Speeches & Floor Statements

Remarks of Sen. Alexander - American History and Civics Education Act of 2003

Posted on June 20, 2003

Mr. President, on March 4, I made the maiden speech the majority leader has encouraged each of us new Senators to make. I chose two urgent issues I care most about: The education of our children, No. 1; and the principles that unite us as Americans, No. 2. I then introduced S. 504, the American History and Civics Education Act of 2003. In a few minutes, we will vote on that bill. Its purpose is to help put the teaching of American history and civics in its rightful place in our schools so our children can grow up learning what it means to be an American. Its purpose is to inspire better teaching and more learning of the key events, key documents, key persons, and key ideas that shaped the institutions and democratic heritage of the United States of America. This legislation would do that by creating summer academies for students and teachers of American history and civics. There will be up to 12 Presidential Academies for teachers. These might last 2 weeks and be sponsored by an educational institution or a nonprofit organization. And there will be up to 12 4-week Congressional Academies for students. It also creates a State-by-State national alliance of history and civics teachers, and authorizes $25 million for these purposes. We need this legislation because our children are not learning what it means to be an American. In his testimony before our committee, author David McCullough spoke of Ivy League college students who think Abraham Lincoln was President before the Civil War and that Germany and Italy were our Allies during World War II. One-third of fourth, eighth, and twelfth graders do not even have basic knowledge about American history and civics, making them what one might call "civic illiterates." They are not learning it because, in too many instances, it is not being taught. Civics too often is dropped from school curricula. More than half the States have no requirements for a course in American government and American history. When it is taught, it is too often watered down. The textbooks are too dull, the pages too often feature victims and diminish heroes. Because of politically correct attitudes from the right and from the left, teachers are afraid to teach the great controversies, the great conflicts, the great struggles, the great stories that are the heritage, the essence of American history. This effort has overwhelming support in the Congress—36 U.S. Senators of both parties. An identical bill has been introduced in the House of Representatives by ROGER WICKER of Mississippi, and 160 Members of the House, of both parties, support it. I want especially to reiterate my thanks to the majority leader who, during a busy time, has found time for this small but important piece of legislation, and to the Democratic whip, Mr. Reid, who has also made it possible for there to be time for this in the midst of this debate and who is the prime cosponsor of this legislation. I thank Chairman GREGG of our committee for reporting it promptly and for cosponsoring it, and Senator Kennedy, the ranking member, who did not just cosponsor it but was busy gathering other cosponsors. I want to acknowledge, too, the support of CONRAD BURNS, the Senator from Montana, a historian who is chairman of the relevant appropriations subcommittee, and especially Senator Byrd of West Virginia, who has been a leader in other legislation that has passed this body on American history, and who took the time to come to the hearing on this legislation, in person, and to testify.