from A Year of Morning Thanks
Not so long ago, at a high school in South Dakota, I was amazed to discover that very, very few students--only one really, in two whole classes--knew even the names of the greatest Lakota chiefs of South Dakota—Crazy Horse, Sitting Bull, Red Cloud, Spotted Tail. In one class, no one did—not a single student. Only with a little prompting did I get any kind of answer at all--"Come on, big memorial out in the Black Hills, big carving, going on for years???"
"Oh, yeah," some kid says, "Crazy Horse."
I've been a teacher too long to blame teachers. In fact, I don't know who to blame. I suppose it may be more important in these early years of the 21st century for students to know Middle Eastern history and culture than it is to know their own, but I was still surprised and saddened.
I don’t care--sign me on Socrates’s team because I think the quest to “know thyself” is fundamental to knowing anything, absolutely fundamental. If you don't have a clue about who you are and where you've come from, you've got some variant form of early onset Alzheimer's--there, I've said it.
And in case you're wondering, I took the opportunity to scold those kids (with some humor) and to tell them that they should really know more about their own story. South Dakota would be a great place to teach history--field trip every other week.
I hope it doesn't sound arrogant to say it this way, but I believe it: I'm thankful for history because it's taught me a great deal about what it means to be me.