The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

Local News

July 4, 2013

‘Now, we are engaged in a great civil war’

Commentary

---- — (Last in a series)

I can’t help but think that Lincoln got part of it backwards.

Or rather, we have.

Let me clarify.

Four months after the battle, Abraham Lincoln came to Gettysburg to dedicate a national cemetery. His brief address there would be among the greatest ever spoken.

We all know it, we all have read it, and we all have had to recite it at one time or another. It’s part of our national voice.

I can’t help but pause at the phrase, “The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.”

These days, I’m afraid we have that part backwards. We forget plenty.

Since becoming involved in a re-enactment group 16 years ago, I have presented numerous programs at different schools. My first questions to students are usually why and when was the Civil War fought and who fought it.

Answers have included independence, the 1940s and the British.

OK. I can excuse elementary kids. But I had to shake my head when one young teacher admitted she didn’t know much about it herself.

At other programs adults have made similar baffling confessions.

I understand not everyone has my interests, and that’s a good thing. But my point is the teaching of history has been terribly slighted in recent years. In an era of teaching for standardized tests, history has too often become, well, history.

Just the other night on “60 Minutes,” author/historian David McCullough warned that we are raising a generation that has become “history-illiterate.”

That’s sad. And it’s troubling, especially when it comes to understanding the Civil War. Its lessons are too vital, because the issues at its center are still with us 150 years later.

And in many ways the battle continues.

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