Whitney White-Ashley

Two political cartoons ran in the E-T on Tuesday and really struck a cord with me.

The first one showed the pilgrims rowing into Plymouth Rock only to find the Native Americans, who were already thriving here, building a fence to keep them out.

In the second one, a young boy asks his grandfather why the Great Depression was so great.

I guess these really stuck out for me because not that long ago I was confronted with a frightening realization of my own, and our own ignorance of who we are as Americans and our role in world history.

I was a bit of a late bloomer when it came to higher education. I was always a good student and made mostly A’s in school. I even received an academic scholarship to a university when I graduated from high school. But I was tired of school and decided what I wanted to learn couldn’t be taught in books. So I dropped out of school and took on the world. One marriage and two children later I found myself back in my hometown of Stephenville and back in school to finish my degree.

I was working in a graphic design class when I first realized I was at least 10 years older than the next oldest student. The girl next to me was creating a flyer for a Holocaust exhibit and had a photograph taken from inside a Nazi concentration camp. The image showed men, emaciated and crammed into wooden shacks. Our professor told her to somehow work in the Star of David so that people would understand where the picture was from. I politely disagreed. I argued that it was such a strong image and surely anyone alive today would instantly recognize what the picture was. He said people from my generation would, but their generation (the other students in the class) probably would not.

I would have brushed such a comment off if it hadn’t been for an even more startling event in another class a few weeks later.

This time it was a broadcasting class and our professor brought in clips of the Kennedy assassination to illustrate coverage of major breaking news events.

A bit of a history nut, I’ve seen these clips a million times. I know the story. I know the timeline. I know the theories and the major actors. I cannot explain to you my horror when I started to hear gasps and comments circulate through the classroom as the familiar newsreels played on.

“Why would anyone shoot Kennedy?”

“Who is Oswald?”

“Who was the guy that shot Oswald?”

“Did Oswald make it?”

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. How can it be that a group of college juniors and seniors don’t have a clue what happened to a major United States president less than 50 years ago no more than 150 miles down the road? A moment that has been defined as an integral part of American history and most certainly our own local history.

I continue to be struck by how little we as Americans know or care about our past, even the past that is not that far behind us. It seems to me that if we paid a bit more attention, we would not be in the crisis we are now. We would know what made the Great Depression great and we would understand just how hypocritical many of our policies have become.

If you want to know what our future holds, I suggest you pick up a history book.

Whitney White-Ashley is a staff writer at the Empire-Tribune. She can be reached at 254-968-2379, ext. 229.