Blubaugh: What is it about those who forget, er, never learn history?

My wife was talking about the 75th anniversary of D-Day this week when my seventh-grade daughter chimed in with, predictably, “What’s D-Day?”

That’s on us. Parenting fail. We gave her and her fifth-grade sister the CliffsNotes version and then watched the first 25 minutes of “Saving Private Ryan” so they would have a basic understanding.


This also had us questioning why she hadn’t learned about D-Day in eight years of school. In fact, she said she had never been taught anything about World War II whatsoever, save for some books set in that period she had read in English class.

This surprised me as World War II has to be among the most significant historical events of the past, oh, I don’t know, 20 centuries? So much of it feels incredibly relevant today, too.


Don’t get me wrong, they’ve learned about wars. Ancient wars. Medieval wars. And the Revolutionary War. (Of course, the historical figure they know the most about is Alexander Hamilton, but they learned that not from teachers or books but from Lin-Manuel Miranda.)

This is by no means a criticism of public education in this area. Carroll County consistently ranks at or near the top of Maryland school systems and, likewise, Maryland public schools are considered among the best in the country.

Certainly, they’ve learned a lot in elementary and middle school that I didn’t. I never laid eyes on a computer until high school, after all.

And they sure know a lot about Earth Day.

But it’s interesting to me what they haven’t learned. Nothing about the world wars. Or space exploration. They’ve never read anything by Edgar Allan Poe. And they can’t write in cursive.

Most of the criticism leveled at education over the past five to 10 years has had to do with common core math. And, for sure, I can multiply two numbers, get a correct answer, make a sandwich and watch a little TV in the time it takes my kids to solve an equation. But I never had a problem with common core because, as it was explained to me, by doing it that way, the fundamental concepts will become ingrained and it will pay dividends later in school.

I hope that’s the case because I was a math whiz when it was all about memorization — to this day, in a journalistic land where most reporters are decidedly mathematically challenged, I might as well be the guy from “A Beautiful Mind” — but once I got to high school and had to actually know what I was doing on a conceptual level, I was lost.

Memorization is frowned on today. When my daughter asked me “what is a myth?” recently and I immediately ripped off, verbatim, a 30-word definition I had to memorize in Advanced Grammar and Comp, I was pretty proud of myself. She looked at me like I was from another planet.

Education appears to have moved toward a model that makes reasoning and problem-solving more important than anything else. That seems to be a good thing. We’ve all known people who are “book smart.” They got straight A’s in school, aced all their tests, yet have little of what we would call “common sense,” and consistently make idiotic life decisions.

Perhaps it is because standardized testing is so important in today’s educational climate, but it seems that much of what goes on in elementary and middle school is geared toward comprehension. Whether it’s English or math or history, it seems kids are always being asked to read something and then answer questions about it, to be sure they understand what they just read.

Nothing wrong with this. Comprehension is hugely important. I know I struggle to comprehend what my co-workers are saying on a daily basis. (Of course, that may have less to do with my education than with the fact that I’m twice as old as most of them.)

I have a little trouble remembering exactly what I learned in school, and when, but the truth is, I’m not sure the history curriculum was much different in the 1970s and ‘80s. Like my daughters, I heard plenty about wars that took place way back when, but never word one about Vietnam. And not too much about World War II.


I personally learned a lot about World War II, but rather than in class I learned it from watching movies, reading books and looking things up in encyclopedias. (For those of you under 30, encyclopedias were the Google of the time.)

Looking back, the class that benefited me the most — hands down, so to speak — was typing. So I’m not sure if education was better or worse or about the same then.

I do know grades are better today. Of course, we never had second chances at tests the way my kids to. But if they learn the material, that’s what it’s all about anyway, right? Still, circling back, I do think they should be taught something about WWII prior to high school.

At any rate, it was nice to have a little impromptu history lesson with the kids and talk to them a bit about “The Greatest Generation” and the sacrifices that were made.

It was also nice to sit down with them to watch a move that was neither animated nor a musical. Maybe next week we’ll try “Apocalypse Now.”

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