Rush Limbaugh has written a book for young people to teach them the truth about American history. The book’s title is "Rush Revere And The Brave Pilgrims: Time Travel Adventure with Exceptional Americans." Dianna Ferrero, who taught history and is now employed by the Berkshire Athenaeum in the children’s section, asked me to read the book and to tell her what I thought about it. While I agree with Limbaugh that there is a need to better educate young people about their country’s history, he does not do it with this book. He just reinforces some popular myths about American history.
Limbaugh has a good idea for teaching history by telling stories about historical events. Rush Revere, his storyteller, is a middle school substitute history teacher with a magical horse named Liberty who can talk, disappear and take riders back to past historical events as they are happening. The teaching of history by storytelling for young people is more effective than teaching it from textbooks full of facts that young students have to memorize.
Limbaugh in his book chose the story of the Pilgrims coming to America, which begins with the horse Liberty taking Rush Revere with a student back to Holland where the Pilgrims are gathering to embark. Then there are trips to the Mayflower at sea on its way to America and the landing at Plymouth. Revere with the one and later two students get to mingle with the Pilgrims while students back in classroom watch a video feed.
Limbaugh tells the story of the Pilgrims in these various places, which is the way history should be taught, rather than having students memorize the name of the ship they sailed on, the dates they sailed and where they landed. But his story falls far short of what happened at these events and their consequences for America. Limbaugh’s story consist of short snippets of these Pilgrim adventures and includes what scholars and historian have come to call popular myths that have become part of American history.
For example, while on the Mayflower, Revere and two of his students witness the signing of the Mayflower Compact. During the signing, Revere makes the point that this is a key moment in American history because it is the brief outline of self-government in the New World, and "just as important to American history as the Declaration of Independence."
James W. Loewen, professor emeritus of sociology at the University of Vermont, in his book, "Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong," noted that while the Mayflower Compact provided a democratic basis for the Plymouth Colony, the framers of the U.S. Constitution paid little attention to it. But textbook writers, he noted, use this story to package the Pilgrims as the exceptional founders of an exceptional country, different from and better than all other nations. In other words, the Pilgrims got it all right. Loewen says this type of holier-than-thou and self-righteous egocentrism has had bad domestic and foreign consequences for America, from racism to invading Iraq.
At Plymouth, Revere and his students meet Squanto, the English-speaking Indian, who showed the Pilgrims how to fish and plant corn. What Limbaugh leaves out is that it was Squanto and other natives like him who practically saved the Pilgrims. This is the reverse of the story of Thanksgiving that students have been taught.
Loewen calls Thanksgiving "our national origin myth." It’s a story about God on the side of the Pilgrims tuning a wilderness into civilization, subduing savage, godless natives and the celebration of their exceptional traits, all of which is personified by the pictures and pageants associated with Thanksgiving. A story of well-fed Pilgrims turned out in their Sunday-best clothes showing concern for scantily clad, inferior, heathen natives by treating them to a feast. Loewen says that such a historical event, as played out in Thanksgiving stories, did not take place.
Limbaugh ends the book with Revere and two of the students at the first Thanksgiving in America. Limbaugh has Revere writing the word K-I-S-T-I-N-G-V-A-G-H-N on the blackboard in his class and asking the students if they knew what it is. He tells them it is the word thanksgiving. His point is that most people don’t seem to see history for what it is and when they begin to know the real people who were part of it, they see historical events differently.
What Limbaugh could have included in his book is that now, every November in Plymouth there is a celebration called "the National Day of Mourning" by descendants of Native Americans for their ancestors who were nearly wiped out by disease and warfare that began with the colonization of America. He could have included the story of Increase Mather, a Puritan minister, who preached about a land conflict with Native Americans by saying "God ended the controversy by sending the smallpox amongst the Indians."
Robert "Frank" Jakubowicz is a regular Eagle contributor.