Some parts of history worth the repeating

BY BOB WACHS, Columnist
Posted 10/13/21

There wasn’t any mail on Monday.

I knew there wouldn’t be but I walked to the box out of habit anyway.

It was Columbus Day. Well, not really, since Monday was Oct. 11 and Columbus Day …

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Some parts of history worth the repeating

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There wasn’t any mail on Monday.

I knew there wouldn’t be but I walked to the box out of habit anyway.

It was Columbus Day. Well, not really, since Monday was Oct. 11 and Columbus Day traditionally was observed on Oct. 12, the day ol’ Chis noted in his ship’s log that he had sighted land, an island in the Bahamas he named San Salvador, meaning “Holy Savior.”

It was in 1971 that Uncle Sam changed Columbus Day from Oct. 12 to the second Monday in October for two reasons — so that federal employees could have a long weekend and so there would be no mail.

In some parts of our country, the day is celebrated with lots of Italian-American events and food, even though the voyage was made on behalf of Spain; while in other places the day is referred to as “Indigenous Peoples Day,” to point out there were already people and civilizations from the Atlantic to the Pacific when ol’ Chris “discovered” America.

There’s nothing wrong with telling the entire story, but if that’s what someone intends to do, then they should do what they say they intend to do. Picking and choosing history reminds me of a Winston Churchill quote: “A nation without a past has no future.” History isn’t put here for us to enjoy; it’s put here for us to learn from so maybe we can do better in the future.

Well, all that started me thinking. I’m not against a holiday or two or even three. And I’m certainly not against the whole story, provided it gets told. And it’s not all that bad missing the mail for a day or so, especially when most of what comes is envelopes with picture windows in them or letters that begin, “Dear Sir, did you forget to mail your payment?”

What I was thinking about, instead, was what I perceive to be a change in how young folks in school are exposed to history, world and national and otherwise. Up front, let me admit it has been a year or two since I was in school myself, but I think my understanding isn’t all that far off since two career teachers are a part of my family and I hear from them from time to time about how things have changed over the years.

Among the things I hear are that school isn’t what it used to be. And, if you’ll permit, let me climb up on my soapbox and rant and rave and vent for a minute and say that’s not the fault of the teachers or the students. Instead, for one, there’s so much emphasis put on passing an end-of-course test that pretty much only measures how well you take a test that there’s no time to encourage learning or — heaven forbid — to have fun in school. It seems the philosophy once put forward which said you could have fun and learn something along the way isn’t to be allowed. And if you throw in a year or two of COVID and all that did to society, you have a recipe for disaster.

How that relates to ol’ Chris is that I suspect there’s little time to devote to him or much else that isn’t tied to “the test.” I know that the 8th-grade regimen I went through of a year of North Carolina history that culminated with a year-long project of a North Carolina scrapbook has been condensed to about eight minutes in the 5th or 6th grade.

That may explain why, for instance, the “man-on-the-street” segments on late night talk television — when the host asks passers-by such questions as “What year was the War of 1812?” or “Who fought in the American Civil War?” he gets such answers as “1945” or “1776” or “1927” for the first and “Japan” and “Canada” or “England” for the second and “Duh” or “I don’t know” for both.

To this day — and maybe this is either a curse or the sign of an undeveloped mind — I can still remember the little poem I learned for a 5th-grade play about explorers, a first-rate production produced on the old stage of my now defunct school. There I was, resplendent in my starched black trousers, stiff white shirt buttoned all the way to the top, white socks outside my pants to look like leggings and a pair of highly polished black shoes.

On cue, I intoned those immortal lines: “Holland (that was my country and I know it’s not where Chris was from) is a tiny land and hasn’t much room to expand. Its dikes protect it from the sea and there is peace and industry. But there are always men, you know, who long to see the world and go across the ocean deep and wide in other countries to abide.”

The point of my little part was to declare that among the reasons for early explorers coming to America was the promise of new lands and riches and the itch some folks have to scratch such.

Watching television the other night, I saw a number of college students who didn’t know anything about Chris but knew who Justin Bieber (or however you spell it) is and who’s currently playing “footsie” with him.

I remember school as plays and pep rallies and clubs along with the classes as a place I wanted to go to. There was no specialized this and that and committees ad nauseum. Am I to believe that the systems that produced members of my generation and those before and a few after were so totally inefficient and ineffective that they only produced generations of idiots so inept that a radical overhaul is the only thing that will help?

Or is it that politics and special interest groups and the like have come to rule the day?

On behalf of dedicated and hardworking teachers and administrators and other staff members, I invite anyone who thinks the problem is in the classroom to spend a month or a week or even a day on the front lines and see what kind of song they sing afterwards.

If the governors and the judges and the lawmakers had to live with what they create they might be a bit more careful what they create and expect others to implement. Maybe they’d find the funds to fund teacher assistants and other helpers on an “as-need” basis rather than as a political pawn every time it’s time to craft a budget.

Thanks, Chris ... it’s not your fault.

Bob Wachs is a native of Chatham County and retired long-time managing editor of the Chatham News/Chatham Record, having written a weekly column for more than 30 years. During most of his time with the newspapers, he was also a bi-vocational pastor and today serves Bear Creek Baptist Church for the second time as pastor.


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