When I was in college, my European history professor twice explained how feudalism worked in the Middle Ages.
The first time, it was straightforward. There was a king, and then nobles, and below them knights and clergy, and finally the peasant class. He charted these relationships in a lovely little pyramid, and then he wrote above it “Oz.”
Next, he wrote the same words down — king, noble, knight, clergy, peasant — but he drew a messy, tangled web of lines between them. This noble cut a deal with that noble and pledged allegiance to two kings, and so forth. It was confusing. My professor labeled this system “Kansas.”
He explained that we like to think of history in Oz terms: easy, clear, and logical. In fact, history is more often the Kansas version of events: complicated, muddled, and based on emotion. Like in The Wizard of Oz, the land over the rainbow looks pretty and appeals to us more; there are good guys and bad guys and rousing moments of sentiment and song. But we live in Kansas, the real world, and life here is messy.
I taught history to middle schoolers in East Harlem for three years, and I tried my best to present them with the Kansas view of history. This often meant going above and beyond the textbook, which told Oz-like stories, myths which many of my students had learned as pure fact.
With all this mind, and with the upcoming national holidays of Memorial Day and, later, the Fourth of July, I hereby present some great myths of American history debunked!