The Pervasive Power and Primacy of History

What follows is extracted from testimony provided to the 1836 Project Advisory Committee at the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum on July 1, 2024.

The 1836 Advisory Committee was established by HB No. 2497 in May 2021 and signed into law by Governor Greg Abbott. It is catalytic, much like our initiative at West Texas A&M University, The Hill Institute. Both promote positive and “eyes wide open” appreciation for state and national shared values.

The Panhandle is a unique place in Texas, and on the Great Plains of the United States of America, a vital linchpin of regions, cultures and ideas for state and nation. Geography, history and the coupled contribution to the production of food, fuel and fiber have created a unique mix of values and mores. They are responsive to our nation’s founding truths and principles. When Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick visited the campus on the occasion of announcing a Fairly Family $20 million gift to establish The Hill Institute, there was deliberation and discussion regarding Texas values. Patrick correctly suggested that Panhandle values were Texas values and, in fact, American values. Many contemporary forces influence the expression of such values. If nurtured correctly, the best of these values can be carried forward for future generations. Many folks in West Texas live by them every day.

Educators, especially when supported by the state, have a responsibility to ensure founding values are examined and reflected upon for those who follow under the rubric of “patriotic education” included in HB No. 2497. Not to blindly sanctify the past but to recognize the bedrock on which future economic prosperity is, in part, based. An appreciation for the freedoms and their necessary contribution to a constitutional republic in our nation and in an entrepreneurial state like Texas help create a positive future. The act proposes to “increase awareness of the Texas values that continue to stimulate boundless prosperity across the state.”

Increasing awareness of Texas values should be the work of the Core Curriculum at every public university in our state. General education requirements survey the whole of the human condition, individually and collectively, and are the nucleus of being an educated human being.  Every state university in Texas requires six hours of study in U.S. History. Typically, one course covers the founding of our nation through post-Civil War Reconstruction, while the second is the Industrial Revolution to the present day. At WT, in the fall of 2019, 733 students enrolled in core history requirements. Of those, 87.435% were enrolled in traditional core classes, American History I and American History II, and 12.55% were enrolled in specialized history options. At the University of Texas in the fall of 2019, 3,911 students enrolled in various courses to meet their core requirements. Of those, 62.23% selected traditional core courses. The balance… 38.54% opted for 21 different courses that provide a narrow, specialized perspective of American History. While such classes as electives may have great value, they might not provide an overview of our state and national evolution and distinctiveness. My concerns regarding American history exist in other foundational courses such as Texas History, State and Local Government and guiding aspects of the American Experiment. In addition, our state and national fit, place and purpose in Western Civilization.

American higher education is leaning away from founding values. The public is losing confidence, according to Pew. Muting of freedom’s values diminishes individual worth, the power of a public university in a free society and ultimately, the foundation of a constitutional republic. Academic institutions should be the place where ideas can be openly shared, differences in thinking thoughtfully considered and a deep knowledge of those who came before us prized, warts and all.

The galvanizing idea of the 1836 Project and The Hill Institute is to give voice to the open discussion of arguably important, timeless and transcendent values. American exceptionalism, coupled with Texas exceptionalism, records a clear understanding of who we are, where we come from and where we are going. Too many know too little about the foundations of our republican form of government. Soundbites and captions rarely ring true and echo loudly for their hollowness.

The Hill Institute and initiatives such as the Texas 1836 Project should and will reinforce basic tenets essential to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness in a free society, without apology. Excellent universities are kettles of opportunity simmering over fires of intention, work and reward. The prosperity of every stripe flourishes.

Our history is the shared thread that creates a fabric of connections and positive relationships for all. The study and nurture of the developing values earnestly lived by those who came before will impact the education of future reflective citizens. The application of value-based thinking will impact the practice and execution of knowledge and insight in the professions and vocations of life. Educators, engineers, agriculturalists, business entrepreneurs, artists, doctors or nurses will practice their vocations differently when they appreciate the history and shared values of the extended community. A strong sense of community and personal grit in harmony is the history of Texas. It makes Texans, Texans, and is forgotten at our peril.

Our state should be a beacon of entrepreneurism, exercise personal responsibility and the power of families and industries working to create a bright future. Our past is a roadmap to our future. That’s my hope for West Texas A&M University and the students we serve.

Walter V. Wendler is President of West Texas A&M University. His weekly columns are available at