America’s youth suffer from a ‘historical amnesia’

by David Bruce Smith
Author, publisher and co-founder of the Grateful American Book Prize

The lack of knowledge about the history of our country among students in middle school, high school and even in colleges and universities has been well established and alarming.  Why?  Because-someday, they will become the voters responsible for electing the next generation of leadership in America. And, they will not be prepared to carry it out without a firm grasp of history.

Knowing who, how and why our country was founded determines who we are now, and what our country will look like in the future.  It is the basis for an informed electorate.  Our children and grandchildren need to know these things if they are to mature into engaged citizens.  Yet, there are numerous studies, polls and quite a bit of anecdotal evidence that back up the notion that they suffer from “historical amnesia,” as Dr. Bruce Cole, former Chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, described it.

It is up to us–their guardians–and their teachers to encourage our youngsters to cultivate an interest in history.  And, it is the one and only reason we established the Grateful American Book Prize.  Dr. Cole partnered with me in creating the Prize to inspire new and established authors–and their publishers– to produce more works of historically accurate fiction and nonfiction that can help arouse an interest in history among America’s students.

Ask history teachers why their pupils can’t learn the subject, and you’ll get a variety of answers.  Some would say it is because American schools have been deemphasizing it in favor of so-called practical schooling in the sciences and technology.  That may be so, but as education consultant Robert Pondiscio put it:  “many Americans have forgotten we have public schools so students can become educated citizens capable of self-government.”  And that is pretty important, as well.

Meanwhile, many teachers would readily acknowledge that history class can be boring; to counter that, they have discovered ways to make the subject more interesting, such as supplementing textbooks with good reads that excite young learners, and arouse curiosity about what really happened in the past.

“I believe that good historical fiction exercises a child’s imagination through a vicarious experience.  It leads children to use themselves and their own lives as comparisons to the characters that lived long ago and often, far away, to reflect on their own experience, to ask their families questions.  It awakens awareness, perks up perception, sparks conversations,” according to author and lecturer Valerie Tripp.  And, that is why the Grateful American Book Prize exists.

The fact is, the Prize has, indeed, renewed interest in historical books for young people among authors and publishers.  But, the recognition and financial incentive it provides are only part of the reason for its success.  The hundreds of authors who have submitted their works for consideration over the past few years seem to unanimously agree that the most important consequence of it is –an opportunity to stir up interest-again– in the study of American history.

Published on March 09, 2017

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