Jewish World Review August 24, 2005/ 19 Av,
Just one day for the Constitution?
Commendable as the senator's intent is, the legislation does not
require any curriculum instruction as to why we are Americans
(unbeknownst to many of us, it's a national holiday). Furthermore,
whatever is taught on that single day will hardly stay in the minds
of many of the nation's students, who are scandalously undereducated
in the liberties and rights of the oldest living constitution in the
world, as well as being ignorant of basic events and developments in
Historian David McCullough's books including his current "1776" (Simon & Schuster, 2005) has brought our history alive for many readers; but as for our schools, McCullough laments: "In many, if not most, schools, our history is on the backburner. You can have amnesia of society, which is just as detrimental as the amnesia of an individual."
History and Civics, administered in grades 8 and 12, though the
National Assessment of Educational Programs (NAEP). It would also
require a more frequent analysis though the NAEP of the actual
extent and depth of the effective teaching of American history.
The bill also emphasizes civic education. As Sen. Kennedy
emphasizes: "We need more opportunities for internships and
service-learning, and stronger relationships between schools and
communities to involve young people more fully in the life of their
Americans, regardless of party or any other affiliation, should be
startled to confront the following failure to teach the young how we
govern ourselves. As reported by Sens. Alexander and Kennedy, "The
2001 NAEP assessment in U.S. history has the largest percentage of
students scoring below basic (levels) of any subject that was
tested, including mathematics, science and reading."
The assessment found that "75 percent of fourth-grade students could
not correctly identify the three parts of the federal government of
the United States out of four possible choices; 73 percent of
fourth-graders could not identify the Constitution from among four
choices as the document that contains the basic rules used to run
the U.S. government."
And "91 percent of eighth-grade students could not list the two
issues that were important in causing the Civil War, nor list the
Northern and Southern positions on each of these issues."
Sen. Kennedy, during a Senate hearing on this essential bill,
explained one of the reasons that American history, including the
history of the Constitution, is on the "backburner" in so many
schools. He quoted from the research of Sheldon Stern, the chief
historian emeritus at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in
Boston: "22 states have American history (teaching) standards that
are either weak or lack a clear chronology and appropriate political
and historical context or lack sufficient information about real
events and people. As many as nine states still have no standards at
all for American history."
Sen. Alexander adds: "It is disgraceful that high school seniors (in
another survey) score lower on U.S. history than on any other
subject. Being an American is not based on race or where you came
from, but on a few principles that unite us as Americans."
As Sen. Alexander correctly notes, "state by state comparisons of
the eighth-and 12th-grade scores will help put the spotlight on what
are children are and are not learning across this country.
This is one more step to putting the teaching of American history
and civics back into our classrooms, so our children grow up
learning what it means to be an American."
David McCullough makes the fundamental point: "You can't be a full
participant in our democracy if you don't know our history."
And James Madison, who had much to do with shaping our Constitution,
said looking to the future of this nation "(Only) a
well-instructed people can be a permanently free people."
Parents and other adults across the country should vigorously
instruct their local school boards to monitor whether the young are
as engrossed in the adventures of American history as they are in
the adventures of Harry Potter. Therefore, no child will be left
behind in their understanding of what it is to be an American.
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