• Businessman pens book to combat fading history education

    By: SLIM SMITH, The Commercial Dispatch of Columbus

    Updated:
    COLUMBUS, Miss. (AP) - Randolph Russell did not come to the Columbus Rotary Club empty-handed Tuesday.

    The Georgia businessman and musician brought with him two boxes of his self-published book and a saxophone.

    "I brought the saxophone so that if you didn't like my talk you might like it," he quipped as he ended the program with a rendition of "America the Beautiful."

    For Russell, both music and history are occasional occupations and full-time hobbies.

    On Tuesday, he focused mainly on the latter, sharing with the Rotarians the importance of learning history and what drove him to publish his own history book. It is called "American History in No Time," which covers the broad sweep of American history from the pre-Columbia era until the 2016 presidential election (in his second edition, published earlier this year). At just 120 pages, it might just as easily have been titled "American History for Dummies."

    It wouldn't be an inaccurate title.

    "We've all seen those man-on-the-street interviews on the late night shows," Russell said. "Someone is asked the names of Christopher Columbus' three ships and he answers, 'The Nina, the Pina Colada and the Santa Margarita.' It's funny. What's not funny is what we see in the data. Just 12 percent of high school seniors tested as proficient in history, even lower than math or science, which has gotten a lot of attention, deservedly so.

    "There was also a survey of seniors at 50 American colleges, a group that included Harvard and Yale," he added. "In that survey, the average score was an F. In a Freedom Foundation, only one in 1,000 adults could name the five freedoms listed in the First Amendment."

    Russell is disturbed at that lack of knowledge.

    "To me, it's proof that our connection to our history is fading," he said. "We're losing our collective national memory. We're not keeping faith with our Founding Fathers. Patrick Henry said, 'I know of no way of judging the future but by the past.' I agree with that."

    Russell believes the way history is taught is much of the problem.

    "High school history books are 700 pages. In college, they can be more than 1,000 pages. These books aren't cheap," he said. "Students don't want to read them and it's pretty clear that little is retained when they do. Several years ago, I realized my own children didn't know many things I assumed they had learned in school. That's what got me thinking about the book. Can this information be learned quickly and easily? That's what was missing - a short overview of our history where they can learn the basics."

    Although children will benefit, the book is not written specifically for children, Russell said.

    "For adults, it's a refresher," he said. "You'll find things you didn't remember or things that maybe you didn't have quite right and, hopefully, some things that you never knew. History is a story and everybody likes a good story. So that's what I've tried to do here."

    For more information on the book, visit www.AmericanHistoryInNoTime.com

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    Information from: The Commercial Dispatch, http://www.cdispatch.com

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