U.S. schoolchildren suffer from a ‘history deficit’

We need ‘engaging books’ that can whet their appetites for the subject

WASHINGTON, DC – The Department of Education conducts periodic assessments of the proficiency of America’s Elementary, Middle School and High School students. “Their findings have been alarmingly dismal as they relate to the knowledge our children have of our country’s history and that does not bode well for the future. Without knowing the past – who we are as a nation — future generations will not be able to function responsibly, says education advocate David Bruce Smith.

Smith says that parents understandably want what’s best for their children by giving them a good education that will lead to a good job when they leave school. In fact, he points out, the mission of our schools is to teach them how to become educated and conscientious citizens and he cites Devin Foley, CEO of IntellectualTakeout, an organization focused on education: “you can have an opinion and you can vote, but you have no real understanding of the lessons of the past, both good and bad. Indeed, if you don’t know your history, you have no idea where we have come from and how it formed the present. The future is not yours to shape, but merely to stumble blindly into.”

Is history such a daunting subject and is that why students lack proficiency in the subject? No, says Smith. “But, it can be boring. Ask students about history class, and you’re likely to hear that word, over and over. Let’s face it: the textbooks and handouts can be pretty dull and, as a result, it may be hard for youngsters to make a connection with their lives today.”

It was the late Dr. Bruce Cole, former chairman of the Endowment for the Humanities, who inspired Smith to create the Grateful American Book Prize. Together they established the Prize in 2015 to confront the history deficit in our schools.

The idea was to get more authors and their publishers to put out more engaging works of historically accurate fiction and nonfiction for young learners. And, it would appear that there are now more well researched books based on the events and personalities of U.S. history being published each year.

“Over the three years since the Prize was established we’ve received hundreds of books that fulfill our mission. And they all stir up a desire among teen and preteen readers to learn more about our country’s past,” according to Smith.

Author Jonathan Stokes had this to say when he submitted his book, The Thrifty Guide to the American Revolution, for the 2018 Prize: “I love the mission of The Grateful American Book Prize. When I was in public school, the American Revolution was taught as the driest, dustiest topic imaginable. It was only as an adult that I discovered the Revolution is one of the most incredible underdog stories of all time. My goal in writing my guide to the American Revolution is to make the history as exciting and accessible as possible to kids.”

NOTE TO EDITORS: Books of fiction and nonfiction that are eligible for the 2018 Prize can be submitted until July 31, 2018. They must be historically accurate, geared for children ages 11 to 15 and published between July 1, 2017 and July 31, 2018. Submission information and forms are available here.

Published on April 10, 2018

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