The Good, the Bad, the Ugly, the Beautiful — How to teach U.S. history, etc.

4 mins read


Carl Schurz, 1829–1906 (Library of Congress)

Who is that stern-looking man up there? That’s Carl Schurz, but I’ll get to him in a moment. My Impromptus today raises a number of issues, as usual, most of them very sensitive, as usual.

I begin with this: For 50 years, Bill Buckley labored to separate conservatism from kookery. How’s that going? I touch on the issue of President Trump and Dr. Stella Immanuel (she of the “demon sperm”). Do young people today look at Trump and TrumpWorld and think, “This is conservatism”? If so, what does that mean?

There is also the issue of Trump and Russia — Putin’s Russia. Repeatedly, the president draws a moral equivalence between the United States and this Russia. Why? Who can explain it?

I further discuss an ugly episode at a 7-Eleven. The late, joyous Regis Philbin. And more. See what you like (and dislike).

Here is a podcast — a Q&A — with David Pryce-Jones. His new book is Signatures: Literary Encounters of a Lifetime. I talk with DP-J about some interesting people he has known: including Aldous Huxley, W. H. Auden, Rebecca West, Saul Bellow, Erich Segal — the list is pretty wonderful.

For many years, people have been debating the question of U.S. history and how to teach it in the schools. That debate has come to a boil in recent days. Here in the Corner, I’d like to offer a few basic thoughts.

You know the expression “warts and all” (which arises from portraiture). Well, I think history should be taught warts and all — but don’t make it merely warts.

Bernard Lewis, the late Middle East scholar, once said, “There is an old saying: ‘My country, right or wrong.’ It seems that many Americans have changed that into, ‘My country, wrong.’”

Which leads me to Carl Schurz — the German immigrant who became a Union general, a U.S. senator, and other things in his interesting, productive life. I cherish something he once said: “‘My country, right or wrong’: when right, to be kept right; when wrong, to be set right.”

I also cherish something that Jeane Kirkpatrick said: “Someday Americans will have to face the truth about themselves, no matter how pleasant it is.”

I’m all for teaching the warts, believe me — even stressing the warts, if you like, in order to illustrate the gap between ideals and reality. But do not forget the rest.

Have a good one.





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