Read it and Weep
October 1 1994 by Joe Queenan
While strolling around various English cities with my two school-age children during a recent trip to the
Almost immediately, I had a troubling thought. The American landscape also is graced with statues, tombs, and churches that commemorate the deeds of famous citizens. In
What all of these historical monuments have in common is faithfulness to the facts: King Edward II really was murdered in 1327; Thomas Jefferson really wrote the Declaration of Independence; Major John Andre really was captured in
Contemporary textbooks are notorious for containing factual errors and unforgivable omissions, sometimes because of political correctness and sometimes because of sheer ignorance. As a result, teachers with a woeful knowledge of the past are educating our children. Thus, students are learning incorrect facts, dates, and figures that give them a skewed idea of the way the American experience has played out over the centuries.
The long-term results of this phenomenon are bound to be disastrous to our national well-being. Since many teachers know nothing about the past-or are deliberately suppressing unsavory facts about our national heritage-our children probably will grow up to be citizens with a ludicrous grasp of history. As a result, in years to come, ignorant city fathers with good intentions will pool their resources with poorly educated sculptors and architects. They are certain to erect hundreds of statues, mausoleums, churches, and war memorials emblazoned with factual errors that will impart to future generations an inaccurate version of contemporary events. The results will be edifices such as:
- A 90-foot granite statue of Dan Quayle in downtown
, reading: “Dan Quayle, vice president of the Indianapolis 1988-92, won Purple Heart at U.S. Dien Bien Phu, 1967. Known to his contemporaries as ‘The Lion of DePauw.’”
- A 350-foot onyx statue of Jim Wright erected in a public garden in
, reading: “Jim Wright, speaker of the House. Known as `Honest Jim.’” Fort Worth, TX
- A life-sized marble sculpture of former Washington Mayor Marion Barry, carrying the message: “Marion Barry, public servant. ‘The Diogenes of D.C.’” The scary thing is that Americans’ grasp of history is so poor, we might even see scoundrels reformed in public memorials. How about these?
- “Michael Milken, financier: ‘Neither a borrower nor a lender be.’”
- “Geraldo Rivera, founder of modern television journalism ethics: ‘I am a man more sinned against than sinning… ‘
- “Lorena Bobbitt, feminist, role model, suffragette, amateur surgeon: `Surely, this was the unkindest cut.’”
- “Lyle and Erik Menendez, champions of the rights of children: ‘Suffer the little children to come unto me.” The most terrifying possibility is that present-day dunces will rewrite history in an incorrect fashion, and that future generations of Americans will learn everything they know about the past by reading inscriptions written by mutton-heads who have plundered history and fused the wrong facts with the wrong quotations by the wrong people.
- Bill Clinton, steadfast husband: “My strength is as the strength of ten, because my heart is pure.”
- Hillary Clinton, commodities trader: “He who laughs last, laughs best.” ‘Jeffrey Dahmer, bon vivant: “I never met a man I didn’t like.”
- Kurt Cobain, the Shostakovich of Seattle: “Don’t fire until you see the whites of your eyes.”
Let’s face it, folks: We have to do something about this history problem before things get out of control.
Teach your children well.
Joe Queenan is a regular contributor on business issues, corporate culture, and financial follies to Barron’s and The Wall Street Journal.