Jewish World Review May 23, 2003 / 21 Iyar, 5763

Terry Eastland

JWR's Pundits
World Editorial
Cartoon Showcase

Mallard Fillmore

Michael Barone
Mona Charen
Linda Chavez
Ann Coulter
Greg Crosby
Larry Elder
Don Feder
Suzanne Fields
James Glassman
Paul Greenberg
Bob Greene
Betsy Hart
Nat Hentoff
David Horowitz
Marianne Jennings
Michael Kelly
Mort Kondracke
Ch. Krauthammer
Lawrence Kudlow
Dr. Laura
John Leo
Michelle Malkin
Jackie Mason
Chris Matthews
Michael Medved
Kathleen Parker
Wes Pruden
Sam Schulman
Amity Shlaes
Roger Simon
Tony Snow
Thomas Sowell
Cal Thomas
Jonathan S. Tobin
Ben Wattenberg
George Will
Bruce Williams
Walter Williams
Mort Zuckerman

Consumer Reports

Washington steps in to
help teach history | You don't have to ask much in an interview with Lamar Alexander on his American History and Civics Education Act before he gets to the point: "I want to put the teaching of American history and civics back in its rightful place in our schools so that our children will grow up learning what it means to be an American."

Mr. Alexander's bill would establish (a) academies for elementary and secondary school teachers of American history and civics and (b) academies in those subjects for outstanding high school students. The academies - a dozen of each - would operate in the summer. States wanting to set up an academy would make grant applications to the National Endowment for the Humanities, which would have up to $25 million to award.

First legislation

The American History and Civics Education Act is the first legislation that Mr. Alexander, one of 10 freshmen senators, has introduced. That he has opened with that bill, as opposed to some other, isn't surprising. Mr. Alexander served as education secretary in the first Bush administration and before that as president of the University of Tennessee. His interest in education comes naturally. His father was an elementary school principal in Maryville, Tenn., and his mother ran the county's only preschool educational program. Mr. Alexander notes that she did so for 35 years "in a converted garage in the back yard."

Earlier this month, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee unanimously approved the legislation. A similar bill is moving through the House. And the Bush administration has signaled its support. If there is opposition to the legislation, it has yet to be announced. Nor is there likely to be any. The goals of Mr. Alexander's bill are popular in Washington, if not at desks where high school students may think about things other than Alexander Hamilton's tenure as the nation's first treasury secretary.

Separate subject

Three years ago, Congress established the "Teaching American History" program, whose purpose is to make American history a separate subject in elementary and secondary schools. Toward that end, the Education Department makes grants to school districts to support professional development for history teachers.

Meanwhile, President Bush has asked the National Endowment for the Humanities to run a "We the People" program, which aims, says endowment chairman Bruce Cole, "to cultivate an enhanced understanding of American history among students, teachers and the public at large." "We the People" has an annual essay contest for high school students on "the Idea of America." The first winner, a New Jersey high school student, wrote on the difficult subject of judicial review.

Naturally, Mr. Alexander rejects the suggestion that his effort amounts to more of the same. And, indeed, his bill would establish programs different, in terms of design and execution, from those already under way.

What makes it hard politically to argue against his bill - what has made teaching American history and civics a top Washington priority - are two things. First, there is the abundant evidence that too many students know very little about our history or how our government works. And, second, there are the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, which, as Mr. Alexander says, have forced "us to go back to school on what it means to be an American."

Less knowledge

Mr. Alexander says, "Today's college graduates probably have less civics knowledge than high school graduates of 50 years ago." Assuming he is right about that, it also is true that 50 years ago the federal government didn't fund summertime academies of the kind Mr. Alexander proposes. The fact that Washington wasn't involved in history and civics education then doesn't mean it shouldn't do that now. But it does suggest how times have changed.

What once was accomplished naturally, community by community, now seems to require outside help. Fittingly, history will judge whether that help - in the form of multiple Washington programs - produced the intended results.

Appreciate this writer's work? Why not sign-up for JWR's daily update. It's free. Just click here.

JWR contributor Terry Eastland is is publisher of The Weekly Standard.Comment by clicking here.

05/13/03: It may take another election to change filibuster rules
05/07/03: Paige works to improve education from inside out
04/30/03: Iraqis have choice to make regarding religious freedom
04/16/03: Is it acceptable for an education secretary to state a personal preference for religious schooling?
04/08/03: University officials must put academics ahead of athletics
04/02/03: Support for our soldiers means support for their orders
03/27/03: 'Free Iraqi Forces' underscore Bush's sincerity
03/18/03: Dems misunderstand judge's job
03/13/03: Justices show right restraint in ruling on anti-crime measures
03/05/03: America's imperial intentions
02/25/03: The weakness of Dems' stated reason for their filibuster makes you wonder whether it is the real reason
02/19/03: Administration fine-tunes religious rights in public education
02/12/03: France and Germany need to be reminded of the necessity of a strong, even predominant America
02/06/03: Judiciary's 'balance' -- or lack of it -- is our doing
01/29/03: The child who almost wasn't
01/21/03: President decides to punt on affirmative action case
01/14/03: Bush's faith has influenced his conduct in public office
01/07/03: Dems need ideas, not more microphones
12/17/02: Gray Lady should learn that times have changed
12/10/02: Will High Court be guilty of activism?
12/03/02: The missing facts in news accounts of Saudi Princess Haifa's putative 'charity'
11/26/02: Americans don't have to be worried about Big Brother
11/19/02: Texas' reputation for flamboyance may be revised
11/11/02: Bush now can repair confirmation system
11/05/02: Dems shouldn't believe too strongly in history
10/30/02: Snipers had lots of motives
10/23/02: No one should be shut out of marketplace of ideas
10/15/02: Open hearings that could imperil the nation
10/08/02: Debating the clear and present danger
10/01/02: A great awakening in China?
09/25/02: Abortion, again? The settled but still unsettling law of Roe v. Wade
09/18/02: A relevant presidency--and irrelevant U.N?
09/10/02: Ashcroft's obtuse judicial statement
09/04/02: The Education Gadfly stings again
08/28/02: So then let the president declare war
08/21/02: Will Bush finally 'fix' affirmative action once and for all?
08/06/02: President must take up cause of Egyptian democracy warrior
07/31/02: With each war, civil liberties are curtailed less

© 2002, Terry Eastland