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SCOTT DREYER: Why Study History? Why Know Your Mother’s Name?

“A nation which does not remember what it was yesterday, does not know what it is today, nor what it is trying to do. We are trying to do a futile thing if we do not know where we came from or what we have been about.”   –President Woodrow Wilson


The Youngkin administration is seeking input on its new history and social studies standards for K-12 students. In our age of so many tone-deaf, unaccountable politicians, to their credit, the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) has not only opened a portal here to receive online comments, but they are also hosting in-person hearings where residents can register to deliver remarks. Also, kudos to Youngkin and Team for valiantly fighting against the rising tide of cultural rot and ignorance. Appropriately, the first session is at Jamestown and the second at George Washington’s home, Mount Vernon.

One session will be in Roanoke on Thursday, March 16 at the O. Winston Link Museum, at 101 Shenandoah Avenue. Registration of speakers begins at 6:30 PM, and the hearings begin at 7 PM. Speakers will have three minutes to speak and are asked to bring written copies of their comments. (Information regarding the Abingdon and Farmville meetings are at the end of this column.)

The topic of “why study history?” is so vast, I feel like tackling that in this column is akin to going to Virginia Beach and trying to measure the Atlantic Ocean in a teacup. But here goes.

We all have our own personal history that makes us who we are today. I share the following bits not with intention to boast, but to let you know where I’m coming from, why history is a passion, and why I write these columns for The Roanoke Star. Most of all, what I have and have become is the grace of God, not me.

I’m one of the rare people who actually enjoys history. Blessed to grow up in a family that valued reading and travel, we often visited historic sites and by elementary school I was devouring history books voraciously. (That reading habit gave me the verbal foundation to generate these columns for your perusing pleasure on a regular basis.) Our family moved from Indiana to Roanoke when I was a baby, so I grew up hearing my parents say “Virginia is a great place. It has mountains and the ocean, plus so much history!” Many weekends we drove to Colonial Williamsburg to visit my three older siblings, all of whom attended William and Mary, America’s second-oldest college established in 1693. I ended up attending there too, majoring in history.

Junior year was spent in Münster, Germany, where I rode my bike from class to class among medieval buildings and past the Friedenssaal, where the Thirty Years’ War was ended by treaty in 1648. I later graduated from W&M with a teacher’s license for history and German, and have been a professional educator ever since, having taught in both Virginia and Taiwan, and in both public and private schools, from kindergarten to college.

Regarding history and geography education, the need is huge. A friend of mine accompanied his colleague to the Roanoke DMV years ago to explain that his buddy with the New Mexico driver’s license didn’t need a passport or green card to apply for a Virginia license because New Mexico is actually one of the 50 US states. On that note, in my years teaching at Patrick Henry High School, more than one eleventh-grader corrected me when I mentioned “50 states.” “No, Mr. Dreyer,” they tried to explain. “All those states bunched up together are 50, and Alaska and Hawaii make 51 and 52.”

I tried to keep a smile on my face, explain the concept of “the lower 48,” and tell them that the US actually has 50 states now, and 50 stars on the flag. I then cheerily added something like, “I’m glad you said something, because at least you know now!”

You’ve probably seen the “man in the street” interviews where the ignorance of history and geography is legendary. In 2002, the National Geographic Society polled more than 3,000 18- to 24-year-olds in Canada, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Sweden and the United States. (Note, that age group should have finished high school and many be done with a bachelor’s degree.) Overall, Sweden came in first, Mexico last, but the USA next to last. Year 2002 was right after President Bush Jr. ordered US troops into Afghanistan following the 9-11 terror attacks, yet only 17% of Americans questioned could find Afghanistan on a world map. Amazingly, 11% couldn’t find the USA on a world map, and 29% couldn’t identify the Pacific Ocean, the world’s largest body of water.

Unfortunately, the profound ignorance is not limited to “the man in the street,” but recent events reveal it shoots all the way to the top echelons of power. Ignorance in schools generates a pool of ignorant voters who in turn vote for and tolerate ignorant leaders. You be the judge.

  • Let’s start at the top with “The Big Guy,” President Biden. Most are aware of his cognitive struggles, but none of us should be surprised, as they were on full display long before the election. In March 2020 at a campaign event in Texas Biden claimed, “We hold these truths to be self-evident. All men and women were created by the / go / you know the / you know the thing.” It seems he was trying to quote the Declaration of Independence, which tells us: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
  • My most recent column tells of the Newark, New Jersey City Council recently signing a Sister-City agreement with the Hindu nation of Kailasa. However, there is no such country. The whole city council including the mayor were scammed.
  • Agree or disagree, the Virginia Marriage Amendment passed by an overwhelming margin in 2006, a much bigger margin of victory than Sen. Tim Kaine (D) had on that same election day. When leftist Mark “Red” Herring became Attorney General (D), he disenfranchised all those Virginia voters who had supported the Marriage Amendment by announcing he would ignore that election and work to overthrow its results. (Voters later returned the favor by giving Herring his own pink slip in 2021, as outlined here and here.) When that case came to court, a federal judge for Eastern Virginia, Judge Arenda Wright Allen agreed with Herring overturning the 2006 election and disenfranchising those votes. In her opinion she wrote “Our Constitution declares that ‘all men’ are created equal. Surely this means all of us.” OOPS! That famous line is not in the Constitution. It’s in the Declaration of Independence! She later corrected her error in a later ruling, but shouldn’t we expect more knowledge about our nation’s cornerstone documents from a federal judge?
  • In news reports dated April 1, 2010 and which first appeared to be an April Fool’s joke, Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA) was speaking with a Navy admiral. Johnson seemed fixated on the size of Guam, a tiny Pacific island. He was concerned about a US plan to send more military units to Guam and claimed he was concerned that “it will tip over and capsize.” Showing amazing restraint, the admiral calmly replied: “We don’t anticipate that.” After the comments made national headlines Johnson said he had been joking, but the video shows dead seriousness. You be the judge. Rep. Johnson has been re-elected seven times since his Guam remarks, and he’s still there, voting on laws that affect you and me. What does that say about voters in his district?
  • White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre was on MSNBC in February trying to discuss the Chinese spy balloon and follow-ups. The anchor asked a fair question and one you’d think someone in her position would have anticipated: “Why is the American military shooting something out of the sky over Canada?” Jean-Pierre’s response is painful to watch: “Because it is part of NORAD. NORAD is part of like a … part of a … it’s a … it’s a … NORAD is what you call … a coalition?” she said as she struggled to find the right words and gesticulated with her hands. Throwing her a lifeline, the anchor said “A pact of nations?” to which she replied “A pact! Exactly.” In my teaching career, I’ve seldom seen a middle schooler deliver a worse presentation. Then she told the audience, “We did that in step with Canadia.” A Canadian is a citizen of Canada, but I think that’s the first time in my life I’ve heard someone mispronounce the name of our neighbor to the north. She appeared flustered in the interview, but shouldn’t a White House press secretary be able to speak English fluently?

The list goes on, but you get the gist. We Americans may laugh it off but I guarantee you, much of the rest of the world is watching. Our allies are in shock while our enemies are rubbing their hands at their good fortune.

I don’t intend to sound critically-spirited, but as the saying goes, “the first step to solving a problem is admitting you have a problem,” and our nation’s social studies ignorance is at crisis level.

In the spirit of “Don’t curse the darkness, but light a candle,” how can strong social studies education help us?

  • Knowing where we come from and how we got to where we are today gives us hope and direction for our future. Winston Churchill said “The future is unknowable, but the past should give us hope” and “The farther backward you can look, the farther forward you are likely to see.”
  • It can beef up our reading and vocabulary skills so the whole burden doesn’t fall on the  English teachers. Some excellent literature students could read in a social studies class may include Animal Farm, 1984, Fahrenheit 451, Hiroshima, The Jungle, The Kite Runner, The Wave, etc.
  • It gives you a body of knowledge to draw on. Scarily, some today say “There’s no need to know history (or much of anything else) today because you can Google anything.” That is absurd on several levels. So if you’re totally reliant on Google, and the power goes out during a storm or your router croaks or your phone battery dies — you can no longer think or solve problems, because you have no knowledge to draw from? Or God forbid terrorists or maniacs blow up your power substation or an enemy state detonates an EMP device that knocks out America’s power grid. Are you supposed to stop thinking for a year or two until the power comes back on? Plus, now that the Twitter files have revealed despicable and unconstitutional censorship on free speech from both Silicon Valley and the government, if you still think Google is a “fair broker,” please contact me. I’d love to give you a great deal on some beachfront property in Kentucky.
  • It helps you spot errors and lies. Democrats in the Virginia Senate, including Sen. John Edwards of Roanoke, recently killed HB 1816 that would mandate the governor to declare each November 7 as “Victims of Communism Day” and required public K-12 schools to commemorate the day and include teaching about the horrors of the ideology that killed some 100 million in the 20th century. Their explanation? The teacher’s union VEA claimed they were “concerned that this bill would subject Asian American students to anti-Asian sentiments.” That is absurd on many levels, including the fact that the founders of Communism, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, were white Europeans and the same goes for the people who created the USSR, the world’s first communist nation: Vladimir Lenin and Leon Trotsky. Plus, if the Dems cared about Asians, why as reported here did they kick a South Asian immigrant woman of color from the Virginia Board of Education?
  • It helps you make connections, which is a sign of a well-trained mind. Taking advantage of the simple, uneducated Russian masses, the Communists used the simple slogan “Peace. Land. Bread.” to make Russia communist. Maybe it’s just me, but the slogan from Del. Salam “Sam” Rasoul (D-Roanoke) “Truth. Love. Grit.” sounds eerily similar.

Neither time nor space lets us discuss how a knowledge of history helps us better understand geography, economics, the role of religion, how we can better preserve our liberties, etc.

We’ll close with some quotes…from history!

“The foundation of every state is the education of its youth.”  –Diogenes

“Education is the key to unlock the golden door of freedom.”  –George Washington Carver

“The philosophy of the school room in one generation will be the philosophy of government in the next.” –Abraham Lincoln


Other upcoming VDOE hearings:

Monday, March 20, 2023: Southwest Higher Education Center, 1 Partnership Circle, Abingdon

Tuesday, March 21, 2023: Robert Russa Moton Museum, 900 Griffin Blvd, Farmville 

–Scott Dreyer

Scott Dreyer at Bryce Canyon
Scott Dreyer M.A. of Roanoke has been a licensed teacher since 1987 and now leads a team of educators teaching English and ESL to a global audience. Photo at Utah’s iconic Bryce Canyon. Learn more at






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