U.S. history an innovative field worth teaching
Last month, the federal government declared lights out on the incandescent light bulb. Now we’re supposed to convert over to compact florescent bulbs, or jars filled with fireflies. Thomas Edison’s hot-filament-in-a-bulb technology lasted more than 130 years and would have kept going except for regulatory decree.
Schoolchildren should know something about revolutionary breakthroughs like the original light bulb. But since 2009, when state officials canceled a plan to make passage of a U.S. history MCAS test a graduation requirement, our students haven’t been learning much about history, or the legacy of scientific discovery that has made America unique.
In 1743, Benjamin Franklin founded the American Philosophical Society, a forum for scientists and thinkers to discuss their gadgets and ideas. This statesman-scientist went on to invent the Franklin stove, bifocal eyeglasses, the lightning rod, not to mention our republic’s experiment in ordered liberty.
Half-a-century later, in 1794, Eli Whitney created the cotton gin, Samuel Morse developed his telegraph and code in 1836-38, and in 1876, Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone. As one historian has written, profiles of American innovators help us “remember who we are.”
Our nation’s ability to foster ideas and invent contraptions contributed mightily to our national ascent. Goodyear rubber, steel production, the Kitty Hawk Flyer, auto manufacturing, jazz music, Hollywood, IBM, biotechnology, Google, and Apple’s iPod, iPhone and iPad are just a few examples of how America’s ingenuity has revolutionized our economy and transformed the world.
Called the “Wizard of Menlo Park,” Edison also invented the phonograph and the motion-picture camera. And through his facilities in New Jersey, he also pioneered the first industrial research laboratory, where he invented many of the 20th century’s major technologies.
Edison is still the American with the most individual patents — 1,093 in the U.S. and 1,200 in 34 foreign countries. Considering that he struggled with deafness and had no higher education, one would think that American schoolchildren would find his example inspiring.
It didn’t take long for this American spirit of innovation to become part of the new nation’s identity. Delegates to the Constitutional Convention unanimously concurred with James Madison’s proposal to add an authors and inventors clause that secured copyrights into the U.S. Constitution.
Then Thomas Jefferson established the U.S. Patent Office, which protected inventors’ exclusive right to profit from their inventions. More than 200 years and 7 million patents later, Jefferson’s pet project has guarded America’s precious intellectual property.
As Abraham Lincoln once said, “the patent system added the fuel of interest to the fire of genius.”
Today, the U.S. has just 5 percent of the world’s population, but accounts for a majority of its innovations. IBM alone holds about 40,000 patents, more than any other entity. Nevertheless, globalism has unleashed 3 billion new capitalists in China, India and Russia, who will work and manufacture for far less, often pirating our most prized technology.
Regrettably, this is largely hidden from American students, whose U.S. history test scores have been horrendous for 20 years. Thanks to the elimination of the U.S. history graduation requirement, entire history departments have disappeared from Massachusetts schools.
Instead of historical facts and hard sciences, career educationists lobby for national standards with weaker academic content, push softer so-called “21st-century skills,” and disparage the ideal of a liberal arts education for citizenship in favor of mindless school-to-work jargon. Not surprisingly, rising dropout rates and declining student achievement result wherever these supposed innovations have been implemented.
A sign over Edison’s desk read, “There is no expedient to which a man will not resort to avoid the real labor of thinking.”
While education bureaucrats talk a good game when it comes to innovation, their lack of appreciation for our nation’s politically brilliant and scientifically dynamic past jeopardizes our schoolchildren’s futures.
Without further delay, we need to restore the U.S. history MCAS graduation requirement, and with it students’ basic understanding of our history and its inventions as the wellspring of America’s greatness. If we don’t, our country’s principles themselves may soon be counterfeited, or stolen outright.
Also seen in Lowell Sun Online, The Herald News and Education News