And so the true aim of the study of history in the elementary school is not the realization of its utilitarian, its cultural, or its disciplinary value. It is not a mere assimilation of facts concerning historical events, nor the memorizing of dates, nor the picturing of battles, nor the learning of lists of presidents,—although each of these factors has its place in fulfilling the function of historical study. The true function of national history in our elementary schools is to establish in the pupils’ minds those ideals and standards of action which differentiate the American people from the rest of the world, and especially to fortify these ideals and standards by a description of the events and conditions through which they developed. It is not the facts of history that are to be applied to the problems of life; it is rather the emotional attitude, the point of view, that comes not from memorizing, but from appreciating, the facts. A mere fact has never yet had a profound influence over human conduct. A principle that is accepted by the head and not by the heart has never yet stained a battle field nor turned the tide of a popular election. Men act, not as they think, but as they feel, and it is not the idea, but the ideal, that is important in history.
But what are the specific ideals and standards for which our nation stands and which distinguish, in a very broad but yet explicit manner, our conduct from the conduct of other peoples? If we were to ask this question of an older country, we could more easily obtain an answer, for in the older countries the national ideals have, in many cases, reached an advanced point of self-consciousness. The educational machinery of the German empire, for example, turns upon this problem of impressing the national ideals. It is one aim of the official courses of study, for instance, that history shall be so taught that the pupils will gain an overweening reverence for the reigning house of Hohenzollern. Nor is that newer ideal of national unity which had its seed sown in the Franco-Prussian War in any danger of neglect by the watchful eye of the government. Not only must the teacher impress it upon every occasion, but every attempt is also made to bring it daily fresh to the minds of the people through great monuments and memorials. Scarcely a hamlet is so small that it does not possess its Bismarck Denkmal, often situated upon some commanding hill, telling to each generation, in the sublime poetry of form, the greatness of the man who made German unity a reality instead of a dream.