I hadn’t given it much thought before, but February is quite the month for history. After all, it’s Black History Month, and in addition President’s Day just passed. If Obama gets elected President, that would make next February the Perfect Storm of history.
Of course, if Clinton gets elected, that would make Woman’s History Month a big deal. Is there a Woman’s History Month? Should be close to Mother’s Day, shouldn’t it?
I don’t think much of the concept of dividing up our history. Black History Month? It’s almost as if we’re trying to marginalize the black experience into its own separate, compartmentalized area, and in my mind black people have been marginalized enough in the past. History should be taken all together, as a flow of events involving, influencing, and being influenced by everyone.
On the other hand, it’s hard to be even handed with history, which tends to celebrate the winners and ignore the losers. Everybody knows that famous battle involving George Custer and the Seventh Cavalry, but you’d be hard pressed to name the leaders of the Indian force that fought him – and they won the battle!
Black people haven’t been the proverbial winners through most of our history. It took almost a century to set them free, and another century to overcome lingering prejudice enough to pass the Civil Rights Act. Seen from that standpoint, the idea of a black President less than fifty years later is pretty remarkable. We’ve got a ways to go before all bigotry can be wiped out – if it ever can – but it’s important to note we’ve come a long way already.
So from that standpoint, you can see where the creators of Black History Month are coming from. On the other hand, such an idea could easily get out of control, and all of the sudden you’re looking at history months with titles like Hispanic, Asian, Native American, Women, Gay, Muslim, or any other group that contributed to society without getting their due. Then it degenerates into Danish (people, not bakers), Steelworkers, Pilate Instructors, Dog Walkers, and finally someone will suggest White History Month, which is when things will really get tense.
Adding enough extra months to the calendar will be quite the challenge. I’m plugging for Markuary, which will be between June and July. Markuary will be the time during which we celebrate Firefighter History Month, and will be spent contemplating everything from Benjamin Franklin and 9/11 to the firefighter/slaves of Rome and the artistic merits of half-naked firefighter calendars.
During this time, everyone who has ever run into a burning building or jumped from an airplane into a forest fire will get free chocolate ice cream, daily. Also, people must throw flowers at our feet and call us “sire”.
That last part is open for negotiation.
My suggestion would be to forget designating specific time periods and go back to – wait for it – teaching history in our schools. What a concept, huh? We could start by having our children in school, on holidays designed to give tribute to our historical figures. When schools close for Martin Luther King Day, how many kids spend six hours at home, studying the life, work, and saying of King? Not many.
Schools should be in session on most history related holidays, including President’s Day. Why? See above – precious few fifteen year olds spent that day rifling through the encyclopedia, trying to decide whether to study our nations presidents alphabetically, or chronologically.
One of our biggest problems is that we don’t learn from history. We just keep repeating the same screw-up’s, over and over. If we learned from World War II that if you ignore dictators they’ll continue building power and eventually attack their neighbors, would we have left Saddam Hussein in power at the end of the Gulf War? If we had learned from World War II that once you conquer a dictator, you usually have to occupy and rebuild their country for years, if not decades, would the current war in Iraq had gone very differently?
I could go on forever. Ask the Native Americans about uncontrolled immigration. Ask the Roman Empire about becoming complacent on national security. (Not everyone in the Roman Empire – let’s not get silly.) Ask President William Henry Harrison about giving long speeches in the cold rain without a coat on. Ask me about assuming my roof won’t leak again. You have to learn from history, people.
Here are some ideas on how we might make some of our holidays meaningful and educational again:
Labor Day: This one’s easy: Take your kids to work on that day. Unless you do something really unsavory, like drug dealing, or running for Congress.
Veterans Day: That would be a good time to bring actual veterans into schools to tell their stories, first hand. Or, you could have the veterans roam the halls during school, then assign them to any student who becomes unruly and show the kids what real discipline is like.
Guy Fawkes Day: Blow up Parliament. Or, watch “V for Vendetta”, which would probably be more socially acceptable.
Thanksgiving: Pray for three hours straight, then eat a meal of roasted corn, peas, fish, and roast venison. No pie. No stuffing. No football. Invite to your feast any Native Americans who may live nearby: While they’re eating, sneak over to their homes and steal all their stuff. I’m not at all sure how we’d get around the rules against praying in schools; perhaps, at the beginning of the day, an announcement could be made that there’ll be a test that afternoon; no bureaucratic rule could prevent the praying that would result from that.
Independence Day: Take a picture of yourself thumbing your nose, and send it to all your British friends. If they get upset, dump their tea in the harbor and invade Canada.
Groundhog Day: Track the groundhog down. Shoot it. Cook it according to traditional, historic methods.
Too much? Okay, I might still be a bit bitter on the whole six more weeks of winter thing.