7 dates in American history every child should know

November 13, 2013 | Posted in: Early Learners, Elementary, High School, Middle Years

Creating a list of just seven dates in American history every child should know is a bit of a challenge with so many significant ones from which to choose.

“Why seven?” asked my 9-year-old son when I explained the piece I was writing. The intent was not to choose the seven most important events, though some of them could arguably appear on such a list.

“It could be any number, 10 or 16 or 5. Seven just seemed like a good number to write about,” I replied.

“What are you going to include?”

I told him I hadn’t decided and asked for ideas, curious to hear what he would suggest.

“What about when they signed the Declaration of Independence?”

We talked a bit about the Revolutionary War, recalling some of the places connected to the war in the Boston area that he has visited.

He was quiet for just a few seconds. “You should include the day Martin Luther King Jr. gave that speech,” he said, referring to King’s “I Have a Dream Speech.” We were driving in the car, and I could not see his face. In my mind, I envisioned a hopeful expression.

“And September 11. You should definitely include 9/11.”

It was an insightful observation that I hadn’t expected. We have talked about that horrible morning in 2001, three years before he was born, but I hadn’t realized he would perceive its significance. Should he be aware of what happened on that date? Of course. But as I have wished many times since, had it never happened, there would be no significance to be aware of.

I mulled my son’s suggestions and decided to take two of the three into consideration. Certainly children should eventually learn about events such as the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. However, rather than focus on negative events in our country’s history, each of the ones listed below marks some kind of progress for our country.

On July 4, 1776, the Second Continental Congress met in Philadelphia in the Pennsylvania State House (now Independence Hall) and approved the Declaration of Independence. The move severed the colonies’ ties to the British Crown. The actual signing of the document took place a few weeks later, on Aug. 2, though some signed it at an even later date. For more reading, check out 9 Things You May Not Know About the Declaration of Independence

Emancipation Proclamation.

President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on Sept. 22, 1862, and it went into effect on Jan. 1, 1863. The Emancipation Proclamation was a war measure, which meant that through it Lincoln could only free those slaves in states that were at war with the Union. The Proclamation paved the way for the 13th Amendment, which freed all slaves in 1865. Learn more at CivilWar.org

Transcontinental railroad.

The first transcontinental railroad was completed on May 10, 1869. The railroad had taken six years to build, as more than 20,000 workers laid down roughly 1,700 miles of track in the largest American civil-works project to date. The completion of the railroad signified a new era for the United States, connecting East to West and linking the nation’s economy, politics and cultures. Other modes of transportation would follow, including the unveiling on Oct. 1, 1908, of the Ford Model T, the first car inexpensive enough for the general public to afford, and the Wright brothers’ first sustained flight in an aircraft on Dec. 17, 1903.

19th Amendment.

The 19th Amendment was signed into law on Aug. 26, 1920, giving women the right to vote. Before the suffrage movement, only men had a voice in deciding political, social and economic issues. The move led to further social reforms for women.

Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibited discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin. The Act was first proposed by President John F. Kennedy in 1963, when he said the United States, “will not be fully free until all of its citizens are free.” The proposal was strongly opposed by southern members of Congress. After Kennedy was assassinated that November in Dallas, new President Lyndon B. Johnson immediately took up the cause. In his first State of the Union address, Johnson said, “Let this session of Congress be known as the session which did more for civil rights than the last hundred sessions combined.” Johnson signed the bill into law on July 2, 1964. The Act would be expanded in subsequent years, as additional legislation was passed to bring equality to African Americans, such as the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

First man on the moon.

On July 21, 1969, Commander Neil Armstrong stepped from a ladder of Apollo 11 to the surface of the moon. As he took that first step, he uttered the unforgettable words that encapsulated this incredible technological accomplishment for America: “This is one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.” About 20 minutes later, Col. Edwin Eugene “Buzz” Aldrin followed. The mission marked a significant victory for NASA’s space program. Over the next three and one-half years, 10 astronauts would follow in their footsteps.

Invention of the Internet.

The idea of the Internet had been brewing throughout the 1960s, though it originated in the late 1960s when the United States Defense Department developed ARPAnet (Advanced Research Projects Agency network), an experimental network of computers. On Oct. 29, 1969, ARPAnet delivered its first message: a “node-to-node” communication from a computer located in a research lab at UCLA to another at Stanford University. Each computer was the size of a small house. UCLA’s Leonard Kleinrock, who helped send that first message, was transmitting the word “login.” After transmitting the “o,” the receiving computer crashed. The Internet has grown exponentially since then, and the introduction in 1991 of the World Wide Web by a computer programmer in Switzerland named Tim Berners-Lee changed the way people around the world communicate.

Karen Nerney has been a communications specialist with the Capital Region BOCES Communications Service since 2011. Prior to that, she spent many years as a journalist in the Boston area. She is mom to two daughters, ages 17 and 15, and a 9-year-old son.