The recent National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) found that elementary, middle, and high school students fall short in terms of what they know about U.S. history. According to the NAEP, roughly a third of fourth graders and eighth graders fall below what is deemed a "basic" level of proficiency in U.S. history. Our high-schoolers fare much worse - more than half of 12th graders fall below the "basic level."
We have long known that our students do not know even the basics of American history, and while we are quick to note our concern at the results, very little has changed over the years. This must change if American voters are to be able to evaluate candidates and issues on the basis of American principles and values.
So, what to do about it? Most of what we learn about our country we learn in school, but today's curriculums do little to interest our students. So says former Secretary of Education William Bennett. In a recent article in National Review, he wrote, "It's not our children's fault. Many of our history books are either too one-sided, disseminating a 'politically correct' view of history of the greatest nation that ever existed, or worse, they are boring - providing a watered down, anemic version of a people who have fought wars at home and abroad for the purposes of liberty and equality, conquered deadly diseases, and placed men on the moon."
Today's textbooks, say scholars like Bennett, don't relate the drama of our nation-they are lifeless and boring. And our schools are not filling in the gaps.
It is imperative that in these times we understand who we are as Americans.
Americans must comprehend the principles and values on which this country was built because we are engaged in a great ideological confrontation with people dedicated to destroying us - a confrontation that will be arduous and difficult. The conflict in which we are engaged is a conflict of values and principles, and future generations cannot act on these values if they are ignorant of American history, which established our government on these principles.
Learning about our past equips us to face the challenges, and fight the wars, that we face today and in the future. Indeed, if future generations do not appreciate what we have - why it is so precious, why it needs defending - they will not do the hard things necessary to defend it.
Americans must know what is worth fighting for, must maintain the willpower to do it, and must apply the lessons of our past to our current threats; and so, we must find a way to help students understand the values and principles upon which our nation is founded. The solution begins at a fundamental level of learning and education. Our students need textbooks that capture the life of history - Bill Bennett suggests a national contest for better history textbooks - and draw young people to the study of our nation's story.
The solution, however, must go beyond changes to curriculum. As a nation, we must learn to embrace our history again and discard the politically correct, relativistic version of our history that has persisted far long. We must make changes both practical and spiritual, and we must act soon to preserve for future generations what we know to be so important.
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