Why don’t we teach American history anymore?
George Washington’s birthday is Feb. 22. Abraham Lincoln’s birthday is Feb. 12. And Ronald Reagan’s birthday is Feb. 6. Instead of honoring Washington and Lincoln on the anniversary of their actual day of births, we combine them all into one holiday called President’s Day.
America is an exceptional country. We have become an exceptional country because of great leaders like Washington, Lincoln and Reagan. There are others too — like Thomas Jefferson, Teddy Roosevelt, Harry Truman and John F. Kennedy. Yet, many of our schools gloss over these important leaders, if they even mention them at all.
My kids learned about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and Rosa Parks during February when they were in school. That is a good result. King was a remarkable leader and Parks was the inspiration for many in the civil rights movement.
Still, how is it possible to overlook the significance of the leader who signed the Emancipation Proclamation that freed the slaves during the middle of the Civil War? It’s like we forget why his face is chiseled on the side of Mount Rushmore and why his memorial sits at the end of the National Mall. Lincoln was the 16th president of the United States and the first Republican to hold that office.
Washington was so respected by his men at the conclusion for the Revolutionary War he could have been the king of the new nation. Instead, Washington wanted to help create a nation built on liberty. And after serving eight years as president of the United States of America, he returned to his beloved Mount Vernon. He set the standard for future presidents and showed us that the role of the government is to serve the people and not the other way around.
Reagan’s clear vision and steady leadership helped land the release of the American hostages in Iran on his very first day in office. That resolve and determination later led to the fall of the Soviet Union brought on by his belief in peace through strength, by rebuilding the U.S. armed forces.
The Reagan tax cuts helped boost the economy and increase revenues to the federal government. The economic boom started during his administration continued into the Bush and Clinton years.
Most importantly, Reagan restored confidence in America again. He was an optimist who viewed the United States as the shining city on the hill. Americans went from a “malaise” under President Carter to renewed optimism under Reagan.
Every student in America should learn about these three exceptional presidents during their birth month and not just celebrate a generic holiday that exists to host sales on mattresses or cars, while giving bankers and federal employees the day off. These remarkable leaders — and others like them are part of what makes our country so great.
And while we are at it, students should also learn about a diverse group of leaders during Black History Month. In addition to King and Parks, our children should learn about exceptional leaders like Justice Clarence Thomas, who is the second African-American to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court and is currently the longest-serving justice. And others like:
Gen. Colin Powell, the first black secretary of state and served under three Republican presidents — Reagan, Bush 41 and Bush 43.
The Honorable Condoleezza Rice, the first black woman to hold the office of secretary of state. She served in that role and as national security adviser under President George W. Bush.
Dr. Ben Carson, the director of Pediatric Neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Maryland from 1984 until his retirement in 2013. He performed the only successful separation of conjoined twins connected at the back of the head. He currently serves as the secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Sen. Hiram Revels, a Republican from Mississippi, who was the first African-American to serve in the U.S. Senate. During the Civil War, Revels helped form regiments of African-American soldiers and established schools for freed slaves. After the war, he moved to Mississippi, where he won election to the state Senate. Revels’ legislative colleagues elected him to one of Mississippi’s vacant U.S. Senate seats.
It is also important to remember that escaped slave Harriet Tubman was a God-fearing, gun-toting leader who went back to free other slaves. She worked for the Union Army as a cook and a nurse then as an armed scout and spy.
Schools in America should provide an objective view of American history. If they do, students may be surprised to learn that our leaders were much greater than they thought and that Republicans paved the way for equal rights. Now that would be an education.
• Scott Walker was the 45th governor of Wisconsin. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him @ScottWalker.