Monday, September 5, 2011

Looking Forward to Looking Back on the 20th Century

Happy Labor Day to all!  As an official holiday, I didn't give my son any school work today, but I have been busy planning our curricula for the year ahead.  I was particularly focused today on working on our plans for our history studies this year.

As I stated in a previous post, we are doing 20th century history this year, and I'm really excited about it.   Many people would not be.  History of the 20th century can be pretty depressing, given the high numbers of wars, conflicts, purges, and other major exterminations of groups of people, not to mention economic depressions, ecological disasters, wildlife and nature decimation, and other such dreary topics.  For example, Susan Wise Bauer, the author of the popular Story of the World series, sums up the 20th century in this way:
Revolution shatters the structures; but the men who build the next set of structures haven’t conquered the evil that lives in their own hearts. The history of the twentieth century is, again and again, the story of men who fight against tyrants, win the battle, and then are overwhelmed by the unconquered tyranny in their own souls.
Boy, that sounds like a bummer, right?

However, the timing seems perfect to me.  Followers of this blog know I'm pretty fanatical about politics, and the upcoming presidential election, more so than any I've experienced in a long time, really seems like it could be about the fundamental principles about American democracy.  The clash between the Tea Party and the Progressives is no longer about one candidate versus another, or one side of various issues versus the other side, but a true debate about the nature of government--a debate that is addressing some of the issues that have mostly been taken for granted for as long as I've been alive.

So we argue about the role of government regulations, and whether or not they should be eliminated, or made stronger.  Should we be talking about that without reviewing what life was like in the 1900's and 1910's, before government got into the business of regulating business?  (Although I don't think I dare have my son read The Jungle yet, since I'm not prepared to switch to vegetarianism.)  As Michael Gerson writes in a recent article in the Washington Post, Texas Governor Rick Perry is actually attacking the entire New Deal itself.  How can we evaluate his arguments, and the counter arguments of his foes, if we haven't studied the Great Depression and legislation that was passed to respond to that economic crisis?  In terms of foreign policy, doesn't it make sense to analyze the wars that we've "won" (surely most would agree that included World War II and the first Bush's Persian Gulf War) and those that we've "lost" (perhaps more debatable, but I think most would include the Vietnam War in that category, and I think Anne Applebaum makes a good case for the "War on Terror," at least as we've chosen to pursue it so far)?

So we might not have a jolly year ahead of us in history this year.  But it seems like it will be a really significant one.  I think it will be important for my son to have some of this background as he tries to understand and decide about the candidate positions he will be hearing in the Presidential election of 2012.  I'll do my best to give him a factual basis from which to evaluate the conflicting claims.

I only hope the rest of the country will try to recall some of our 20th century history as well.  We have learned a few lessons since the Boston Tea Party, after all.

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