More education-related stuff follows.
The bottom line is that there are two basic ways to teach history. You can do it choronologically, trying to fast-forward through five centuries of Western Civilization in the New World, or you can do it thematically, basing each unit of instruction on "big ideas" such as War, Economics, Justice, etc. The problem with teaching on the chronological timeline is that it can easily devolve into boring memorization of names, dates and places, and the same is true with the thematic method as well, with the additional drawback that since it's not placed in a chronological framework (which inherently gives a clue that some kind of progress is happening) it looks even more chaotic and disconnected from the present reality that the students are living in.
Which is precisely the issue. The whole struggle in social studies is to answer the student's question "Who cares?" You have to convince them that they should care about the Civil War and other historical events because it affects the way they live today - it answers the question "Why are things the way they are?" and that's a question that kids want the answer to.
Now, the title of this post comes from a remark one of my classmates made. She's not happy about the fact that most textbooks seem to deal with American history in terms of the various wars we've been in: the Revolution, the Civil War, World Wars I & II, and then Vietnam if the teacher moves fast enough. (Actually, she wants to teach using Howard Zinn's execrable People's History of the United States as a text, but that's another story.) This seems odd to me, but I'm willing to admit that I'm biased in this regard because of my background and because I think trying to describe American histroy without reference to the wars that defined us as a nation is just teminally dumb. I'm not saying the wars are the only things we should be talking about, but with the possible exception of World War I, they all changed the way America worked as a society in very significant ways, and you have to address those changes if you want to tell any kind of coherent story about America and its history.
And while we're talking about making lessons relevant, Ann Althouse links to a lesson on politicizing math courses. One good reason for not doing this? The last country that did this in a big way is now in the dustbin of history.