Maybe not everyone has heardI wrote a column last week about how newspapers helped spread the word about the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
As proud as I was of that achievement, apparently the word still hasn’t gotten to everyone.
A colleague of mine, who works part-time as a supermarket cashier, told me about something that happened on the Fourth of July, Independence Day.
As he rang up some groceries, a girl of about 10 asked her mother why the Fourth of July was so important. The mom told her daughter that it was a holiday — and seemed to be struggling with even a non-specific answer.
The little girl pressed the issue, though, asking what made the day special.
“It’s the day we won our independence from …”
And her mother’s answer just trailed off. The woman looked at my friend the cashier and asked “Who did we win our independence from?”
“England,” he said, in shock and disbelief.
Mom gave him a weak smile and said, “It’s been a long time.”
He wasn’t sure whether she meant it was a long time since she’d studied history in school or a long time since 1776.
The encounter saddened my colleague. It saddened me, as well.
But before I could let the exchange fade away, I took a second volley.
I was editing copy for the paper and website and ran across one writer’s statement that on the Fourth of July, we celebrate the signing of the Constitution in 1776.
I was flabbergasted.
Here, I was, thinking I’d have some fun, praising 18th century newspapers for helping get out the word of the impending revolution and imagining how such an achievement would be covered in modern times.
I guess we probably could benefit from media hoopla, after all. Because I suspect that mother, who didn’t know from whom we won our independence, would know all about the “Real Housewives of New Jersey” or “Jersey Shore.” Sheesh.
I have bemoaned the fact before that some kids these days are taught the concept of spelling — they don’t have to spell a word correctly, just demonstrate they have some notion of how it’s spelled.
Now I’m going to begin worrying about how history is taught.
Sure, I admit, I don’t remember all the history I’ve been taught, although I have a penchant for unusual history, little-known history, probably thanks to Brother Gregory, my sophomore history teacher in high school. He used to illustrate what we were learning from the book with little anecdotes that were absolutely fascinating. Tidbits such as the name of Sacagewea’s baby’s name (Pont; although named Jeanne Baptiste, he was called Pont by all the members of the Lewis and Clark expedition.)
When I lived in Old City Philadelphia, I made a point of learning the secret history of my neighborhood: That no one really knows in which house in the 200 block of Arch Street Betsy Ross actually lived (this jottle of information almost got me banned from the Betsy Ross House); where the first store with a display window was (2nd and Market,); where the illegal speakeasies were in the 1770s (along Front Street, some of them in caves.)
So, maybe I don’t remember all the details about history, but I’d like to think I keep track of the most important ones — especially those concerned with the creation of my country.