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Op Ed: Learning from our Youngsters

Op-Ed by Ed Munster.

The views stated here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the staff or other editors of this newspaper. Received January 17, 2022.

Do you remember the Art Linkletter show “Kids Say the Darndest Things?”  Linkletter would ask innocent children of 3, 4, or 5 years old some question and just let them talk.  It was a fun early TV program.  I have learned that speaking with teenagers can be quite interesting but a lot more scary.

Being a bit of a history buff, I asked some high school students about our country’s founding fathers. What I learned was that Thomas Jefferson was a very bad man who had slaves and raped his slave Sally Hemmings multiple times.  She produced six children as a result of being raped by him; he made these children into slaves.  I asked if the sex might have been consensual and I was told he was the master and she was the slave so she had no choice . . . it was rape!  I pointed out that Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence and played a major role in writing the U. S. Constitution so he did some really good things for our country.  The student immediately shot back that Jefferson wrote in the Declaration that “all men are created equal” which made him a hypocrite.  I asked, “But shouldn’t we give him a lot of credit to him for his role in creating the foundations of our country?”  There was a bit of a concession that he might have done some good things but we needed to be wary of his motives and whether he did these things to protect his wealth and his slaves.

So I asked about another founding father, Alexander Hamilton.  The kids all knew the words to the rap songs from the musical “Hamilton.”  I learned that Hamilton was also a bad man because he kept a mistress while he was married.  His role as a revolutionary war hero and in setting up the banking system that we still use today was never mentioned.

A younger student seemed to know a little about the founding fathers but did not say anything negative about them.  Another highschooler was familiar with the spicy stories about Jefferson and Hamilton and told me that one of his teachers brought these things up in a history class.   He said that students talk about these things on social media.   Another interesting comment was that he felt that only about 1% of students do their own research and draw their own conclusions.

On another occasion I asked a student about world history and what do you remember from that class. The first response was that the church was corrupt in the Middle Ages.  Positions such as being a Cardinal, or a Bishop were granted to people who would give bribes to the pope in power.

All these things about Jefferson, Hamilton and the Middle Ages popes are certainly true.  What concerns me is that if these are the things students are learning, whether in school or from social media, unless this information is put into context, our democracy and our society can be undermined in just a single generation.  All humans have faults.  John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton and the list goes on, all had their faults, but they were great American patriots who all contributed to making our country and our society better.  This is the lesson our schools should be teaching.

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