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Crash course in US history

IT'S A GOOD thing the school year is finally over. It's the Fourth of July and we don't need seventh-graders ruining our holiday by doing homework.

Why? Because they study American history, and they want your help. "Hey Mom, quiz me on the Bill of Rights," they say. You ask, "Well, who signed the Bill of Rights?"

Your child roars with laughter. "That's the Declaration of Independence and John Hancock, Mom."

"Just testing you, son, ha-ha," you say, but you are sweating now.

"Mom, what does inalienable mean? Dad, Why didn't they like King George? Mom, which George was it, II or III? What happened at the Old State House? What was the Stamp Act?"

Some of it comes back to you. The Boston Tea Party. The Boston Massacre. Valley Forge. You remember fearing, very secretly, that you might have been a Tory. You really hoped you'd be a Minuteman, or maybe a scout, or a messenger, outwitting the Redcoats. You'd never admit you had an inner Tory, which is kind of like an inner neo conservative, not that I mean anything bad by that.

Somehow I became one of those people who doesn't know who's buried in Grant's tomb. If they caught me on those TV ambush interviews, and they asked me who Thomas Jefferson was, I would say, "Wasn't he George and Weezie's nephew?"

I do try, though. Every year, the Globe editorial page prints the Declaration of Independence. We make our kids read it, out loud, start to finish, taking turns. People think we are really great for doing this. The truth is: We want to wear the kids out, so they won't feel like asking us any questions we can't answer. Fatigue the kids, then deafen them with the fireworks, and you're set for the summer.

We would know a lot more about the Fourth if it were not for two things, both beloved American institutions: the Boston Pops and Canada. They are to blame for our ignorance.

At the end of every Fourth of July concert, the Pops plays the "1812 Overture." Your children ask you what all that noise is. You tell them it's music about the War of 1812. You're feeling great, because you didn't tell them it's "This Is The Cereal That's Shot From Guns, Boom Boom." Then your seventh-grader sniffs, "No, it's not, it's from Russia's victory over Napoleon." What?

Your head spins, your knowledge of European history sketchy. Your seventh-grader moves in for the kill. "Mom, what was the War of 1812 all about?"

You have absolutely, not in any way, any idea. "Does 'The Star Spangled Banner' mean anything to you Mom?" sneers that ungrateful child. You want, in the most evil part of your mind, to skip a payment on those braces.

You never learned about the War of 1812, because there is a big problem with it: In a sideline of that war, we tried a little surge to capture Canada. We didn't. And now Canada sits up there, on top of us, so smug, like a kid in a tree you are not brave enough to climb. They skip over that in school, since we prefer wars with happier endings.

So you can't be blamed. Still, I think it's time we had a talk with Keith Lockhart and Canada. "Keith, darling, we'll say, change that title to 1776. I'm sure the Russians won't mind." To Canada, we'll issue an apology. "We're sorry about that war," we'll say. "If we send you back your pennies, will you please come and get your geese?"

Monique Doyle Spencer is author of "The Courage Muscle: A Chicken's Guide To Living With Breast Cancer."