Reinventing History

One of the joys of being a grandparent is helping your grandchildren with their homework. But when I helped my 10-year-old-granddaughter, Caroline, a few weeks ago, we both ended up learning a lesson her school district never expected. Caroline had just finished her first day of fifth grade, and together we leafed through her brand-new history textbook. Flipping through the section on the Bill of Rights, my eye was caught by a caption that read, "The Bill of Rights promised individual freedom to many people—but not to women, blacks and Native Americans." Before I could say anything, Caroline burst out, "Grandpa, that's not fair! Why didn't they protect women, blacks and Native Americans?" "The book is wrong," I replied. "That simply isn't so." Caroline looked me in the eye and gravely told me that I must be wrong. She knew the Bill of Rights discriminated because, after all, "the book says so." There was only one way to convince Caroline that her shiny new book was mistaken. We sat down together, opened the book, and read the Bill of Rights aloud. Article One talks about the right of the people to practice their religion freely. "Is there anything in those words that excludes women, blacks, or Native Americans?" I asked. "No," Caroline admitted. We went on to Article Two, which describes the right of the people to keep and bear arms. "Anything there that excludes women, blacks, or Native Americans?" Caroline shook her head. Article Four speaks of the right of "the people" to be secure in their persons and their property. No one excluded there, either. After we'd read the last one, Caroline looked up at me, amazement written on her face. "Grandpa," she said, "You're right! The book is wrong." The next day Caroline told her teacher what she had discovered, and the teacher in turn consulted with the principal. As a result, school district officials are reviewing the history book for accuracy across the board. If you have a child or grandchild in school, take a moment and look over his or her textbooks. Make certain that the author isn't recasting history in a politically correct light. A crucial way that any civilization passes on a sense of its identity to the next generation is by passing on its historical heritage. That's why the Old Testament prophets constantly reminded the people of Israel of the mighty acts of God in history: the calling of the patriarchs, the exodus from Egypt, divine care in the wilderness for 40 years. This is the heritage that told the Israelites who they were and to Whom they belonged. No wonder totalitarian regimes make a point of rewriting the history books: It's an effective way to recast a people's understanding of themselves and their destiny. The political recasting of history we see in our own textbooks today is not merely a matter of mistaken scholarship. It's an attempt to rewrite the American story and the American character.


Chuck Colson


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