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Reclaiming History: The Pilgrims

This is Part 1 in a special series for November.

There is perhaps no other person or group of people so grossly misrepresented in American History as the Pilgrims (unless it’s Christopher Columbus). Modern historians describe for us their greed and lust, their domination, and their zealous forcing of religion on everyone around them. We are made to feel guilty for descending from them, and reaping the rewards of the nation for which they laid the foundations. Modern historians would have us believe that the Indians were weak, helpless natives overrun by tyrannical, greedy Englishmen bent on conquering the vast American wilderness. Ah, but then there’s the truth.

"The Embarkation of the Pilgrims" (1857) by the American painter
Robert Walter Weir at the Brooklyn Museum in New York City

So, do you know the truth? Do your children know the truth? How did you learn what you know? How do your children learn what they know? How can you learn the truth?

20th and 21st century historians have invested a great deal of time in what is called “revisionist history;” that is, changing the story of great people and civilizations to fit what they think happened and why they believe it did or did not happen, or telling what they think should have happened. There is a definite bias, and the divide is right down the middle between Christians and non-Christians.

In a recent article entitled “Academic Standards Promoting Islam Invaded America’s Classrooms”, Dr. Susan berry states:

With regard to world history, [Donna Hearne, former Reagan official in the U.S. Department of Education] says as far back as the 1930s there was a movement to collect and write curricula that would be hostile to America. The Frankfurt School – which was the source of Critical Theory – was developed with the goal of advancing Marxist philosophy in Germany. Following the Nazi takeover, the Frankfurt School eventually moved to New York and Columbia University.

There is a strong desire on both sides of the history debate that wants to paint historical events in the light of our personal biases. The majority of revisionists would love for all events to be disconnected from each other, illustrating the greed and destruction of organized religion, focusing on the underdog. I have also seen Christian writers attempt to hail the heroes of history to be without blemish, ever fighting for justice, full of character, doing no wrong.

The thing is, facts are facts and both sides kinda get their way. But we should all be very careful about painting our historic heroes in our beautiful, biased light. It’s okay to discover that a great national hero had faults. It’s okay to discover that a freedom fighter didn’t even worship God. It’s okay to have a country founded on Judeao-Christian principles. History is so fascinating that we have no need to alter the story to fit our own desires.

For example, Christians owned slaves. Africans sold their own people into slavery. Some Christians fought slavery, while other Christians fought to protect slave ownership. Sometimes history is ugly and unpleasant, but the overall story is exciting and informative and very enlightening.

Modern history books, textbooks, and websites are overloaded with “opinions” on history, often leaving out facts. But facts don’t lie. Oh, they can be ignored. They can even be disagreed with. But they’re still there. (I realize that we live in an age where you can claim to be a woman even if you’re a man, but excuse my boldness: the facts are there to be seen, hidden underneath your clothes and further verifiable on a sonogram or x-ray.)

In a report entitled The Stealth Curriculum by Sandra Stotsky, an investigation into many history curricula shows that 

Below are some excerpts from this report:

But most of its specimens share these features: under the guise of heightening teachers’ and students’ awareness of previously marginalized groups, they manipulate teachers (and, thus, their pupils) to view the history of freedom as the history of oppression and to be more sympathetic to cultures that don’t value individual rights than to those that do. 
People can also teach themselves history, pick it up from their reading, the History Channel, even movies. The key is to insist that, however they learn it, tomorrow’s teachers must know it—and demonstrate this—before confronting children in the classroom.
 The source of the problem with many of the supplemental resources used for history or social studies is the ideological mission of the organizations that create them. Their ostensible goal is to combat intolerance, expand students’ knowledge of other cultures, give them other “points of view” on commonly studied historical phenomena, and/or promote “critical thinking.” But their real goal, to judge by an analysis of their materials and the effects they have on teachers, is to influence how children come to understand and think about current social and political issues by bending historical content to those ends. 
The purpose of the 1994 [Facing History and Ourselves] resource book, bearing the same title as the 1982 manual but with a new conceptual framework, is to make sure that students see the task of confronting white racism in America as the chief reason for studying the Holocaust.6 It makes explicit and frequent comparisons not only between twentieth-century America and twentieth-century Germany but also between nineteenth century America and nineteenth-century Germany. In essence, it uses the Holocaust to portray America’s blacks as Europe’s Jews, thereby reducing genocide to an act of bigotry and equating white Americans to Nazis. 
We do know, though, that teachers have been increasingly encouraged by their professional organizations to use videos of television programs or films in their classes to compensate for the inability of many high school students to read their history textbooks or primary documents with adequate comprehension. 
The daily lives and fates of the many Native American tribes have been perhaps the greatest beneficiary of this sociocultural approach, which now occupies much instructional time. With it, however, comes a strongly negative view of the Europeans who explored and colonized the Americas. Supplemental resources now guide teachers to downplay or ignore altogether what students should be learning about the origins and development of our civic culture. 
Appendix C contains the most manipulative set of teacher-created lessons I saw. It has not one academic objective. Instead of “The Wampanoag,” the lessons could have been titled “How to Cultivate Hatred of the Pilgrims.” The teacher clearly intends to make sure her students end up with no “misconceptions” about the Pilgrims, even grading them for parroting the politically correct response. What is especially chilling about this lesson was that not one teacher in the group saw anything remarkable about it. None raised a question about the flagrantly loaded nature of the quiz questions, at least while I was present.

You can see how easy it has become for children to be taught opinions instead of facts. Without their own basic knowledge of historic fact, they are easily manipulated into repeating the opinions of others. (I highly encourage you to read the full report. It’s free to download here.)

The result: a generation of people who find history dry and boring, and who are ashamed to be Americans; they view capitalism as evil; they view American exceptionalism as a crime; they see our founders not as heroes and wise men, but as tyrants, greedy land-grabbers, Indian killers, and slaveholders.

Thank goodness for primary sources! Primary Sources are the writings of those who made and witnessed history, such as diaries, books, letters, and official documents.

In the case of the Pilgrims, the Mayflower Compact is an official document, but it is explained by the writings of William Bradford, John Winthrop, and others who signed it and lived it.

The day-to-day lives of these Pilgrims, including why they sailed to the New World, how they got their start, their relations with various Indian tribes, their religious beliefs and practices, and the amazing beginnings of American Democracy are all detailed in multiple firsthand accounts.  

Join me in my next post as I share the actual story of the Pilgrims as they defy religious tyranny, give up everything to start new lives in a vast wilderness, and lay the foundations for a radical new form of government. It is a story of thrills, courage, sadness, betrayal (not the kind you think), prayer and thankfulness, treaties, and new beginnings. I will share a list of resources for re-learning what you thought you knew, as well as for sharing these amazing stories with your children, no matter where they attend school. 

Click HERE to read Part Two.

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