Elbow Room

Dave Griffey at Daffey Thoughts takes a look at the old Schoolhouse Rock video Elbow Room:


We watched this with our youngest while back, and my older boys – having come in contact with modern educational standards – dropped their jaws.  We had it when they were little, but didn’t watch it that much.  When we watched it this time, they said wow, did you really learn that Westward expansion was a good thing?  When they were in school, this was compared to Lebensraum.  Manifest Destiny?  That’s like praising Mein Kampf.  Did we really think it was good?

Yeah, we did.  Not that we didn’t admit to the bad.  I remember learning about the Trail of Tears all the way back in the mid-70s.  And we weren’t the first to generation hear about it.  Same with slavery.  It isn’t as if Americans thought slavery was an awesome chapter in our history before Roots.  America has been wrestling with the more sordid episodes in its history pretty much from the beginning.  Heck, we even learned that Manifest Destiny wasn’t all that and a bag of chips.  What makes it different today is that there is nothing but sheer condemnation.   We were not a great nation with evil and injustice in its past, increasingly we are seen as an evil, racist nation with only the slightest hope of redeeming itself.

It would be better if we learned American history the way we learn about Islam.  Their high school World History book laid out the template.  Sure, the Islamic world launched invasions and conquests, indulged in a vibrant slave trade and even made multiple attempts at invading Europe.  But let’s not dwell on the negatives (which the textbook didn’t).  Those don’t define Islam.  Most of the lesson was on the nuts and bolts, or on the positives.  Which is good. If only we applied that standard to US history, imagine how youngsters might see things today.


Go here to read the comments.  I am old enough to recall public schools before so many teachers became leftist hacks, more interested in indoctrination than in education.  I learned such facts as that Abraham Lincoln opposed the Mexican War and that General Grant thought the Civil War was the punishment of God on the nation for the Mexican War.  General Lee also thought the Civil War was punishment for the national sins of America.  As for popular entertainment, look at this scene from Walt Disney’s Davy Crockett that virtually all kids watched in the fifties and sixties:


Honest history is always the best history.  Instead of the leftist tripe that today infests too many American classrooms we need truthful history that reveals the good and bad of our past.  My own view mirrors that of Stephen Vincent Benet in The Devil and Daniel Webster in Webster’s closing argument to the jury of the damned:

Till, finally, it was time for him to get up on his feet, and he did so, all ready to bust out with lightnings and denunciations. But before he started he looked over the judge and jury for a moment, such being his custom. And he noticed the glitter in their eyes was twice as strong as before, and they all leaned forward. Like hounds just before they get the fox, they looked, and the blue mist of evil in the room thickened as he watched them. Then he saw what he’d been about to do, and he wiped his forehead, as a man might who’s just escaped falling into a pit in the dark.

For it was him they’d come for, not only Jabez Stone. He read it in the glitter of their eyes and in the way the stranger hid his mouth with one hand. And if he fought them with their own weapons, he’d fall into their power; he knew that, though he couldn’t have told you how. It was his own anger and horror that burned in their eyes; and he’d have to wipe that out or the case was lost. He stood there for a moment, his black eyes burning like anthracite. And then he began to speak.

He started off in a low voice, though you could hear every word. They say he could call on the harps of the blessed when he chose. And this was just as simple and easy as a man could talk. But he didn’t start out by condemning or reviling. He was talking about the things that make a country a country, and a man a man.

And he began with the simple things that everybody’s known and felt—the freshness of a fine morning when you’re young, and the taste of food when you’re hungry, and the new day that’s every day when you’re a child. He took them up and he turned them in his hands. They were good things for any man. But without freedom, they sickened. And when he talked of those enslaved, and the sorrows of slavery, his voice got like a big bell. He talked of the early days of America and the men who had made those days. It wasn’t a spread-eagle speech, but he made you see it. He admitted all the wrong that had ever been done. But he showed how, out of the wrong and the right, the suffering and the starvations, something new had come. And everybody had played a part in it, even the traitors.



More to explorer


  1. That’s one thing that always strikes me about classic entertainment like Davey Crockett: that it was absolutely not what the modern world pretends it was. Bigotry was always (or more often than not) shown to be a bad thing, and American history was honored, but rarely sugarcoated. I find most of it was far more mature (in the true sense of showing an adult mindset) than much of what we get today.

    Of course, I imagine that’s why it gets mocked so much; can’t afford to let dangerous ideas into the minds of the masses, so teach them to regard the past with contempt.

  2. It’s the leftist take-over of education. It’s not their faults that they’re brainwashed. They represent generations of American “students” that have been corrupted (“democratic” Athens forced Socrates to drink hemlock) with so-called “American Studies” classes that solely taught BS, PC (universal deceit) victim groups, BS, and 100% trashing of uber-evil America.
    25 Aug 2016: Bookworm Room Blog: “Thanks to the media’s relentless shilling, combined with the Leftist takeover of education, we’ve got several generations of people who proudly acknowledge their ignorance, but still think they’re qualified to vote based upon what the media tells them to do. […] waking up to the fact that Hillary cannot become president — and that if she does, it’s because of media misinformation combined with low-information voters . . .
    “Over the weekend, no less than six terrible stories broke that would have crippled anyone else’s campaign.
    “So, what was the media’s response to this tidal wave of incompetence and corruption?
    “They focused on the Trump campaign’s internal mess, naturally. That’s what they always do.”


  3. The 1941 movie with Walter Huston is marvelous, primarily for Huston (not to be confused with later John) portraying “Mr Scratch.” All flying eyebrows and teeth, like a Golden Age Jack Nicholson, taking a demonic glee in his work. Even when he seems to notice the audience, and looks you square in the eye, practically salivating over his next victim, it works. The weird smirking beauty is good, too. (“I’m not from anywhere.”)

  4. Daniel Webster: This appears – mind you, I say appears – to be properly drawn. But you shan’t have this man. A man isn’t a piece of property. Mr. Stone is an American citizen… and an American citizen cannot be forced into the service of a foreign prince.
    Mr. Scratch: Foreign? Who calls me a foreigner?
    Daniel Webster: Well, I never heard of the de… I never heard of you claiming American citizenship.
    Mr. Scratch: And who has a better right? When the first wrong was done to the first Indian, I was there. When the first slaver put out for the Congo, I stood on the deck. Am I not still spoken of in every church in New England? It’s true the North claims me for a Southerner and the South for a Northerner, but I’m neither. Tell the truth, Mr. Webster – though I don’t like to boast of it – my name is older in the country than yours.
    Daniel Webster: Then I stand on the Constitution. I demand a trial for my client.
    Mr. Scratch: You mean a jury trial?
    Daniel Webster: I do! And if I can’t win this case with a jury you’ll have me, too. If two New Hampshire men aren’t a match for the devil, we better give the country back to the Indians.


  5. I’m as patriotic as the next guy, but our claim on the whole continent always struck me as pretty weak. I get the traders and trappers pushing onward, and of course the missionaries, but the settlers? I don’t know. Maybe Schoolhouse Rock didn’t sell it to me in my youth. I was all in for the Preamble, and the Bill of course (although now he seems like unnecessary federal interference).

  6. Well, up to the Mississippi sans Florida and Louisiana we got by treaty with Britain. The Louisiana Purchase is well known. Spain ceded the Floridas to us thanks to the military threat of Jackson and Adams’ diplomacy. Texas won its independence from Mexico and agreed to be annexed by us as a State. In regard to the Mexican War, there were precious few Mexicans in what is now the Continental US outside of New Mexico. If the US hadn’t taken the territories, I suspect Britain or Russia would have. The Gadsden Purchase from Mexico rounded out Arizona and New Mexico. What has always struck me is how little fighting it took to win such a vast land. Of course this ignores the Indians, my Cherokee ancestors among them, but they were sadly not going to hold on to this land regardless of what the US did or did not do.

  7. I’ve always thought the settlers had the best claim, since many were simply poor people seeking a better life. That is, immigrants. Given our just concern for immigrants today, I assume that should also apply to immigrants of old. Even if they came from Europe or the eastern US.

  8. Excellent point, Dave Griffey. Invasion and conquest are OK when committed by liberals’ most-favored victim groups – here illegals – but not for the 19th century European immigrants. The leftists can’t keep consistent their BS.

  9. Certain of the English colonies, Connectict and Virginia most noticeably, claimed territory to the Pacific Coast.
    Connecticut, Virginia, Maryland and Delaware all squabbled with Pennsylvania.
    Florida was ceded by Madrid, but the US did pay Madrid ($5 million, I think). The US bought the Louisiana Purchase from Napoleon. In the treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo the US agreed to pay $15 million to Mexico. The Gadsden Purchase was subsequent. Alaska was bought from Russia. The Pacific Northwest was a result of a settlement with Great Britain. The U S annexed Hawaii (someone else certainly would have if not the US) and Puerto Rico was the spoils of war with Spain….which would not have happened if Madrid had sold Cuba to the US.
    Now, compare that to what Imperial and Soviet Russia has done to its neighbors….or Great Britain for that matter.

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