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While standing at the National Archives Museum, our current president called for a “1776 Commission” to “restore patriotic education to our schools.” A student sent me an email, asking me what was going on.

Indeed.

Perhaps the poet Billy Collins said it best:

The History Teacher

Trying to protect his students’ innocence
he told them the Ice Age was really just
the Chilly Age, a period of a million years
when everyone had to wear sweaters.

And the Stone Age became the Gravel Age,
named after the long driveways of the time.

The Spanish Inquisition was nothing more
than an outbreak of questions such as
“How far is it from here to Madrid?”
“What do you call the matador’s hat?”


The War of the Roses took place in a garden,
and the Enola Gay dropped one tiny atom
on Japan.

The children would leave his classroom
for the playground to torment the weak
and the smart,
mussing up their hair and breaking their glasses,

while he gathered up his notes and walked home
past flower beds and white picket fences,
wondering if they would believe that soldiers
in the Boer War told long, rambling stories
designed to make the enemy nod off.

Billy Collins, Questions About Angels, (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2003), 77.

Rebecca Koerselman

Rebecca Koerselman teaches history at Northwestern College in Orange City, IA.

11 Comments

  • Daniel J Meeter says:

    Amen.

  • Magnificent. This is why I love to read history. Thank you.

  • Virginia (Ginny) Kuilema says:

    Billy Collins has had an informal reading of poetry online, Monday through Friday at 5:30pm (EST), since the pandemic began. He begins the time by playing a selection from his vast knowledge of jazz. The poem you chose is a good example of his sarcasm and wit.

  • RLG says:

    Thanks, Rebecca, for the untarnished explanation of history. I doubt that there is any explanation of history that isn’t as much interpretation as it is factual. There is the Christian explanation of the Crusades and then there is the Muslim explanation. There is the Christian’s linear explanation of history and then there is the atheist’s and Hindu’s circular explanation. There is the Republican explanation and interpretation of immigration policy and then there is the democratic explanation. There is the capitalist view of racism, as well as the socialist view. There is the South’s interpretation of slavery and the resulting mind set of society and there is the North’s. Each view portrays their view as the true and untarnished view of history. And now there is the going to be the patriotic view of education. Choose your history books carefully.

    • Rebecca Koerselman says:

      Indeed. A good historian looks at all the sources and perspectives – It is complicated and time consuming and requires thoughtfulness and discipline.

  • John Kleinheksel says:

    It’s that we are being forced into thinking it’s “either/or” that drives me crazy.
    Where is true leadership for today’s world?

  • Micki Fuhrman says:

    That was a wonderful post and I appreciate Billy Collins’ perspective. It terrifies me to think of us learning less of our history instead of more.

  • Al Schipper says:

    One byproduct of the current chaos has people actually exploring history and civics. As a former teacher of the same I can’t stifle a smile or two.

  • Helen p says:

    I confess that when I heard about the 1776 commission (after initially feeling sick to my stomach) all I could think of was Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, the People’s Republic of China, and Orwell’s, 1984, all of which actively engage(d) in revisionist history.

    I find the whole idea sickening.

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