Dementia is an insidious condition of the brain. Several diseases cause dementia including Alzheimer’s and recurrent strokes. The word “dementia” comes from the two roots “de” meaning “to reduce or degrade” and “mens” meaning “mind.” The hallmark of dementia is a lack of recent memory. In Alzheimer’s dementia, short term and remote memory also eventually decay. As the disease progresses, the patient struggling with dementia may experience poor judgment, disorientation, and changes in mood and personality. Dementia is a shattering disease for the person with the condition and those who love and care for him or her. The disease inexorably ravages the mind and then the body. The arrows in our medicinal quiver are pitifully few. The results of pharmacological treatment are generally disappointing.
My premise for this, my first blog, is that America is suffering from “national dementia.” Specifically, we are losing the collective memory of our national history. We are culturally demented, i.e. we have “lost our mind.” Studying history is critical regaining to our cultural health.
In 2011 Newsweek reported in its March 28 edition that only 62 percent of adult Americans chosen at random passed the basic history test given to immigrants seeking citizenship. A NY Times article from the same year reported American students were woefully inadequate in their understanding of history. In fact, the fourth, eighth, and twelfth graders tested scored lower on American history than any other subject in the assessment known as the Nation’s Report Card. Increasingly, a rigorous study of history is purposely omitted from public education in favor of more “culturally relevant” topics.
Some may ask, “So what? Why bother to study history at all? It’s just boring memorization of dates, presidents, and battles.”
You, the reader, have almost unlimited reading resources, but limited time. You must carefully choose what is worthy of your precious minutes each day. My goal is to give you something entertaining, educational, and thought-provoking. We will review and discuss topics of relevance to our daily lives and challenge each other to think. Most of our attention will be on works often overlooked, neglected, or forgotten.
History is the study and interpretation of the past. It’s the retelling of a story. It’s a collective memory of events and people who have come before. Today, unfortunately, many act as if nothing of importance occurred before their own birth. This is cultural narcissism. But, a cursory examination of any of the major fields of academics, the professions, and the craft trades yields the same conclusion- we owe a tremendous debt to those who came before. The physician, the attorney, the professor, the builder, the architect, the soldier, the farmer, the scientist, the homemaker each builds on the toil and sacrifice of hundreds or thousands before them. May we begin a journey where we discover the rewards of a diligent study of history.