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News-Sentinel.com Your Town. Your Voice.
Opening Arguments

History's mysteries

With "The War," Ken Burns is showing us details that we didn't know could still be learned about World War II. Maybe the series should be required viewing in all our high schools:

If high school juniors' answers to a World War II questionnaire were strung together, here's how history would look:

World War II took place in 19-something, when Theodore Roosevelt was president and the Germans claimed to be the best race.

Hoping to aid Third World countries, the United States joined the war to stop racism and end the dispute over Jews.

The head of the Nazis was a killer named Hitler whose evil partner, Mussolini, was president of the USSR. Ultimately, the war ended with the bombing of Iwo Jima and Hitler's suicide. Then a treaty was signed.

 Not every 11th-grader who answered a Chronicle questionnaire at San Francisco's Burton High School responded with such a fractured version of history. Eight of the 34 students said correctly that "Roosevelt" or "FDR" was president during most of the war, apparently remembering the subject they had studied as sophomores last spring. Most knew about the attempted genocide of the Jews, all but three recognized Hitler, and eight placed the war in the 1940s.

But others, perhaps suffering a temporary memory lapse, variously named George Washington, Teddy Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Richard Nixon and Winston Churchill as the war's main president. Eighteen students wisely left the answer blank.

It's one thing to shake our heads in amusement as Jay Leno goes out on the street and illustrates with his questions the ignorance of people about the world they live in. It's another to think that it is our schools that are turning out those people.

If I may go into Old Coot mode for a moment: I've noticed a lot of young journalists coming through here in the past few years have had no interest in history -- not just of the world or the country, but also of the community they're serving. Everything is about now and moving forward. So they have no perspective or sense of proportion, no way to really measure the importance of what they're covering in the grand scheme of things.

When I came back to Fort Wayne to work at the paper, I spend as much spare time as I had the first couple of months just reading clips, even though I grew up here and already had a pretty good grasp of the town's back stories. Part of what a newspaper should do is provide a sense of continuity, both in what is covered and how it is presented. How a community is perceived through the newspaper is a part of people's image of themselves that they carry around.

These days, we lurch from one hyped scandal to the next, and in between there is too information to deal with. So we just wade through it and keep moving forward. We need now, more than we ever did, perspective and a sense of proportion. 


Bob G.
Wed, 10/03/2007 - 10:25am

Those H.S. answers are about as "PC" as one could get...considering the skewed priorities we allow the youth (and subsequently the new adult generations).

I've always had a thing for history....in another life, I would have loved to have been teaching history. We NEED history to learn from. And we need to recall it as it happened.
Look around, and you can see that people have NOT learned anything from history, as they are repeating it daily all over the globe.

You're not in old coot mode, either...you're just noticing what is so obvious to the average, normal person.

Demonstrating our (collective) ignorance seems to our passion these days (present company and friendly bloggers excluded).

And yes, we do (as a nation) need a much better sense of proportion AND perspective.

Well stated!


tim zank
Wed, 10/03/2007 - 10:29am

Fellahs, the answer is so simple, we just aren't spending near enough money on education!!

A J Bogle
Wed, 10/03/2007 - 11:36am

More money for education is not the answer - my kids get a top notch education from the parochial schools that operate on a fraction of the public school budget, and in a 100 year old building w/o air conditioning to boot!

Check snopes.com - the fact checking site - that supposed history essay is an urban legend that has cuirculated the email world for some time.

Bob G.
Wed, 10/03/2007 - 1:41pm

Methinks Tim was displaying his marvelously sarcastic charm...again.

Right, Tim?



Wed, 10/03/2007 - 3:48pm

How soon we all forget. Better history education and blogs like this one and mine.

Good work
Steve Davis

tim zank
Wed, 10/03/2007 - 4:39pm

Yes Bob, that was sarcasm. I'm glad YOU'RE paying attention! HA!!LMAO..

john b. kalb
Fri, 10/05/2007 - 2:28pm

Leo - I'll join you in the "old coot" mode (72 years young in two weeks). An exception to your comments on young reporters is an young lady on your staff who has inpressed me ( even tho we don't always agree). Her name is Kathleen Quilligan, and you should let her supervisor know that she is doing the job expected of the fourth estate in this era.
That said, it's unfortunate that your post on high school gets abrieviated to H.S. - the short discriptor for the stupid Harrison Square ballpark project. I want to thank you for your inciteful comments about this item being forcibly fed to the city of Fort Wayne! John B. Kalb

Leo Morris
Fri, 10/05/2007 - 3:09pm

Agreed on Kathleen; she has spunk, to use an old-fashioned word, and a real drive to get the story.

Tom Pitzen
Sun, 10/07/2007 - 11:33am

Leo- I am inspired by your appreciation of local history. I was excited to learn when I was younger that South Wayne tried to secede from the big city in the 1880's. I also learned about some famous waterway that went right through downtown. It would be great if your paper published articles on the history of Fort Wayne.