Alexander's history lesson

Posted on July 11, 2005

If American school children couldn't identify the nation's first populist president, one Andrew Jackson, Tennesseans would be irked. But suppose Tennessee school children didn't know the answer either? We'd be shamed. Anecdotal evidence as well as recent national tests suggest that questions like that aren't getting the correct response from a generation of students. The nation's obsession with reading, writing and arithmetic scores has left little time for the basics of history and citizenship. To correct that oversight, Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander has joined with Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., in proposing the American History Achievement Act. The legislation modestly suggests improved testing in civics and history so educators can determine what states are doing well in teaching history and what states aren't so they can pick up new ideas. The bill, which would establish a 10-state pilot study on the National Assessment of Education Progress test in U.S. history, follows up on the successful passage of legislation to create summer academies for teaching history. The noted historian and author David McCullough testified at a hearing on the new proposal recently along with Tennessee's own Dr. Charles Smith, former state education commissioner and now executive director of the NAEP. Their conclusions? Students today aren't gaining the enjoyment of the nation's history lessons or the education needed to become good citizens in a nation that desperately needs their participation. Before the nation forgets its past, Alexander's bill shows them where to go in the future. Americans can use the history lesson.