Idaho’s State High School Graduation Standards do not now adequately prepare young Americans to understand or fulfill their civic responsibilities. This is because there is no requirement to come to grips with the rich history of our Western Civilization. As the United States did not spontaneously explode into existence, our Constitutional Republic cannot really be understood in isolation from its origins.
While the state’s Social Studies standards do include a model for a “World History & Civilization” course requirement in Grades 6-9, this approach teaches critical material too early, too quickly, and without the focus needed to make this material coherent. Middle School students simply lack the developmental capacity to really grapple with the complexities of our culture’s heritage. The details of this five-thousand-year legacy requires more time and attention than one school year can provide. And, wherever our physical ancestors originated, our culture and Constitution evolved specifically from Judeo-Christian European Western Civilization.
Many Progressives are eager to prune habits of inequity, right past wrongs, and build a better society. Many Conservatives are equally eager to keep the unique intellectual and cultural heritage that made us free a living presence in our everyday lives. We are healthier as a society for both ideals. Our Western heritage is something we share in common. In our increasingly discordant political dialogue, we would be wise to recall what brought us together to this moment of decision.
Here is one story that every young American should know. In 490 B. C., Greece was invaded by the Persian Empire. Against all odds, the Athenians had defeated the Persian landing force at Marathon. However, the surviving Persian leader had learned that the City of Athens would surrender immediately to any enemy forces that reached its walls in hopes of preventing a bloodbath. Reasoning that he could bluff the city to surrender before its leaders learned of their army’s victory, the Persian fleet made haste to reach Athens. One man, Phidippides, was told to run the twenty-six miles to Athens and tell them not to surrender. This lone runner hoped with every stride to be the deliverer of his people. His fear was that he would push himself too far and die, just short of passing on his message. He reached shouting distance and passed his message on to the startled Athenians who were just about to open their gates to the invader. He then promptly died.
What this reminds us is that one person can change the world. He need not be a Prophet, King, General, or Artist. He just needs to have integrity. Phidippides saved Athens, alone on his run, and with Athens was saved the next 2,500 years of Western Civilization. This one obscure athlete changed everything. We each should recall Phidippides when we despair!
Idaho’s individual School Districts should lead the State Department of Education in requiring all Graduates to have taken and passed a year of Ancient & Medieval History as well as year of European History since the Renaissance.