A Good Time To Learn

Posted on April 13, 2005

With the United States in the middle of a global war on terror, Sen. Lamar Alexander's timing is perfect. This former U.S. Secretary of Education and Tennessee governor used his "maiden" speech on the Senate floor recently to introduce "The American History and Civics Education Act of 2003." He says the bill joins "two urgent concerns that will determine our country's future: the education of our children and the principles that unite us as Americans." He is correct in saying that at a time when our values and way of life are being attacked, we should be sure our young people are being taught just what principles and values make America exceptional. National exams and surveys show many students are woefully uninformed about American history and civics, "because they are not being taught," Alexander said. He said more than half the states do not require students to take a course in American government. His bill authorizes the National Endowment for the Humanities to create a dozen "Presidential Academies for Teachers of American History and Civics." The goals of these residential summer programs would be "to inspire better teaching and more learning of the key events, persons and ideas that shape the institutions and democratic heritage of the United States." The bill also creates a national alliance of American history and civics teachers. This is modeled after an alliance Alexander helped the National Geographic Society start in the 1980s to put geography back into the American school curriculum. A new report from the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation shows exactly how the study of U.S. history can be enriched by blending geography into the curriculum. ("The Best of Both Worlds" is available at www.edexcellence.net.) Many Americans likely couldn't find Iraq and Afghanistan on a map until recently. Many others do not understand the history of those regions or the foundational American principles we're defending there. As current events clearly show, such knowledge matters.