One year ago I began to work to make the history of western civilization a graduation requirement in Idaho’s high schools. I am proud to say that the effort has made real progress. Rather than being one eccentric’s pipe dream, many have responded positively and a few have stepped forward to bring this dream closer to reality.
Judd Wilson, then a staff writer for the Coeur d’Alene Press, was the first person other than my long-suffering wife, Tina, to offer real encouragement. He interviewed me, took my idea seriously, and made a fine front page article of it (“Teacher promotes return of Western Civ,” July 16, 2018). In addition to giving this proposal wider coverage, his incisive questions revealed areas I needed to think through more clearly.
Les Atchley, CEO of the Atchley Financial Group, has become a real partner in this enterprise. He brings decades of successful experience in the worlds of business and politics, a subtle wisdom that balances my own impulsivity and inexperience in these realms, and a common-sense appreciation of people and possibilities in proper proportion. His willingness to make this cause his own has humbled me, and I can only aspire to be worthy of such trust.
Letters have been sent to every Idaho school board member, and I have made this proposal known to Idaho’s State Department of Education, as well as to several elected officials. I expect that my most intensive efforts over the next year will involve expanding and deepening these conversations. However, I am convinced that this will succeed if, and only if, everyday people begin to insist on the importance of western civilization’s history in the education of Idaho’s teenagers.
Local organizations such as the Rotary Club of Coeur d’Alene, along with its Evening and Sunrise chapters, have graciously afforded me opportunities to publicly advocate this proposal, as have the Coeur d’Alene History Club, the Reagan Republicans, and the Republican Women’s Group. I am eager to speak in front of other groups, including liberals, progressives, and Democrats. Western civilization is something that every single American shares in common. Regardless of one’s personal ethnicity, gender, subculture, faith, or convictions, we each inhabit a common American society. Our Melting Pot is, itself, a subset of western civilization.
The inalienable rights of each individual to freely dream, speak, and act on the basis of conscience within the broadest possible limits are quintessentially western, coming only from the western tradition. Nowhere else can a common person stand up to their leaders and survive, let alone succeed. Several thousand years of courage, creativity, and conflict have produced a society where the conviction of the individual can sometimes stand against the power of the elite as well as the tyranny of the majority.
Our Judeo-Christian western heritage includes the world’s only functional reform tradition, championed today by progressives and liberals. We need informed and empowered reformers to insist that we more fully live up to our ideals, and to point out where we fall short. Without them, we are prone to a self-serving self-delusion.
What students will do with an understanding of the West is a matter of personal choice. They might fight to reform the worst in our society, or they may strive to preserve our best qualities. In all cases, they need to understand where we have come from in order to effectively advocate a best path forward.
“World History” clouds the focus on the West by implying that all cultures are equally significant. All cultures have value, but the history of the West focuses on the narrative leading from the Hebrews, Greeks, Romans, early Christians, Medieval English, and Reformation Europeans to the Founding Fathers and beyond.
“United States History” begins too late, telling only part of the tale. Students also need to know the history of modern Europe’s industrialization, imperialism, revolutions, and world wars. Students must be mature enough to grapple with these lessons; the history of western civilization must be taught in high school, grades 9-12.
What memory is to an individual, history is to a society. Our identity is preserved, moment by moment, by our memory. If we continue to neglect the teaching of our history, we will lose what makes America special. It will simply be forgotten. We cannot afford to let our cultural identity become irrelevant. We must add the history of western civilization into our high school graduation requirements.
Ralph K. Ginorio is a Coeur d’Alene resident who teaches at CDA Charter Academy.