Sound journalism, grounded in facts and Biblical truth | Donate

Culture Friday: Flunking history


WORLD Radio - Culture Friday: Flunking history

The Nation’s Report Card recent assessment shows that students continue to fall behind in history and civics, and it’s not just COVID’s fault

Photo by JackF via iStock

MYRNA BROWN, HOST: It’s the 9th day of June 2023.

Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Myrna Brown.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. It’s Culture Friday.

Joining us now is John Stonestreet, the president of the Colson Center and host of the Breakpoint Podcast. John, good morning.


EICHER: Well, John, let's begin with the National Assessment for Education Progress. That's the Nation's Report Card, and the findings were that the nation is going to have to be grounded, I think. US history and civics scores dropped for eighth graders, only 13% performed at or above what the National Center for Education Statistics considers to be proficient. John, what is your assessment of the National Assessment?

STONESTREET: Well, my assessment of the National Assessment is thus: It is absolutely clear that the real problem here is the failure of the so called “educational experts’” to read polls and surveys and actually understand the data outside of their preconceived ideas. The headlines on this were talking about some huge drop in knowledge of civics. As soon as I saw that I realized, because we’ve been talking about this for at least seven or eight or nine years. Os Guinness has been writing for 10 years about how if we don’t have a shared understanding of civics, we don’t have much of a future as a nation. And in particular I think this probably has to do with online learning and parental interference in education.

In other words, the drop in knowledge of civics is because suddenly during COVID parents started to hear what their kids were actually being taught—which for the record wasn’t civics—and that they’re now to blame for this. And then you go back and realize that, as you said, in 2018 only 15% were proficient. And now that figure has dropped to 13%.

I think this crisis goes before COVID and the related parental involvement in teaching and school boards teaching CRT and woke transgender ideology. The problem is that educational leaders in America are developing systems that aren’t really about education at all. The reason that the civics scores are in such dreadful state has everything to do with what we think is true about reality, and whether we think historical knowledge is even possible. And both of those understandings have been completely undermined by postmodern ideals about truth, and about history and about human nature. That is, if this isn’t all COVID’s fault.

BROWN: I want to talk about the history part, John, let's continue this train of thought. So Fort Bragg, the nation's largest military base has been re-designated. You know what that means? It is no longer Fort Bragg. It is now called Fort Liberty.

EICHER: Well, liberty is a good thing, right?

BROWN: Well, yeah, yeah. But it's Fort Bragg. It's been Fort Bragg forever. It's Fort Bragg. Well, nine other name changes are in the works mandated by Congress to wipe away Confederate leaders. American history, okay. Braxton Bragg was a Confederate General during the Civil War. So to me, Well, I don't I just I want to know what you think, this kind of treatment of American history...that can't be helpful in the classroom?

STONESTREET: Well that begs the question: What’s happening in the classroom? Are we pretending that the way that the procession of history is somehow reliant on predetermined good guys and bad guys with this long arc of moral progress, so that every cause that we’re told in the classroom to believe in is part of this arc? In other words, if this is a part of that movement, then we’ve got a real problem.

I think that when it comes to statues and monuments, that history is why those monuments were put up in the first place. There’s more than a few examples in big southern cities of Confederate monuments that were really set up to intimidate former slaves and to remind everyone, "I don’t care who won the war, this is how we do things down here." Part of the history is understanding that, and that understanding is not a retelling of history in and of itself. So to correct that is okay.

The problem is that so often these cancellations—which sometimes are appropriate, though I don’t know what I think because I’m all about liberty—probably leave a whole lot of people who spent time at Fort Bragg unhappy about that. Fort Bragg was an identity for them that had nothing to do with who General Bragg was; it actually had to do with their own stories in the military. The problem with cancellation comes when it’s the only strategy, going without any other education and rooted in pretending that certain parts of history either didn’t exist, or in framing it such that we today are the good guys and they in the past are the bad guys meaning our thoughts on this are going to be somehow on a higher moral plane. You can’t do history if you don’t get the Fall, what we call the second chapter of the redemptive narrative. And what oftentimes happens is this: Just remove these things, pretend we’re the good guys of history, and then move on as if that settles the problem.

That doesn’t solve the problem. You need to actually go back and emphasize that, in history, you can have great people with allegiance to wrong causes. Most causes are mixed causes to begin with. Every single person is made in the image of God and is deeply fallen from sin.

You see that reflected in the leaders of the Confederacy, who were, at the end of the day, fighting to prop up something that was sinful and terrible. And yet, for some of them, the causes were different. They’re all still part of the American story.

It’s that kind of complication that is part of the human condition. And that’s really, I think, what the fundamental problem is with critical theory is: That it just oversimplifies everything and pretends that some group of people—usually it’s us—somehow has a morally superior perspective on things, and that we would have never done that. So I don’t know what the whole plan is here for the military in these specific circumstances. If this isn’t accompanied with a whole lot of other education and acknowledgement, it’s not going to be enough. It’s not going to solve the problem that they think it’s going to solve.

BROWN: John, you are often not very hopeful about the trends in the culture. And believe me, I get it. So I want to play something that struck me as positive and and I want to see what you think about it. During the Women's College World Series, three University of Oklahoma players were interviewed by an ESPN reporter about how they stay grounded. Well, you know how, how they stay joyful amid all the pressures of competing in a World Series. And the responses really drove a lot of interest online. You know what? Let's just listen to an extended bit of this, because I found it impressive.

INTERVIEWER: How do you keep the joy for so long when anxiety seems like a thing that can very easily set in?

GRACE LYONS: Well, the only way that you can have a joy that doesn't fade away is from the Lord and any other type of joy is actually happiness that comes from circumstances and outcomes. Thankfully, we've had a lot of success this year. But if it was the other way around, joy from the Lord is the only thing that can keep you embracing those memories, moment, friendships. That's really the only answer to that, because there's no other way that softball can bring you that because of how much failure comes in it. And just how much of a roller coaster the game can be.

JAYDA COLEMAN: 1,000% agree with Grace Lyons. I went through that my freshman year. I was so happy that we went to college world series, but I didn't feel joy. I didn't know what to do. The next day, I didn't know what to do for that following week, I didn't feel filled. And I had to find Christ in that. And I think that is what makes our team so strong is that we're not afraid to lose, because it's not the end of the world because our life is in Christ. And that's all that matters.

ALYSSA BRITO: Yeah. I think a huge thing that we've really just latched on to is eyes up. And you guys see us doing this and pointing out but we're really like fixing our eyes on Christ. And that's something we're likely we're saying you can't find a fulfillment and an outcome, whether it's good or bad. And I think that's why we're so steady in what we do and our love for each other and our love for the game. Because we know this game is giving us the opportunity to glorify God. And I just think once we figured that out, and that was our purpose, and everyone was all in with that. It's really changed so much for us. And I mean, I know myself, I've seen so much of a growth in myself with once I turned to Jesus, and I realized how he had changed my outlook on life, not just softball, but understanding how much I have to live for. And that's living to exemplify the kingdom. And I think that brings so much freedom. We have an eternity of joy with our father. And I'm so excited about that. And yes, I live in the moment, but I know this isn't my home. And no matter what my sisters in Christ will be there with me in the end, when we're with our king.

BROWN: Just let---all three of them one after the other.

STONESTREET: And the coach.

BROWN: And the coach. Yeah, that's true. So, John, so here's my question, John, hopeful, are you hopeful?

STONESTREET: I want to go back to your initial question, which says I’m not a very hopeful person. I am a very hopeful person, because as Chuck Colson would say, Christ is risen from the dead and because that is true despair is now a sin. To be hopeful doesn’t mean to be naively optimistic that cultural trends are going to improve. You’re hopeful about the whole story, not this particular chapter of the story.

I saw that video this week, and I was blown away. And I was like, what’s happening? This is the Oklahoma University softball team. Did they ask, did they go to Asbury and catch the revival there? I mean, what’s happening?

And it wasn’t just one player speaking on this, the whole team’s culture is reflected as “we don’t look at ourselves; we look up, and we look up because of the joy of the Lord. And whether we win or lose, it’s not about that. We do our best to glorify Him.”

They were doing an interview like you would see at the end of a Christian sports movie. That’s what it kind of looked like, where they’re just all in. And so I thought, “somebody needs to check on this place and see what has happened there.” It needs to be stated how they have actually been courageous. Where are the police officers telling us that you’re not allowed to do that sort of thing on ESPN, or at a state school like Oklahoma University.

The thing about this story is apparently they got into a little bit of trouble for how they celebrated. And they’re ready to crack down on sports celebrations. I mean, that’s been an interesting headline this year between the women’s Final Four and this, but when asked, that word “joy” kept coming up. And one of the things that was so striking, stunning to me is how strange that word sounds. This month, all we hear about this pride, pride, pride, pride, pride. Then when these ladies were interviewed, they immediately pointed outside of themselves not inside of themselves. There wasn’t “we worked so hard, this is what we deserve” or “we just want it more than everybody else” or any of the typical interview things. It was just like, we don’t do this for us. We do this for others, we do it for each other, we do it for our coach, and we do it for the Lord. And that’s where real joy comes from.

One of them even talked about having won in years past and not having joy. And now here they’re in the middle of it, and whether they win or not, they do have joy. There’s just so much of our culture right now that can be put into a category of “are you looking inward and defining all reality inside yourself?” My response is: “Are you looking outside yourself? For what’s true and fixed and real?” And when you see it, one leads to pride which, ironically, tragically, is one of the seven deadly sins. And the other leads to joy, which is infectious, and which brings them pleasure and God pleasure. I thought it was remarkable. Now I want to know if there’s some connection to Asbury. Those are the things I keep thinking about.

EICHER: All right. John Stonestreet is President of the Colson Center, and he is host of the Breakpoint Podcast. Great to talk with you, John. We'll see you next week.

STONESTREET: Thanks so much.

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.


Please wait while we load the latest comments...