Distorted Facts

Most facts are oversimplifications of events that, when learned as facts, lose all their interesting properties. Here for example is a "fact" that was a standard part of the curriculum in our schools throughout the 1950s and 1960s: "Columbus discovered America in 1492." It is a fact that every school child was taught and that most graduates of our schools remember. But the truth of this statement has become quite controversial recently, and it is by no means clear that this "fact" is really a fact at all. In any case, it is not the date of Columbus' voyage that is the thing worth learning about Columbus. What really matters are the concepts of invasion, religious toleration, warring empires, subjugation of weak peoples by strong people, and the establishment of colonies in the early years of US history.

Or consider a fact that isn't so controversial: "The Continental Congress signed the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776." Actually, this fact isn't quite true either. On July 2, 1776, Congress approved Richard Lee's recommendation for independence. On July 4, 1776, the Declaration was approved by John Hancock, President of Congress, who ordered that it be printed up on parchment for signatures. The Declaration of Independence was signed on August 2. A few who were not present then added their signatures later.

What difference does it make when either of these events took place? What matters is how they intertwine with the events that led up to them, and the consequences they have had for our lives. There may well be much controversy about Columbus' discovery of America but there is less controversy over the fact that Columbus' act opened a chapter in the history of the world that had quite important ramifications. The Declaration of Independence has had a great effect in history, and it is nice the United States has an official birthday, but neither of these ideas is well represented by concern over any fact that a student might or might not know. Ideas matter more than facts.

The meat of history lies in understanding the motives and behavior of human beings, what they have done, the effects of their actions, and the consequences for the future.

Next Story What a Curriculum Should Contain

Outline Where am I in the content of the book?

Give Me An Example

Give Me Alternatives

What Is Next

What Led To This?

What Should Be Avoided?

What Can Be Done?

Give Me Details

Give Me Background

Start Over Who Built Engines? Contact EFE Team ILS