Is the Teaching of Military History Vanishing in High Schools?

Ed Hooper wrote recently in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that public schools and universities have lost the military aspects of American History. That our recognizing of our nation’s military heroes is waining. This process, according to Mr. Hooper, has led to a loss which has “trickled down to public school systems generations ago.” As Hooper notes, the rate of military genre book sales has been strong and has been for decades. The big names of American history continue to outsell the social/micro history subjects that don’t translate well to the general reading public.

But for Mr. Hooper, the military side of American history is going or already gone:

Gone from U.S. textbooks are the commanders and the battles; the stories of remarkable citizen soldiers who walked away from the safety of their fields, stores and factories and stepped into history’s pages are forgotten. The sociological impacts of armed conflicts or political movements relating to U.S. wars now dominate classroom instruction.

In most public schools the focus on social justice and social history seems to be far outpacing the traditional and indeed military and political components of history.

Military history has all but vanished from America’s educational mainstream. What was once regarded as a core subject in a classical education has become irrelevant. Teaching military history requires instructing students there are times when wars are justified. It requires defining traitors and heroes by academic guidelines.

Perhaps Mr. Hooper has touched on something here in an age where seemingly to teach American Exceptionalism, patriotism, and that war is sometimes justified simply is seen by many in the world of acadamie to be nothing short of intellectual bankruptcy.

When it comes to teaching history, as I have said numerous times, it is about emphasis. I can teach a class about the American Revolution and not tell a lie or provide a historical inaccuracy, and yet someone else could teach the same unit in such a different way and with different emphasis that the students from both classes would received a vastly different impression of the historical events.

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4 Responses to Is the Teaching of Military History Vanishing in High Schools?

  1. Kevin says:

    You might be interested in Mark Grimsely’s take on Hooper’s argument: http://warhistorian.org/wordpress/?p=2573#more-2573

  2. Thanks for this post, Chris! Unfortunately, it’s sad but all-too true. I live in North Carolina, and this year the educational leaders proposed removing all pre-1877 American history from the high school curriculum. That means, no Revolutionary War, no Civil War, and no War of 1812. At a time when more Americans seem to know little about the founding of their nation and even less about its war heroes, this seems like a giant leap backward.

  3. I believe Ed’s main point is encapsulated in this excerpt:

    “Teaching military history requires instructing students there are times when wars are justified. It requires defining traitors and heroes by academic guidelines. The politicizing of patriotism has neutered this subject. Sterile ideologies developed to avoid professorial jingoism have proven to be as responsible as anti-American ones in the demise of military history.”

    One should not be so quick to dismiss Ed’s point. He’s an award-winning journalist focusing on military affairs and history and has written extensively on the subject. He has allowed me in the past to post a few of his pieces on my blog and I’ve read a number of his other pieces as well. I believe he makes a very valid point here.

  4. I agree that military history is already mainly extinct in public school curricula, and for much the same reason that civics is also sorely neglected. Education as a public enterprise in the U.S. is largely dominated by unionized, liberal groupthink focused on indoctrination based on the currents of political correctness.

    There is no room for examining the motives and methods of great tacticians, primarily because the wars that helped form our nation are widely regarded as patriarchal constructs of irrelevant “dead white guys.” Hence, Christopher Columbus is responsible for the genocide of Native Americans, the Mexican-American War was pure aggrandizement that deserves to be undone by unfettered illegal immigration, and the U.S. was at fault for using the A-bomb to end World War II.

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