Doesn’t Change Anything


There are folks out there in America who object to the term bellicose when describing Ronald Reagan’s foreign policy. The Texas State School Board a few years ago objected to the term “capitalism,” deeming it too loaded with negative meaning. Okay, play with terminology, putty up and pretty up the image of the past on state standards and guides, because it really makes no difference in the classroom.

Recently the College Board acquiesced to political pressure on AP US History curriculum objectives. I can understand the thinking behind this move by those who design and correct the yearly three hour exam. Those designers simply don’t need the controversy, nor do they need states to eliminate AP US from American classrooms. But the compromise actually actuates few modifications in day to day lessons, speedily delivered by harried AP teachers. Reality dictates the content of the course, and limited by time and the massive content, most are lucky to reach bellicose Ronald Reagan before the annual May exam.

The painting above depicts General Washington’s Farewell to his Officers at Fraunces Tavern in New York. The work was the creation of artist Alonzo Chappel, and commemorates a party hosted by the victorious, but solemn Washington. This same picture, over a century later, was viewed by teetotalers with dismay. Prohibitionists, concerned by the tavern setting, especially with the wine carafe and goblet resting the table simply scrubbed the image out. Easy enough. Adjust the past to fit today’s present.

D7XFTA Washington taking command of the Army and Washington's farewell to his officers - two scenes from George Washington's Military life

D7XFTA Washington taking command of the Army and Washington’s farewell to his officers – two scenes from George Washington’s Military life

Yet, resurfacing the past, doesn’t actually change anything. Alcohol played a huge role in Colonial America. It just did. In fact, with reference to the 1980’s, all an instructor has to do is produce a couple of line graphs of military spending from 1981 to 1989. Any kid can deduce the trend in military expenditures. Read a couple of speeches in class–Ike’s Farewell Address to the country for example, and students certainly understand the deafness of the Reagan Administration to General Eisenhower’s cautionary words on the perils of the military-industrial complex.

And all those critics who scorn the notion of teaching higher level thinking haven’t spent a moment working with high school students. You can’t fool these young people, they are a lot smarter than you think. Any examination at primary materials, aside from textbooks, or any other ancillary stuff reveals a truth sans any political spin.

So go ahead and bleach the course objectives. Go ahead and whitewash topics such as the genocide of Native peoples, or the insider manipulation that has torpedoed the stock market over and over. It doesn’t matter really. I always told my students that the greatest thing about American History is that we examine it, warts and all, with eyes bravely open. That’s is the source and the strength of our nation’s greatness.

Gail Chumbley is the author of the memoir, River of January

Much Obliged


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This Week, 1935


The old pilot’s time with us grew to mean a great deal to me, personally, but made it that much harder to let him go at the end.

Chum’s last years brought him out west to Boise. It was much easier for my husband to care for him than the semi-regular flights to Miami, sorting out some kind of preventable crisis. Once his father settled in here, they were together every day at the assisted living facility. I believe their time together gave both of them a lot of comfort.

As for Me? I just loved to sit and talk to my father-in-law. If he had felt more spry I would have dragged him into my history class for my own version of “Show & Tell.” I mean, really! William Howard Taft was in the White House the year Chum was born! His life was a damn book. (see River of January)

On one particular Sunday we drove over for a visit, and brought him Mexican food . . . Chum’s favorite. I was anxious to talk to him because we had rented “The Aviator” the night before, the film about Howard Hughes, and Chum had worked for the millionaire at one time.

Me: So we watched a movie about your old buddy, last night–Howard Hughes.

Chum: Ha. He kept the Kleenex business in the black.

Me: (Oh, geez! How could he know that?) And your old girl friend, Kathryn Hepburn.

Chum: Yeah. Katy. She was a nice girl.

Me:(Katy? A nice girl?)

Chum: Her boyfriend, that theater producer, Leland Hayward–I taught him flying lessons, and she came along.

Me: Yeah. (Yeah)

And here it is folks, if you didn’t see at the top. The old history student has to whip out the proof. Have a nice weekend.


Gail Chumbley is the author of River of January. Available on Amazon.