Chattanooga Times Free Press - Andy Sher
WASHINGTON — Freshman Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., used his first major Senate floor speech on Tuesday to promote his first bill, a plan to elevate the teaching of history and civics in schools.
"It is time we put the teaching of American history and civics back in its rightful place in our schools so our children can grow up learning what it means to be an American," Sen. Alexander said.
Sen. Alexander said that at a time when "our values and way of life are being attacked, we need to understand just what those values are."
Yet, the former governor and U.S. education secretary said, onethird of students don't have basic knowledge in civics and American history, making them "civic illiterates." He said half of the nation's schools don't teach civics.
The bipartisan "American History and Civics Act" introduced Tuesday is intended to help remedy the problem, Sen. Alexander said.
The measure, which Sen. Alexander discussed during his 2002 Senate campaign, would authorize $25 million for fouryear pilot projects aimed at boosting the teaching of history and civics.
The act would create up to 12 presidential academies for teachers of American history and civics. The two-week programs would strengthen teachers' knowledge and explore ways to teach. The bill also authorizes up to 12 congressional academies of American history and civics. Outstanding students entering their junior and senior years of high school would attend fourweek programs.
The bill also would create a National Alliance of Teachers of American History and Civics. Each year, the alliance would award a grant to encourage best practices in the teaching of American history and civics.
The bill is based on the Governor's School program that Sen. Alexander created as governor of Tennessee from 1979-1987. Sen. Alexander said the eight Governor's Schools helped "thousands of Tennessee teachers improve their skills" and inspired students as well.
Among those the Governor's School program helped was thenteacher Charlene Becker, who is now Hamilton County's director of secondary instruction.
"I have never had such an exciting year of teaching," said Ms. Becker.
During his speech, Sen. Alexander decried what he called a "drift toward agnostic Americanism." He said leaders have "celebrated multiculturalism and bilingualism and diversity at a time when there should have been more emphasis on a common culture and learning English and unity."
He said that despite a projected $308 billion federal deficit next year, the money can be found for the program.
On an ironic note, Sen. Alexander said Governor's Schools in Tennessee were cut during last year's fiscal crisis.