History Lessons: Getting it Right

July 1st, 2010
by George S. Crimmin

[private] Clarence Darrow, an American lawyer (1857-1938) wrote: “Just think of the tragedy of teaching children not to doubt.” Indeed! What is most striking to me about this statement is, that as a child I was taught just the opposite. Do not question your elders, especially your teachers. Whatever you read in a textbook was accurate and true to a fault. No question about it, period.

Looking back one has to recognize the simplistic view of education 50 years ago – strong emphasis was placed on memorizing facts and figures, while very little importance was given to independent thinking and problem solving. Today, schools are faced with a growing awareness that success in the 21st century requires more than just core academic knowledge.

As global innovations transform the way people live and work, it is increasingly apparent that future success will depend upon an ability to adapt to change and to constantly learn and relearn. Students need to acquire a variety of social, technical and communication skills; including critical thinking and problem solving, which were, for the most part, excluded from my generation. I believe in this one area education today has changed somewhat for the better. I can’t help but take note however of a passage in John Derbyshire’s new book entitled: We Are Doomed: Reclaiming Conservative Pessimism. Dr. Derbyshire writes: “Education is a vast sea of lies, waste, corruption, crackpot theorizing, and careerist logrolling.” He continues by stating “If, as H.G. Wells asserted, human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe, we have lost the race, and had better brace ourselves for the catastrophe.”

I don’t share Dr. Derbyshire’s pessimism, but some of his description of education – specifically, educational bureaucracy, sadly rings true. The past 50 years are littered with hundreds of pedagogical fads and theories that did little to advance real learning. But now back to my theme of getting it right. In Honduras history, I was taught that on the 15th of September in 1821 Honduras declared and received her independence from Spain. Simple enough – but is it really?

Let’s review the facts. According to historical records Mexico declared its independence from Spain in 1810 thanks to the influence of the American and French revolutions, and perhaps most importantly, Spain was conquered by Napoleon Bonaparte and was being ruled by his brother Joseph Bonaparte. Total chaos and anarchy ensued, not to mention bloodletting for the following eleven years. In 1821 the treaty of C√≥rdoba was signed granting full sovereignty to Mexico, which immediately incorporated all of Central America except for Panama under its rule. Panama attached itself to Colombia to escape the bloody Mexican rule. This is undoubtedly the date Honduras proclaimed as its independence. But is it factual? Let’s continue. For the next couple of years, civil unrest, chaos, and violence continued, and in 1823 Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica joined together and formed the new United Provinces of Central America, freeing themselves from the clutches of Mexico. In my view, seceding from Mexico as a group still falls short of individual independence. Of course the united provinces of Central America were short lived. The bloody chaotic situation in Mexico was transported to the new provinces, and finally, from 1838 to 1841 all five provinces declared their independence FROM EACH OTHER! Honduras being one of the first to do so in 1838.

So, which is the real Honduran independence date, 1838 or 1821? I say 1838. But then again, we are reminded that “history is the propaganda of the victors”. There is also this by American author William Graham Sumner (1840-1910) “All history is only one long story to this effect: Men have struggled for power over their fellow men in order that they might win the joys of this earth at the expense of others, and might shift the burdens of life from their own shoulders upon those of others”. [/private]

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