Educational Urban Legend?


I’m writing to check something that I’ve wondered about for a while. Although I can’t remember seeing it anywhere, I have this general cultural feeling that at one time American schoolchildren were taught that Lewis and Clark were the first to go to the Pacific overland. Is this true, and a sad commentary on education, or false, and a sad commentary on my imagination?

Hope you can help,


Sounds about right.
Are you saying they went by air?

Or are you referring to Balboa discovering the Pacific?

Probably meant first white men. As opposed to the native people.

American schoolchildren are still taught this. In what way is it incorrect?

  1. Thanks to Reeder for pointing out the Native dimension, but that’s not what I was talking about.

2)I mean Alexander Mackenzie, crossed in 1793.

Is this just not taught?

I suspect we’re talking about Alexander Mackenzie, who crossed Canada, reaching the Pacific in 1793.

Well, perhaps they are teaching American history rather than Canadian.

I guess I should have previewed. No, I was never taught about Mackenzie’s expedition in school. It was only several years later that I heard of him. We were taught about Balboa, though.

It was a long time ago, but I do not ever remember reading or hearing that Lewis and Clark were the first. They were, I believe, the first surveyors hired by the United States to travel the newly purchased land and report back.

A large proportion of the land they covered was already known to French trappers, and the Pacific coast was known to Spanish and Russians. The big deal is that they did it properly, taking notes on everything, bringing back samples and so on.

The book to read: “Undaunted Courage” by Stephen Ambrose…

(When I was a kid, I thought it was just the 2 of them with a backpack each)

Well, I’m sorry, DJ, but I’m here to tell you that American schoolchildren are quite definitely not taught about Alexander MacKenzie.

But, are Canadian schoolchildren taught about Lewis and Clark? :wink:

So it’s like on Enterprise, where they’re travelling around using the Vulcan star charts and seeing all the stuff the Vulcans already know about, and taking their own notes?

When I was a wee lad in school, Lewis and Clark only came up in the context of the Louisian Purchase. So they were filed in the educational system as relating to “United States, Early Expansion of” not under “Great Explorers, Famous Firsts of.” I don’t recall them being touted as the first to do it, just the first to take good notes. :slight_smile:

Of course, Alexander Mackenzie wasn’t the first to cross North America overland from Atlantic to Pacific either. He was “first European north of Mexico.”

The first European to cross Mexico, however, doesn’t seem to have made it into either US or Canadian history books.

We’re also taught that Magellan was the first to travel round the world. Not true. some guy named Sebastian did it.

Magellan died in the Phillipines

Magellan was the first to circumnavigate the globe. On an earlier voyage he travelled around the cape of africa, across the indian ocean, and went east of the Philippines. On his final voyage, he went west, and while he did die in the Philippines, he achieved the distinction of being the first man to travel around the world (in terms of longitude) even if it was on two trips.