October 31, 2013
It’s vitally important that young Americans learn American history.
Our country’s strength has always come from being a “great melting pot,” a nation open to people from all over the world who want to become American.
For more than 200 years, a love of our founding principles and values has drawn millions of people to this country.
While America remains “a city upon a hill” for many around the globe, we must make sure each new generation of Americans learns and understands what it means to be American.
Unfortunately, recent surveys show that we aren’t currently doing a good job of passing on our nation’s history to our youth. Too many students today are failing to learn American history. They are also failing to learn why America is an exceptional nation — the reason so many people dream of becoming American.
Indeed, for two generations we have watched our nation’s memory of the past slip away.
The scale of the problem is alarming, as results of the Department of Education’s recent National Assessment of Educational Progress suggest. Just 20 percent of fourth-graders, 17 percent of eighth-graders and 12 percent of twelfth-graders were at grade-level proficiency in American history in a recent NAEP survey.
Only one in three fourth-graders could identify the purpose of the Declaration of Independence. Less than half understood why George Washington was an important leader in American history. And most fourth-graders didn’t know why the Pilgrims left England.
These statistics are frightening, and make us wonder how the next generation will ever be able to understand the great privilege of being American.
Founding documents like the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution are at the heart of our national identity. We must understand them and pass them on to all young Americans.
As the author of three children’s books on American history, I’ve visited classrooms across the country to share the adventures of Ellis the Elephant, my time-travelling pachyderm, with four to eight year olds. Most young people I meet are energetic and eager to learn. As adults, we must be enthusiastic ourselves about learning and find creative ways to teach American history.
This is my goal with Ellis the Elephant. In my new book, Yankee Doodle Dandy, children join Ellis as he discovers the pivotal moments of the American Revolution, including the Boston Tea Party, the signing of the Declaration of Independence, and Washington’s difficult winter at Valley Forge.
Young Americans need to be introduced to our patriotic heroes and the remarkable revolution they led to understand how America became a free and independent nation.
Like children’s books, new technology has the potential to make our history come alive for young Americans. New online learning systems such as Khan Academy, along with fun and educational video games, capture our children’s attention in ways never before possible.
And of course, visits to historic sites like George Washington’s home, Mount Vernon, or Independence Hall in Philadelphia can be wonderful opportunities to inspire kids with a passion for American history.
If we fail to find creative ways to fight historic amnesia, we will fail the next generation of Americans.
Ensuring that our children learn and appreciate our American history is vital to the preservation of our nation.
Preserving America's Greatness
- on October 31, 2013