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Opinion

Opinion

Palin not only history illiterate

June 9, 2011

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“Don’t know much about history” — Sam Cooke

It would be the easiest thing in the world to make this about Sarah Palin.

She makes mistakes like Apple makes iPhones, so there is a temptation to catalogue her recent bizarre claim that Paul Revere’s midnight ride in April 1775 was to “warn the British.” (He actually rode to alert patriots Samuel Adams and John Hancock that British troops were coming to arrest them) as superfluous evidence of intellectual mediocrity. The instinct is to think her historical illiteracy speaks ill only of her.

But the thing is, she is not the only one.

You may think that statement is meant to encompass the likes of Glenn Beck (who said conservatives started the Civil Rights Movement), and Michele Bachmann (who said the Founding Fathers ended slavery) and it is. But the troubling thing is, it also encompasses many of the rest of us as well. Where history is concerned, this is fast becoming a nation of ignoramuses and amnesiacs.

The alarm bell has been ringing for years. Consider “Losing America’s Memory: Historical Illiteracy in the 21st Century,” a 2000 study by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, a Washington-based advocacy group. Researchers found that the majority of seniors at the nation’s best colleges could not identify the words of the Gettysburg Address or explain the significance of Valley Forge. They did not know, the study concluded, because they had not been taught. History, the study said, was no longer a requirement in the nation’s top schools.

And then, there is a 2006 assessment by the Education Department’s National Center for Education Statistics, often called The Nation’s Report Card. It found that nearly 40 percent of 12th-graders could not identify the purpose of the Lewis and Clark Expedition and only 14 percent could identify and explain a factor leading to U.S. involvement in the Korean War.

Some may think that failure insignificant. History is but the dust of yesteryear, is it not? It is just rote memorization of names and dates and something about the Smoot-Hawley Act. If kids are bored by that, who can blame them? And who cares? We all should. No child should be able to finish public school, much less college, without a firm grasp of American history. Because history is not dust. Nor is it myths we tell to comfort and acquit ourselves.

Nor is it a lever we twist in order to gain political advantage. No, our history is the master narrative of who we are.

It is a narrative of slaves and soldiers, inventors and investors, demagogues and visionaries, of homicide, fratricide and genocide, of truths held self-evident and of government of the people, by the people and for the people. It is a narrative of Europeans leaving Europe yearning to breathe free and the children of slaves leaving the South yearning for the same. It is a narrative of blood on French beaches and a man on the moon.

And we allow all that to be forgotten at our own peril. How can our children write the next chapter of a story they don’t even know? So, while it is comforting to think Palin’s gaffe speaks only to her own considerable limitations, it is also short-sighted. The evidence suggests she is less an exception to, than a reflection of, a nation that is in the process of forgetting itself.

Heck, we are all Sarah Palin now.

— Leonard Pitts Jr. is a columnist for the Miami Herald. His email is lpitts@miamiherald.com.

Comments

PaladKik 2 years, 10 months ago

I'll never forget these gaffes.

http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/washington/2011/05/obama-britain-gaffe-queen-elizabeth.html

"I've now been in 57 states — I think one left to go." —at a campaign event in Beaverton, Oregon, May 9, 2008

I liked this racist cop hater remark.

"The Cambridge police acted stupidly." —commenting on a white police officer's arrest of black scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr. at his home in Cambridge, Mass., at a news conference, July 22, 2009. Obama later had to convene a "Beer Summit" at the White House to help tamp down the controversy stirred by his remark

Palin is too attractive to be president. Women always have something to say about smart, pretty women.

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gkerr 2 years, 10 months ago

Camper, Perhaps she should have laughed it off like the One on his many gaffs, stammers, and stutters. Maybe she was just lucky she got the facts right as a matter of historic fact, and should have admitted she knew nothing of what she was talking about, kinda like Barak's writing off his close filial relationship with his confessor, mentor, and pastor Reverand Wright when it became clear by his own perennial words and homilies that he was a racist hater of America, Jews, and whites including Hiliary Clinton who was a skanky piece of trash in his opinion. America got just what she deserved on 9/11, the chickens came home to roost don't ya know.

No Palin should go woman to boy against the One and at least inspire the conservative opposition to have some Nads when contrasting their views with this giant cipher in the White House. Gkerr

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camper 2 years, 10 months ago

Palin is administering damage control on this. Though there may be a small thread of truth in what she said, the overwhelming account of Paul Revere's historical ride was to warn patriots who were at risk from being hanged for treason, to keep ammunition stockpiles safe, and to warn citizens of looting that the British may have employed, and to also advise the militia. Sure, he was captured by the British and shortly thereafter released (without his horse I think).

But here is the thing. We learn these histories when we are in grade school. And Palin is in her forties (I believe). These things become foggier in our minds as time marches on. And it may also depend on her history classes. I went to school in Conneticut where the Revolutionary war was taught at great length, and later Texas, where Texas History was predominant. I'm not sure about Alaska, but there is certainly a different history up there.

And remember the Kansas-Nebreska act. I was asked about that once in a conversation, and described what it was. After researching further, I found I was not 100% correct on the things I said.

So in the end, Palin should have laughed this one off and employed humor. Like President Obama did with the 57 state thing, and recently signing a document with the wrong year.

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Flap Doodle 2 years, 10 months ago

Speaking of making up quotes: "News outlet Politico has been forced to issue a correction after two authors incorrectly attributed a damning quote to her in an opinion piece. In an article that pits Palin vs. Rep. Michele Bachmann, authors Paul Goldman and Mark J. Rozell appear to catch Palin slamming Bachmann. Here it is in context, which is the third paragraph in the article: Palin’s bus tour had some of the hallmarks of a primal scream: “I built this constituency, not Bachmann, not anyone else.” Looking at it through her eyes, she has a point. That’s a big deal. Considering the piece, that would appear to be the start of a word war between the two Tea Party favorites. But there’s just one problem. Palin never said it..." http://www.theblaze.com/stories/politico-issues-correction-after-palin-camp-bashes-authors-for-making-up-quote/

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worthlessljworldposter 2 years, 10 months ago

cato_the_elder Posted 9:14 a.m., June 10, 2011 Suggest removal

And she's also got more common sense in her little finger than you have in your whole body.

wow.

cato_the_elder Posted 9:14 a.m., June 10, 2011 Suggest removal

And she's also got more common sense in her little finger than you have in your whole body.

haha.

cato_the_elder Posted 9:14 a.m., June 10, 2011 Suggest removal

And she's also got more common sense in her little finger than you have in your whole body.

I luv ConServAtin'

cato_the_elder Posted 9:14 a.m., June 10, 2011 Suggest removal

And she's also got more common sense in her little finger than you have in your whole body.

i'm a rEpubLiCAN

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yourworstnightmare 2 years, 10 months ago

"Gave Gordon Brown DVDs, not just a terrible gift for royalty, but in the wrong format."

Fail. Gordon Brown is royalty? Since when is the Prime Minister part of the royal family?

I'm sure there are other errors in your list, but I didn't bother reading past this one after you demonstrated that your posts are not worth the effort.

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booyalab 2 years, 10 months ago

A brief list of Obama errors:

Claiming that the US invented the automobile

Trying to use Brandenburg Gate in Germany for a public speech about peace, then when his team realized the opposition to it used Siegessäule, which also had strong Nazi symbolism for Germany.

Gave Gordon Brown DVDs, not just a terrible gift for royalty, but in the wrong format.

Not understanding the basic requirements on each side for negotiation in the Palestine/Israel conflict by forcing Israel to give up the West Bank but not forcing Palestine to give up right of return.

Supporting Muslim Brotherhood

Believing he can assist a revolution without using force or trying to destroy the regime

Believing that any "home-grown" revolution in the middle east will result in more freedom and democracy.

Revealed secrets of our allies to Russia in order to get them to sign the START treaty

Lecturing world leaders like he's their kindergarten teacher

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gatekeeper 2 years, 10 months ago

I was recently in Boston visiting all these sites. I have also read what Revere himself wrote about the events. The people that support Palin, no matter what idiotic thing comes out of her mouth, should read about this and visit themselves before calling everyone else ignorant.

When I heard about this, I could just see the people that work at Revere's house with looks of horror on their faces. If Palin had spent any time talking to them (and the great people at the North Church) instead of making a huge press event out of her visit, she could have learned the real events.

It's sad when even Fox News had to tell her she was wrong and she still stood her ignorant ground and said she was right.

Anyone that can go to Boston and experience it all for yourselves - I highly encourage you to go. Great city and the historical tours are a blast. You can even visit some old taverns where Hancock, Revere and Adams hung out while making their plans (and you'll learn of how secret they had to be to keep the Redcoats from learning of their plans).

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mom_of_three 2 years, 10 months ago

I will be the first to admit I am not an 18th century history buff, BUT I can tell when someone is just BS'ing their answer. And she had no clue.
You can put her answer into historical context and have it be correct (but not the way she said it), but I think when the paul revere museum curator says she was wrong, she was wrong.

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Kontum1972 2 years, 10 months ago

Sarahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh............u betcha...Woof..Woof....

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Flap Doodle 2 years, 10 months ago

Would Palin throw the residents of the Falkland Islands under the bus to score some points with the oppressive regimes of South America? The Mope in Chief is proposing to do just that.

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purplesage 2 years, 10 months ago

The culture is more easily molded into something unintended by the Founding Fahtersif hisstory is unknown. An emphasis on math and science, allegedly to stay competitive in the world, has been undertaken at the expense of those things which communicate values and vision. Literature and history fulfill those functions.

In the school where my kids did their high school years, the teachers were using "historical novels" for text books. That isn't history, though it may tell a version of it.

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Liberty275 2 years, 10 months ago

The rest of you should be ashamed. The only reason you are talking about Palin is so you don't have to talk to each other about Weiner hanging out on the internet and showing off.

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Liberty275 2 years, 10 months ago

Leo use words wrong way in big letters.

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voevoda 2 years, 10 months ago

Palin's statement about Paul Revere would have gotten about a C- on a freshman American history exam. There may be a way to make her actual words conform to historical fact, but only by inserting a lot of things that she didn't even imply and leaving out a lot of more pertinent facts.

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yourworstnightmare 2 years, 10 months ago

The supporters of Palin and Michelle Bachmann revel in their ignorance. Palin and Bachmann both wear their stupidity and willful ignorance like accessories, like jewelry.

It is a sad state of affairs when so many consider willful ignorance and hard-headed stupidity as positive traits.

Reactionary, anti-intellectual populism has a home in the GOP.

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Esq2eB 2 years, 10 months ago

"Sarah Palin. "Celebrity" over substance."

And Obama was what??

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tange 2 years, 10 months ago

Sarah Palin. "Celebrity" over substance.

/ and just look at the lame-oid fan club.

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sissezz 2 years, 10 months ago

like Pitts ... cant stand Palin.....

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dlkrm 2 years, 10 months ago

Pitts is criminally ignorant, and a liar.

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Flap Doodle 2 years, 10 months ago

Pain never actually said that she could see Russia from her house. That was a line Tina Fey used during an SNL sketch. Some knuckle-dragging sinister blogger attributed it directly to Palin & every drone on that side of the aisle has been repeating it ever since.

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mom_of_three 2 years, 10 months ago

IF she got anythiing right, it was totally by accident. Sure, revere told teh British they weren't going to get our arms, when he was captured. But that is not what his ride was about. And that isn't what she was asked.
There may have been bells rang, but Revere didn't do it. Revere was to alert Adams and hancock and warren and a few others, who needed to go to safety.
he did knock on a few doors in the country to let them know he saw some british troops around, after he escaped from a few. But basically, she was wrong. It was a freaking war - of course they were after arms, and had been after arms for years. Armies always look to capture arms so the other side can't use them. But that isn't what the ride was about.
She had no idea what she was talking about and now people are trying to fit the circumstances for her answer.
I dont care if it is a repub or a dem. If they are wrong, they are wrong.

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jesse499 2 years, 10 months ago

bgwmail I don't care about PARTYS I just once would like to elect someone for the people of the US not some D--party. All a party is from all I can see is a bunch of lawyers trying to get their hands on our money

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rockchalker52 2 years, 10 months ago

"She's just not curious enough about anything other than self-promotion to put in the homework." That's sums it up, bozo. She has no interest in serving her country or she wouldn't have quit the governorship. I wish she'd move to Russia, see if she could see Alaska from her porch.

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Barry Watts 2 years, 10 months ago

I'm not here to say who started it, but here is the voting on the Civil Rights Act of 1964: The Senate version: * Democratic Party: 46-21 (69%–31%) * Republican Party: 27-6 (82%–18%) The Senate version, voted on by the House: * Democratic Party: 153-91 (63%–37%) * Republican Party: 136-35 (80%–20%) Interesting.

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Bob_Keeshan 2 years, 10 months ago

Of course Paul Revere warned the British. In 1775, everyone living in Massachusetts was British.

Why do you think he yelled out, "The British are coming!" two times? Once for the British army and once for the British currently living in Massachusetts. Both were coming.

Paul Revere was the original "Fair and Balanced".

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Paul R Getto 2 years, 10 months ago

I suggest the media ignore Ms. Palin, as we should with the Phelps clan. She is a sideshow and rapidly becoming addicted to the money and attention. She's no dummie as some allege. Why should she take a 90% cut in pay to run for an office she can't handle? The family is nearly set up financially now. Leave her alone and let her talk to her admirers. As for history? Much of it is bunk (Henry Ford: '"History is more or less bunk. It's tradition. We don't want tradition. We want to live in the present, and the only history that is worth a tinker's damn is the history that we make today." (Chicago Tribune, 1916). ' ) and it's nearly always written by the winners, who have their own perspective.

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autie 2 years, 10 months ago

The true travesty in all this is not the Americans know or understand their own history. It is that so many Americans would idolize and embrace a complete bimbo like Sarah Palin. That is the sad thing.

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jhawkinsf 2 years, 10 months ago

Ultimately, we the voters decide who our elected officials will be. Collectively, how is our history? Geography? Economics? Science?
And we get to decide who will choose our battles and how they will be conducted. And we get to choose who will lead our multi-trillion dollar economy. Scary stuff.

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ksriver2010 2 years, 10 months ago

Its a shame that schools don't teach history as anything more than rote memorization. IF they teach history at all. No Child Left Behind has been shown to increase the number of hours spent teaching kids how to pass the tests. This pushes out arts, music, science, and history. And we have a media and consumer culture which creates a divide and war between this generation and previous generations. I have all seen it when I tell my kid something, and she looks at me like I am from another planet. Because in her mind I am. Being from another generation is like being from another planet.

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Ralph Reed 2 years, 10 months ago

So, Seeing no defense of Palin, and the standard attacks on Pitts (which is the norm here) and President Obama, I assume a couple of things. We're all in agreement that Palin had absolutely no idea what she was talking about; and that she's brazen enough to refuse to admit obvious error. I also posit that the majority of posters above are trying shift focus away from her gaaf by pointing out what they perceive in others.

@L1: re: your 0745. Not attacking you, but a few specifics, please.

@snap: re: your cut-n-paste at 0827. Interesting editorial/oped/blog in the Washington Post. What's your take on it?

@kernal: re: your 0745. The real concern is not that the teacher called it WW-eleven, but of what political persuasion is the teacher. Remember, one answer will make it OK as it was an honest mistake chalked up to nervousness and the other answer will make it a travesty.

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nonracist 2 years, 10 months ago

Too bad so many posters here don't believe anything not coming from Fox or the other extremist sites who don't deal in facts.

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Flap Doodle 2 years, 10 months ago

In other news: "...With some of the economic indicators looking a bit dicey, President Obama traveled to Ohio last week to tout what the administration considers a good-news story: the rescue of the domestic automobile industry. In fact, he also made it the subject of his weekly radio address. We take no view on whether the administration’s efforts on behalf of the automobile industry were a good or bad thing; that’s a matter for the editorial pages and eventually the historians. But we are interested in the facts the president cited to make his case. What we found is one of the most misleading collections of assertions we have seen in a short presidential speech. Virtually every claim by the president regarding the auto industry needs an asterisk, just like the fine print in that too-good-to-be-true car loan...." http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/fact-checker/post/president-obamas-phony-accounting-on-the-auto-industry-bailout/2011/06/06/AG3nefKH_blog.html

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rtwngr 2 years, 10 months ago

Pitts is the pits. He is the definition of the pot calling the kettle ... well, anyway, you know. This man spouts revisionist history all the time. He should be called Leonard Putz.

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Liberty_One 2 years, 10 months ago

Pitts himself makes many errors when talking about American history. He should take his own advice.

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Eybea Opiner 2 years, 10 months ago

Never mind that Paul Revere actually did warn the British that the militia had been warned. Pitts' historical illiteracy is alarming.

Let's talk about those 57 states.

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kernal 2 years, 10 months ago

My latest favorite is the Atlanta teacher who introduced a WWII veteran, at an event commemorating D-Day, as a survivor of World War Eleven.

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Ron Holzwarth 2 years, 10 months ago

"No child should be able to finish public school, much less college, without a firm grasp of American history."

Only American history? Who and what we are today is not only what happened in the New World, but also the ideas and concepts brought over from many other cultures.

There are not very many innovations, ideas, concepts, and philosophies that did not have their origins in other cultures.

"History always repeats itself twice: first time as tragedy, second time as farce." - Karl Marx

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