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A Perfect Solution to the Statue-Toppling Problem

3 ¼ min

Schools ought to teach history, not protest it.


A number of teachers at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill have pledged to withhold more than 2,000 grades in protest over the university's plans to house "Silent Sam" in a separate on-campus building. Silent Sam is a statue of a Confederate soldier that stood in the quad at the university until students illegally toppled it earlier this year.


The controversy at UNC-Chapel Hill is just one of many such protests across the country, including on university campuses, where the interest in protesting history seems to exceed the interest in actually studying it. In fact, there seems to be a direct correlation between the general ignorance of our history and the strength of our opinions about historical events.


According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, only 18 percent of eighth grade students are proficient or better in their knowledge of history. And schools are spending an increasing about of time on test prep and "skills" courses that take away emphasis from actually knowing anything.


But I've got a solution: Any faculty or student protester wanting to participate in the desecration of historical monuments should have to take a history test.


When student or faculty mobs begin to gather on the green of a college or university, and indicate by their mindless chants and sloganeering that they wish to take down a monument, and when college administrators (not the most resolute or principled people) begin to experience anxiety and cowardice in the face of established rules of behavior, there should be a team of people ready to run out on the green with portable tables, pencils, and test forms.


Aspiring topplers should have to answer a battery of questions about the person whose statue is being protested, the position he occupied, the historical context of his life, and the actions he performed, good and ill. The test would include a long essay section in which the protester would write an argumentative essay identifying the person in question, explaining the issue surrounding the protest, and setting forth his or her argument in valid syllogisms, and taking into account arguments on the other side of the protester's position.


With footnotes.


Instructors with an actual knowledge of history (if any can be found) should be on call to perform the duty of grading these tests and rendering an intelligent opinion of the case the student has set forth in his or her essay.


You can't topple the statue until you pass the test. 


Oh, and if the students are brandishing signs bearing protest slogans, they should be checked for spelling and basic grammar.


Yes, many college students are functionally illiterate or incapable of writing a competent argumentative essay. Yes, many students (and faculty) are also culturally illiterate and do not know basic facts about history and cannot tell when major events happened or what they were even about. 


But think of the benefits: Maybe it will create incentives for protesters to actually know something. Maybe the chants and slogans would be transformed into intelligent debates about social and political issues.


Imagine that.




[Image Credit: Martin Kraft CC BY-SA 3.0]

Martin Cothran

Martin Cothran

Martin Cothran is the editor of Classical Teacher magazine, published by Memoria Press, and the director of the Classical Latin School Association.

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I think we all ought to protest history. Much of the history I was taught has been ridiculous and I do think a few statues ought to be toppled here in Canada. I assume the same entitlement ought to be given 'Americans'. We have had some very criminal leaders who have statues commemorating them all across Canada and there are two ways to go: One have our governments take down the offending statues... Two have the people tear them down. I don't agree with the history I was taught and too many statues glorify horrid men...Yes particularly men! I believe 'history' ought to be reviewed all the time and not to settle in compliance with the past views that put up statues of arrogant men that detested other cultures yet have their memory standing tall as their truths are now finally being taught. These statues now represent oppression rather than glory and they ought to go.


Reminds me of Chesterton: 'In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them, there is one plain and simple principle; a principle which will probably be called a paradox. There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, "I don't see the use of this; let us clear it away." To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: "If you don't see the use of it, I certainly won't let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it.'


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Too many statues carry forward the oppression of the past and with it it carries forward prejudices no longer tolerated in a civil society. Therefore, with respect to all cultures, they ought to go.