Newspaper Editorial in Favor of Lamar Alexander's History Bill

Roundup: Historians' Take

Editorial in the Nashville City Paper (Oct. 9, 2003):

Imagine that a recent immigrant just granted American citizenship knows more about American history and civics than your college-aged son or daughter. According to a new report, that’s the reality.

The Albert Shanker Institute, a non-profit educational foundation, is worried many states have de-emphasized history and civics in favor of math and reading, and the facts are on its side. The most recent National Assessment of Education Progress found only 17 percent of eighth-graders scored at a proficient or above level in United States history courses. Most students did not know what countries the United States fought in World War II, many didn’t know what the Progressive Era was and less than 50 percent understood that the Supreme Court rules on the constitutionality of laws.

It’s no wonder. More than half the states don’t have a requirement to teach American government.

Of course, every new citizen of the United States has to demonstrate knowledge of how the federal government works, what the principles of the Declaration of Independence are, and other facts about the history and operation of the United States.

When Sen. Lamar Alexander pledged to introduce a bill to improve history and civics education in this country, some thought he had picked out a rather obscure issue. But Alexander’s vision is proving correct.

There are real tangible effects of a lack of civics and history education. Citizens don’t develop a national identity and long-term view of themselves in relation to their country without this information. Could that be why the number of people who vote has gone down over the last decade?

Alexander’s “American History and Civics Education Act” passed the Senate last summer.

The act creates two-week summer academies for teachers and students that will focus on the ideas, people and events that created our democratic heritage. It also creates a new National Alliance of Teachers of American History and Civics to encourage innovative teaching of history and civics.

Now, more than ever, as we redefine ourselves as Americans post Sept. 11, 2001, we need to make sure our identity is strong and that we know who we are as a nation.

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