Friday, July 29, 2011

Some Good News For Minnesota History (A Reprint)

I published this article in my other blog: But today an article on was published condemning the quality of history teaching in the United States. I have chosen to reprint my thoughts on the matter.

The Mpls./St. Paul Star Tribune published an interesting article on-line that suggests Minnesota students are generally well informed about American History. Coming from a teaching background in Georgia, this is great news.

According to the article, teachers and student evaluators in Minnesota give students high marks for knowing the basics of U. S. History. Unfortunately they lack depth in their understanding. Students know who Thomas Jefferson was, that Richard Nixon resigned the Presidency in disgrace, and the basics of World War II. Unfortunately, they don’t necessarily understand Watergate or appreciate the relationship between Jefferson and Sally Hemings.

This is a big deal. I once taught U. S. History at a university in Georgia where students didn’t know who won World War II!! It sounds like Minnesota is doing well to teach their children their history. Nationwide the news is not so good. A report quoted in the article notes that only 12 percent of 12th grade students, nationwide, are “proficient or better” in history. Anecdotal evidence puts Minnesota higher than that.

So, Minnesota students receive high marks. Yet, we can’t let the emphasis on Math and Science take away from teaching history. The phrase “well rounded education” exists for a reason. We need to make everyone who is involved in the education system realize that allowing history to take a back seat to other subjects is not an acceptable alternative.

We are doing okay, but we must do better.

Banking As the Corrupter of Society

Roy Kreitner recently published an interesting article about the perceptions of banks in 19th century United States. Published in an on-line magazine titled Common Place, he sets out to explain why banks were seen as the great corrupters of society in the Antebellum United States.

Kreitner explained that banks were not used as the safe haven for individual savings in the 1800s. “Antebellum banking in America was not, in fact, based on the numerous deposits of dispersed individuals,” he wrote. In quick summary, Kreitner suggested that banks were seen as evil because they promoted a sense of instant gratification. Credit was perceived as evil, a mechanism that allowed men to avoid hard work and still obtain the luxuries in life. As one historian described it, “patient accumulation was condemned.” Bank credit allowed individuals to invest in the dreams of the future. In other words, obtain something (bank loans) for nothing that will hopefully become something in the future. Many ambitious Americans did not agree that investing in the future was truly a weak investment at best. It was speculation of the worst kind, but a speculation that was rampant throughout society.

It is no wonder banks were perceived as institutions that corrupted and destroyed the moral fabric of society. These were organizations that promised easy returns on high risk investments in a society that could not afford failure in high risk times.

Kreitner writes an interesting article that warrants close examination.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Parentage: The Complexities of Genealogy

I have been sitting on this particular article for more than a year, debating whether to post or not. Well, a recent article in the New York Times has convinced me that I should sent this out. So, here goes:

A few years ago, in her office as First Lady, Hilary Clinton wrote a book titled, It Takes a Village. Although the book doesn’t have anything to do with Genealogy or Family History, the title implies an interesting idea for the field of Genealogy. Is a blood line truly the most important consideration in researching family history? If a person is adopted, does that diminish their family history? If it is impossible to trace their family line, does that diminish the research potential?

Sometime ago, I mentioned on my blog ( 26 July 2007) that an author had estimated that in some communities in the country 25 percent of all Americans do not know, or have a misconception about their parentage. If this statistic is accurate, how does that affect Genealogy and Family History?

Here is where Hilary Clinton’s book ties into this discussion. Maybe we should consider the issue of environment over genetics. Is it more important to consider the parents a person grows up with, rather than the individual’s genetic make-up? The “nature vs. nurture” debate will go on forever. In genealogy and family history this is a very personalized question and the answer can be as simple or complex as you want. Do you consider the man and woman who raised you your parents? Or, do we really need to track down the sperm donor in an effort to complete our family trees?

And, with the advances in science, what does all of this do to our family trees? The questions become more and more difficult to answer. Because Family History is such a personalized process, how you answer the questions are also very personal. The discussion, though, will challenge us all.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Alexander Hamilton and the Constitution

After watching the Sunday morning news programs, and taking 24 hours to calm down, I find it fascinating that in the discussions about the meaning of the Constitution, NO ONE talks about Alexander Hamilton and the Federalist Papers! Remember, Jefferson was busy in Paris when the Constitution was written while Hamilton was writing a brilliant series of essays explaining the Constitution and its implications. Want to know about the United States Constitution and its meaning? Read Hamilton!! Happy Birthday America (and no I am not confusing the Constitution with the Declaration of Independence).