Americans Agree on Teaching Our Achievements and Failures

In an editorial in The Dallas Morning News on February 26, 2023, Dan Vallone writes “there is significant common ground in how Americans feel our history should be taught.”

Dan Vallone’s report by his organization, More in Common,  concludes “most Americans agree on the basic principles of how we learn about our nation’s past, including how to teach issues surrounding America’s history of racism.” Defusing the History Wars: Finding Common Ground in Teaching America’s National Story study also revealed: “Americans, irrespective of their demographic or ideological backgrounds, mistakenly believe the country is split into two hostile camps with irreconcilable beliefs on how to teach American history.”

Vallone says that there are perception gaps between what other Americans believe compared to what we think they believe. He believes: “Such perception gaps — the difference between what other Americans believe vs. what we think they believe — turn potential allies into enemies.”

The report provides the following examples:

Democrats believe that only 30% of Republicans feel we should teach both our shared national history as well as the history of specific groups of Americans such as Black, Hispanic, and Native Americans.  An overwhelming majority of Republicans, 72%, hold this view. Similarly, Republicans believe that only 42% of Democrats think that George Washington and Abraham Lincoln should be admired for their roles in American history when in fact, close to 90% of Democrats feel this way.

There are important areas where Americans diverge on the topic of history.

72% of Republicans believe the history of minority groups is prioritized over history that elevates a common identity while 72% of Democrats say this is not the case.

However, I wonder what is more critical in going forward: perceptions or reality? Political discussions seem to be void of facts or reality. The merits of elected officials are distorted to create the desired political perception. Was Donald Trump a good president? Is Joe Biden a bad president? The achievements and failures of both chief executives are riddled with lies. Another example is the 2020 Presidential Election. There are some who believe Donald Trump was reelected and his defeat was caused by election fraud. They are convinced, despite the evidence to the contrary, that Donald Trump was robbed. Clearly, for these believers, perception is more important than reality.

Mr. Vallone’s desire that “Civil society organizations, faith institutions, businesses, and veterans’ groups along with parents, students, and educators should collaborate to bring Americans of different backgrounds and views together to talk about how to teach history, reduce perception gaps and build solutions that have durable support across communities.” I am skeptical that this will happen because discussion and compromise appear to be absent in today’s society.

I hope that Mr. Vallone’s ideas may move forward to achieve a national dialogue on teaching history.

Dan Vallone, Sunday, February 26, 2023, p. 4P, The Dallas Morning News.

About Allen Mesch

Allen is an author, educator, and historian. He has written six books: The Analyst; Teacher of Civil War Generals; Your Affectionate Father, Charles F. Smith; Charles A. Marvin - "One Year. Six Months, and Eleven Days", Preparing for Disunion, and Ebenezer Allen - Statesman, Entrepreneur, and Spy. He taught classes on the American Civil War at Collin College. He has visited more than 130 Civil War sites and given presentations at Civil War Roundtables.
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