancient Greece, Rome, the Dark Ages, the Renaissance, and Locke, Hume, and Rousseau, etc.  They had experienced first-hand the excesses of tyrannical government and contrived a masterful method to avoid falling into the same human trap that led astray so many before.

The terrible shame today in America, in OUR America, is that history is largely hated and avoided by students, who fail to see history’s relevance. A bygone sage wrote that those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it.  That is so very true.  The hatred of history must lie in the poor way it is taught.  But, without a grounding in history, our venerated and wonderfully successful Constitution is in peril.  Many young adults today have become convinced that life is too complex to be bothered with and thus a ‘socialist’ form of government, where ‘experts’ call the shots and the rest of us live our lives without care and attention to the details of ‘stuff’ would be better.  But, had they read even RECENT history (the account of events of the previous century), they would probably hold different views.  Lord Acton penned the line, “Absolute power corrupts absolutely.”  And history proves him right.  Checks and balances prevent absolute power, and we should all thank God and history and our enlightened American forefathers for that.  They were not just of a ‘bunch of old white men … some of whom were slaveholders…’ and thus ignored.  Rather, they were prescient, highly intelligent, honest, and should be venerated by every citizen.

How can we get the study of history – the correct study of history — back into the mandatory curricula for graduating high school and obtaining a degree in college?  Your thoughts?

Old Frank

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