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Getting the Real Story
on April 24, 2008
A few years ago - my older daughter was maybe 11 - we listened to the entire History of US series on tape in the car. It really opened up my eyes, and now I'm reading through the series again with my younger daughter, who is 10.
History and social studies were never my favorite subjects in school; in fact, I seemed to have some sort of mental block where that subject area was concerned. In high school, as a straight-A student in a rigorous private college prep school, I was poised to fail US History. Before the final, my teacher called me into his office and said "It's obvious that you have a mental block where this subject is concerned, so I'm going to go way out on a limb here." He handed me a packet of papers and said "Here are the questions that are going to be on the exam. If you ever tell anyone I did this, I'll lose my job; I'm trusting that you won't."
I spent that weekend - a beautiful spring weekend with my public-schooled friend from across the street constantly tempting me to get out of the house - frantically studying those questions. I settled myself at the dining room table and hardly moved from it the whole weekend. (Keep in mind that I was the kind of straight-A student that everyone hates - I hardly ever spent much time studying.) When the exam day came, I nervously tackled the test. Later the grade came in - I had barely passed, with a D.
So - no, history was not my strong suit, and I always avoided it after that. Until I homeschooled my kids, and listened to _A History of US_. Not only do I now LOVE American History, but I, as the homeschooling parent, have a much, much better sense of what it means to be an American, and have a renewed sense of pride in our country - not the shallow, flag-waving, blind patriotism kind of pride, but the kind of pride that makes me want to defend the principles and ideas our country was really founded on from people who would twist them around in order to protect the interests of the rich and powerful.
The series is definitely not biased - it's used by everyone from Christians to ex-hippies like me. But the author, Joy Hakim, refuses to pander to the usual textbook-summary myth-propagating versions of US History that, while appearing to be objective (how could anything that dry and boring not be?), are anything but. Every so often, she'll stop in the middle of her narrative to look at a period of history or historical event from the Native American or African-American point of view, or talk about women or Indians or African-Americans who were important figures at the time but who are seldom acknowledged in the usual school texts. She uses liberal quotes from primary sources, and spends a lot of time explaining the cultural background of historical periods, putting things in their context - refusing to go the easy route of dividing people into good vs. bad, delving into the philosophies and ideologies of many of the key players in the formation of the U.S., and asking tough, "what would you have done in this situation" types of questions - the kinds of questions that are FAR more meaningful than "What was the date of Cornwallis' surrender at Yorktown?"
In that sense, the books are very interactive, especially if you stop and discuss these questions. She wants her readers to think. And that's exactly what I did. And then when I read the idiocy that passes for political discourse now, I just want to stand up on the mountaintop and scream - or raise Jefferson, Franklin, and Adams from the dead and let them straighten people out themselves. If there is one thing I am most thankful for in being able to homeschool my kids, it's being able to give them the real scoop on American history, American government, and what it all *really* means.