One of the realities of getting old is that many of the events that are fresh in your memory are merely history to many. Yet knowing and understanding the actual history of events is pretty important, most especially for those involved on the playing field of public policy.

When it comes to history, there are actually two mistakes that are being made: simply ignoring it or writing it to conform to a given ideology, torturing facts to suit that ideology.

Even faulty history is better than no history.

This past weekend, I had the occasion to watch some of PBS’ documentary on the Roosevelts. During one their breaks to appeal for donations, a host inquired how many of those in the room were familiar with the Roosevelts. Two hands were raised. That is an indictment of the education system, if ever there was one. How is this even barely possible? How can any serious person believe that our children should not know a great deal about both Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt? Far too often, Americans are going through their education process largely ignorant of our own history.

If we can get some agreement that history deserves a prominent place in our classrooms, then we are compelled to care about what that history contains. Liz Cheney, the wife of former Vice President Dick Cheney, provided a detailed critique of the content of the history being taught in public schools more than 25 years ago. That study made clear beyond any reasonable doubt that facts were being tortured and twisted to conform to a liberal ideology. This is reflected both in what included and omitted, as well as how something is treated.

In the history book my children used a decade ago, more attention was given to Thomas Jefferson having fathered children by his slave Sally Hemmings than to his role in the Declaration of Independence. Such was the case despite doubt surrounding whether or not Thomas Jefferson ever did father children with Sally Hemmings. .

But most troubling, there is no demand to remove the material declaring, without equivocation, that Jefferson had children with his slave. Perhaps this is because the liberal community is too keen on invoking its favorite excuse for ignoring actual facts: the “larger narrative” is more important.

Under such thinking, because slavery was truly evil (and it was) and slave owners abused their slaves, including sexually, (and they did), misrepresenting Thomas Jefferson is a lesser sin than not making sure our children focus on the evil of slavery. From where I sit, there is ample information about the wrongness of slavery to be able to cover that subject without needlessly besmirching Jefferson.

The historical presentation of the Reagan presidency provides a more recent example of tortured logic. Go back to the coverage of events in real time when President Reagan was a candidate and then President. There is no shortage of material asserting that Reagan’s insistence to build up our military to combat the aggressiveness of the Soviet Union was totally wrong. The argument was that it failed to accept where the two nations stood, that our build up merely invited a counter response from the Soviet Union that would lead to terrible consequences, including actual war.

History proved differently though.

Our build up did cause the Soviets to respond, but the outcome was that their economy collapsed. The eventual result was the crumbling of the Soviet Union and an end to the Cold War. But mainstream history today asserts that the decline of the Soviet Union was largely inevitable and that Reagan’s actions were controversial. There are history books where the Mideast Accords negotiated under President Carter are given more attention and more praise than anything done by President Reagan. You don’t have to be a card carrying Republican to believe that Reagan was a superior President compared to Carter.

All of this reflects itself into how a lot of Americans think about things in the present tense. A recent letter to the editor in the Washington Post focused on the anxiety faced by the writer when he crossed from the District of Columbia and found himself on Lee Highway – named after General Robert E. Lee. He wants the highway renamed, post haste, arguing that Lee was a traitor who fought for the Confederacy and owned slaves himself. Not a single other aspect of General Lee is likely known to him or of any concern. As a proud graduate of Washington and Lee University, you can imagine my position is a little different. I believe that anyone who spent 30 minutes studying General Lee would likely conclude he was both a hero and leader worthy of respect and recognition. No matter what, it is a mistake to allow such distorted, limited, and ideologically-driven ways of thinking to prevail.

Ultimately, a point of view is always associated with the writing of history. Charles and Mary Frances Beard’s “An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution” was a critical contribution to understanding that more than philosophy dictated how our Constitution came to be. That does not mean their overall conclusion that economics dictated everything is correct.

America needs a pluralistic approach to history where competing points of view are given voice, serious in tone and approach, avoiding being simplistic, orthodox, and rigid. Our country should take a fresh look at the importance of history in our lives. We ought to commit to it being given a prominent spot in the education of our children and do what we can to see that its content is dominated by facts treated fairly in terms of what is included, not included, and emphasized.