U.S. students need a history lesson

‘It doesn’t make you a better person to know history, but it makes you a better citizen’

WASHINGTON, DC, July 19 – The lack of knowledge that American kids-from elementary school through college-have about U.S. history is alarming,” says David Bruce Smith, co-founder of the Grateful American Book Prize.

“Particularly disturbing is the volume of authoritative reports showing that too many of our kids don’t know the basics of America’s founding and its development.  For example, the Department of Education’s National Assessment of Educational Progress [NAEP], which keeps track of how well our students are doing in a variety of subjects, revealed last year that fewer than half of our country’s twelfth-grade students have only a rudimentary proficiency in U.S. history.”

There are a variety of reasons why our schools are not teaching history today at the levels that existed throughout the last century.  “Chief among them is, perhaps, the 21st Century focus on STEM education with its emphasis on Science, Technology, Engineering and Math.  As a result we’ve all but abandoned the teaching of history.  And, that’s not a good thing for our nation,” Smith notes.  “It’s not that our teachers are doing a poor job; it’s that lesson plans and textbooks simply do not provide the kinds of details that engage young learners.”

Smith cites NYU professor of education, Diane Ravitch, who had this to say about the importance of learning about our past: “History keeps people from being ignorant.  A nation that forgets its history can be manipulated.  It doesn’t make you a better person to know history, but it makes you a better citizen.”

That’s why Smith co-founded the Grateful American Book Prize. “It is an effort to make students curious about history and to give them the power they need to realize that the past is prologue to the future.  While textbooks may provide the details, works of fiction and nonfiction based on fact provide the context of history.  A good page-turner does for an early learner what dry recitations of dates and events cannot do– namely to leave them wanting for more information.”

The Prize was designed as an incentive for authors and publishers to produce more works of historical fiction and nonfiction that appeal to young readers.

Educator Tarry Lindquist is a believer in the use of appealing books to initiate a student’s interest.  “It puts people back into history.  Social studies texts are often devoted to coverage rather than depth.  Too often, individuals, no matter how famous or important, are reduced to a few sentences.  Children have difficulty converting cryptic descriptions and snapshots into complex individuals who often had difficult choices to make, so myths and stereotypes flourish.  Good historical fiction presents individuals as they are, neither all good nor all bad.”

Kathy Cannon Wiechman won the 2015 Grateful American Book Prize for her Like a River: A Civil War Novel. The judges’ 2016 selection will be announced at the Library of Congress on October 6th.

Published on July 19, 2016

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