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For students learning American history, what does just ‘the facts’ mean?

This article represents the opinion of the Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board.

Teaching history in Florida public school classes comes back to a simple proposition: “Teach the facts,” says Richard Corcoran, the Florida Education Commissioner. Well, here are some facts about American history. Which one should you know? And in what context?

Thomas Jefferson was the principal author of the Declaration of Independence, the founding document of the United States. He was also a slave owner, and almost certainly fathered several children with a slave named Sally Hemings. He never released her.

On July 4, 1776, the Declaration of Independence was adopted, establishing the newly independent colonies as an example to the world. Of course, the new nation counted nearly 700,000 slaves a few years later. Black slavery began in what is now the United States more than 150 years ago, and the majority of the Declaration’s signers—not just Jefferson—actually owned other human beings.

Cotton was king in the mid-19th century. By 1860, cotton had become the most important American commodity and made up two-thirds of the world’s supply. By the time the Constitution was written in 1787, the nation had produced almost no cotton, but with the outbreak of the Civil War, enslaved blacks produced more than £2 billion annually. But black slaves were the most valuable its origin: “In 1860, slaves as an asset were greater wealth than all American manufacturing, all railroads, and all the productive capacity of the United States combined. Slaves were the largest financial asset, by far, of property in the entire American economy, according to Yale University historian David W. .Blight.

President Woodrow Wilson was a foreign policy progressive who pushed for the League of Nations, an early version of the United Nations, and put a proposal for a just peace to end World War I in his Fourteen Point Plan. He also supported the Ku Klux Klan, which called blacks the “ignorant and inferior race” and re-segregated the workforce in the federal civil service after winning the presidency in 1912, reversing the practices of previous presidents.

September 1, 1939. Germany invaded Poland in a blitzkrieg, starting World War II. Poland fell, then Denmark and Norway, then France – most of Western Europe, except for Britain. The United States, the land of democracy and exceptionalism, stayed out of war for more than two years while Adolf Hitler controlled most of Europe and began the mass murder of the Jewish people.

December 7, 1941. Japan launches an air attack on Pearl Harbor, leading the United States into World War II. But until then, the United States had declared war only on Japan. War was not declared on Germany until Hitler declared war on the United States days later.

The United States played a major role in winning the war in Europe and the Pacific, and defeating fascism. However, the United States also helped drop an incendiary bomb on Dresden in Germany and remains the only country to use nuclear weapons, dropping atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945. But in the aftermath of the war, forward thinking and globalization were as expended as the Marshall Plan Also billions of US tax dollars to help Western European countries – including West Germany – rebuild their shattered economies.

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Wernher von Braun was a rocket scientist in the literal sense of the word. He designed the Saturn V rocket that shot Neil Armstrong and his crew from Apollo 11 to the Moon, won the “Space Race” against the Soviets and brought Earth’s inhabitants together in awe when Armstrong spoke of humanity’s “giant leap” from the surface of the Moon. Von Braun was also a Nazi who worked with Hitler to pioneer the V-2 missile. The letter “V” stands for “Vergeltungswaffe”, which means revenge or vengeance, and this is what the weapon inflicted on Britain at the end of World War II.

So what is the lesson from the scattering of these facts from America’s past? History is complicated. Facts need context. And educators need the freedom to ask the tough questions that get our next generation of citizens to think about what it means to be a Florida – and an American.

The editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. Editorial board members are editorial editor Graham Brink, Sherry Day, Sebastian Durich, John Hill and Jim Verholst, and Chairman and CEO Paul Tash. He follows Tweet embed On Twitter for more opinion news.


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