What Part of US History Should Everyone Know?

Wednesday, October 20, 2010 - 01:48 PM

Historians are criticizing the fourth-grade textbook in Virginia that says thousands of African Americans fought for the South during the Civil war. The author of the book, “Our Virginia: Past and Present,” says she wrote it based on information she found on the internet.

The story comes at the same time Republican Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell is in the headlines for asking if the separation of church and state is really in the constitution.

In light of these two stories, we're talking about what U.S. history we need to get right and what parts of history are the most important to know. And we're asking you: 

What is the most important part of United States history that you think everyone should know?


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Comments [26]

Cassandra from CA (originally IN)

In school, in the 90s, I learned about US history at the expense of world history, and about ancient history at the expense of recent history.

We spent a lot of time on ancient Egypt, China, the Aztec, Inca and Mayan cultures, but were taught very little about the modern Middle East, South America, China, and Africa.

Because most history classes told the same story of our nation, starting at the beginning, the school year would end before we could get much further than WWII. Vietnam, and everything since, was typically gone over pretty quickly in the last couple days.

What about starting with the present day and working backward, rather than starting long ago and working forward?

Dec. 05 2010 11:42 PM
Gebre Kedan from Canada

Delusional and/or out of touch with reality invoke the label 'insane'. Witness the following in relation to calling the USA a democracy. In 1787, 55 suits gathered in Philly to revise the Articles of Confederation of the then existing 13 colonies. They represented an economic elite of about 100,000, in a population of about 3,000,000. NOT A SINGLE GRASS-ROOT REP WAS THERE!!! They immediately sequestered themselves behind closed doors, and established what we know today as the American system of government. They agreed that the Government should not only protect big business, but promote it. This defines a plutocracy. I salute contributors like Haden from NYC (Oct. 21 2010 12:17 PM) on winding fast forward and showing the true colors of plutocrats, and by implication the urgent need to explode the myth of American democracy!

Oct. 24 2010 08:17 AM

Sonia from Facebook says everyone should (paraphrased) know and understand what the founding fathers believed or did not believe about god. I disagree with her conclusion, which is why I think this is an excellent topic, especially since the first amendment says "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;" which I interpret to mean that it doesn't matter what THEY believed, they accepted that the US can't oppose that or any other belief on others.
Another myth to be dispelled: the words "under God" were not added to the Pledge of allegiance (circa 1892) until 1954.
(Which god? the christian one? the muslim one? the jewish one? the greek ones? the native american ones?...)

Oct. 21 2010 01:53 PM
Haden from NYC

Our most recent history! Most Americans are completely ignorant about our post WWII “interventions” all over the world. Not only do we need to know the “what” – the overthrow of democratically elected governments, and assassination of their leaders - but we also need to know the ‘why’ - those who resisted foreign exploitation of their resources had to be removed. We need to know that this system of resource exploitation that supports our standard of living is holding down hundreds of millions (if not more) in extreme poverty. We need to learn that this oppression is not sustainable economically, politically or ecologically. And unless many more of us begin to understand the connections between cheap commodities at home and poverty/war abroad, it’s going devastate us too. You guys at The Takeaway are so good at uncovering the ‘slow moving’ stories. Well, this is one of them and it’s vitally important that people know about it.

Oct. 21 2010 12:17 PM

Why did you guys let him get away with that 'specious argument' dodge? And then he pulls "70% of Americans agree with" Tea Party positions out his rear socket and you let him slide? Nuggets people; get some.

Oct. 21 2010 11:46 AM
D-Ray from New York

Slavery & the extermination of indigenous Americans
Annexation of the Southwest from Mexico
Early 1900s labor movements
Black Panther Party & Black nationalism

Oct. 21 2010 10:38 AM
Aaron Wyatt from Boston

One of the most politically eye opening historical ideas I've learned is regarding the constructive inefficiency of US government. We learn about the separation of powers between branches, and within Congress the vote ratios needed to pass bills, or the majority needed in the Supreme Court to come to a decision, but the reasoning isn't always drilled home. Some complain about our government not getting enough done, or not doing what we want, even if that thing we want done is to limit the roll of government, but the US government is not supposed to operate quickly and sweepingly. It is setup so that extreme change is difficult, and only through moderation will move forward.

Oct. 21 2010 09:46 AM
Stephanie Allen from Miami Beach, FL

September 16, 1898. The Treaty of Paris is signed, ending the Spanish American War and the United States of America becomes an Imperial Power as ownership of Puerto Rico, the Philippines and Guam. This quite possibly represents the biggest change in the mentality of the United States in all of its history.

Oct. 21 2010 09:40 AM
Jeff from Detroit, MI

I do think there is somewhat of a bar set for historical literacy in America: The questions asked to immigrants trying to become citizens during their citizenship test.

Oct. 21 2010 09:16 AM
Figliomeni from Detroit, MI

The classical tradition in the United States is outrageously important. Not only were founding documents written by classically trained men (in this case) but everyone who was educated learned Latin, Greek (if he or she were the cream of the crop), and Hebrew (if he or she were the creme de la creme). Where are these subjects taught now? Certainly not in every grammar or secondary school, and hardly in colleges any longer.

Oct. 21 2010 09:15 AM

The Constitution and the Bill of Rights need to be read for what they are, as they are written. People tend to pick and take what they want to interpret and use it to their own benefit, like many do with the Bible. It's in black and white. The Amendments need to be taught with each part of each document as well, they play such and important role in what the documents mean now. Things have changed so much and I don't even know how much.

Oct. 21 2010 08:55 AM
Jim Steichen from Minnesota

Studying "The Federalist Papers" AND the US Constitution should be MANDATORY!

Oct. 21 2010 07:22 AM
Orita Martin from Denver, Colo

The most important part of American history --

That the founding fathers were smart men who truly envisioned a “more perfect union” but who were themselves flawed.

The true heroes of this country are those who sought to uphold those lofty principles of a government that is for all the people (rule of law)
George Washington -- who stepped down from power after two full terms.
Abraham Lincoln - who refused to allow some states to separate and destroy the Union.
Harry Truman - who integrated the military.

And some of our darkest hours have been because the leaders became followers and instead of rising to the ideals of this country fell to the small minded who only think about individual interest.
Andrew Jackson - the trail of tears
Franklin Roosevelt - Japanese interment camps
Supreme Court 1896 - Plessy v. Ferguson (separate but equal)

Oct. 20 2010 09:32 PM
By text from Anoka, MN

People should know about how the world Used people to be slaves . It still going on in the world . Just in another form. Like jails . Welfare. Picking only people that want to work for their companies.

Oct. 20 2010 08:06 PM
By text from Wayne, NE

How our government was formed, how it functions, and the real history of our quest for empire & global control.

Oct. 20 2010 08:04 PM
@Nitapooh96 from Twitter

@The_Takeaway 14th Amendment, 1st amendment, A Jackson/Trail of Tears.

Oct. 20 2010 08:03 PM
By text from MI

Revolutionary war.

Oct. 20 2010 04:43 PM
By text from MA

The real story of Christopher Columbus. The truth is that the darkest moments in history seem to get overlooked too often.

Oct. 20 2010 04:43 PM
By text from Fort Lauderdale, FL

How the US has unfairly treated other minorities in this country. Specifically the Tuskeegee study.

Oct. 20 2010 04:43 PM
By text from FL

Americans should know more about Native American boarding schools and assimilation

Oct. 20 2010 04:43 PM
By text from FL

In this land of freedom, Lgbt people can still be fired from their jobs just for being gay.

Oct. 20 2010 04:43 PM
By text from Detroit, MI

The true history of Africans in America from slavery to Jim crow. The struggle for Afro Americans to be equal is a part of history everyone should know

Oct. 20 2010 04:42 PM
Allan (by text) from Woonsocket, RI

The war of 1776.

Oct. 20 2010 04:42 PM
Sonia from Facebook

THAT THE FOUNDING FATHERS BELIEVED AND ACKNOWLEDED GOD!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Oct. 20 2010 04:42 PM
James from Facebook

The REAL story behind the creation of the Constitution, the men who wrote it, and the environment in which it was devised. There seem to be many people throwing around their interpretations of that document who have no clue what it really means.

Oct. 20 2010 04:42 PM
ddartley from Manhattan, NY

I don't know if it's the *most* important thing everyone ought to know, but I hope every American knows that hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets multiple times to demand that we NOT invade Iraq, before the war started.

Oct. 20 2010 04:23 PM

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