By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
CARROLL: Don’t know much about history
David Carroll
David Carroll - photo by Special Photo

Recently in this space, I wrote a four-part series on presidents of the United States, zipping through 235 years of American history. Some of the names are familiar, while others are largely forgotten, and it was my goal to give each of them their due. It turns out some of them aren’t due that much, but they got a mention anyway.

At my book signings, some very nice folks thanked me for writing the series and said they were clipping the columns for their children or grandchildren. “They aren’t learning much about presidents in school,” I was told. That’s exactly why I wrote those columns.

During some school visits related to my job as an education reporter, it became evident that in some classrooms, students aren’t getting American history, government, civics, and current events hammered into them like I did.

While showing some presidential photos to high school students, a very prominent president’s image was projected on the big screen. I asked the group of about 35 juniors and seniors, “Can you name this one?”

Only one hand went up. “Franklin D. Roosevelt?” the student asked. “That’s him,” I replied. I went on the explain FDR’s role in the Great Depression and World War II, and the fact that he was elected four times, a feat which is no longer allowed by our Constitution. For many of today’s students, these factoids were breaking news.

At another school I showed a photo of Richard Nixon. “Do you know this guy?” I asked. This time the response was stone cold silence. I explained that just fifty years ago (now considered ancient times, which breaks my heart), he was the first and only president to resign from office after evidence revealed obstruction of justice, abuse of power, criminal cover-up and several violations of the Constitution.

I got some push back on this one. A student wanted to correct me. “He wasn’t the only one who resigned. Don’t forget Donald Trump.” I said that Trump did not resign. The student said, “Sure he did, that’s what January 6th was about.” I spent the next few minutes clarifying some details about January 6th. None of us can really be sure who all caused that particular mess, but we know for a fact Trump did not resign. (Some of our elected officials believe he is still president, but that’s another topic entirely.)

Once I cleared the air about Trump, I mentioned the current campaign which includes President Biden, Trump, and Robert F. Kennedy Jr.

A student said, “Oh yeah, I’ve seen that Kennedy guy. His father was president, right?” I informed the class that Kennedy’s father had not been president, but that his uncle John F. Kennedy was indeed president.

The student said, “John F. Kennedy? He was an actor, right?” I said, “No, the actor who was elected president was Ronald Reagan.” I was again corrected. “Well, Trump was an actor too. I saw him in Home Alone 2.”

By this time I was worn out, and figured it was time to change the subject. But that little episode inspired me to write a few columns to try to sort out all the confusion.

Looking back, I was so fortunate that Edward H. Carter was my history and government teacher at North Sand Mountain High School in Higdon, Alabama. I still see him often and I always thank him for making American history a priority. We would occasionally steer him off topic into a discussion about current events. This was during a time dominated by civil rights debates, the war in Vietnam, and the Watergate scandal. We learned a lot on those days too.

You may wonder if today’s students (and some politicians) know the three branches of government, how laws are passed in Congress, the difference between state senators and U.S. senators, and other topics that were once drilled into our heads via textbooks and chalk boards. I could speculate about that, but I’m more concerned on whether they understand the importance of our democracy. In fact, I’m very concerned about whether some of our adult voters, elected officials and presidential candidates value democracy. I hope you are concerned about that too.

David Carroll is a Chattanooga news anchor, and his new book “I Won’t Be Your Escape Goat” is available on his website, You may contact him at 900 Whitehall Road, Chattanooga, TN 37405, or at