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

Talent On Paper

The last time that I job searched Ronald Reagan was in the White House.  At that time, long long ago, assembling a coherent resume, wracking my brain to identify personal strengths, and figuring out what to wear was a self-flagellating ordeal.  The first district that called me led to a chatty, comfortable interview which after a few days landed me a position I soon loved.  In the meantime, while waiting,  I interviewed with a neighboring district who essentially informed me that I was so lucky to have even secured an interview with them, I needn’t expect anything else to materialize.  The two interviews left me confused–I certainly was the same person sitting before each interviewer, so what subtleties created such contrasting experiences?

Flash forward to now.  The young people in my family have all finished their educations and have entered the job market in various occupations.  They’ve described to me today’s method of the hunt.  All had to monitor various websites for employment openings, apply on-line for each posting, a telephone interview hopefully followed, an initial personal interview and, if lucky a second interview.  Even in my field, education, the process has come to involve an empirical, impersonal, but fair, aptitude test for job fitness.

And seeking employment does appear more fair.  But the process has certainly eliminated the immeasurable.  And I do understand that past abuses concerning skin color, ethnic affinity, and gender, skewed employment which explains the complexity of finding a position.  But it seems job hunting has evolved where blind equity has trumped human potential and trust.

How much of us transcends a resume?

Could Helen or Chum have excelled in their fields under today’s rules?  How spiffy would their talents look on paper?  Was it better for them that the ink was still wet writing down the qualifications for dancing or flying?  Could you or I achieve the same heights waiting for that second interview?

For both of these ambitious people, the differences came from their persistence, crossing paths with pivotal figures and providential situations.  Neither Helen, nor Chum were held back by corporate rules limiting their goals.  They took each opportunity life offered up, and by pluck, or by intuition seized the chance.

She danced in the New York Subway!  He babysat officer’s children on base in Norfolk!

Has the remedy of a faceless, genderless driven employment process improved the workforce?  Could Helen or Chum have done today what they did in the 1930’s?

Is fair really all that fair?