Grateful American Book Prize

Are we settling for ‘dumbed down’ standards in our schools?

WASHINGTON, DC – “Every child in America should be acquainted with his own country. He should read books that furnish him with ideas that will be useful to him in life and practice.” That is the point of the Grateful American Book Prize, although we believe that it is good advice for girls as well as boys. However, it was Noah Webster who first put forth the notion in an essay written in 1788.

Yet, the sad fact is that only a mere 12 percent of U.S. High School Seniors are proficient in U.S. History, according to The National Assessment of Educational Progress.

“We established the Prize in 2015 because Dr. Bruce Cole, former Chair of the National Endowment for the Humanities, and I were deeply concerned by the lack of knowledge among America’s youth about the history of our country. Time and again authoritative reports were showing that in many cases middle school and high school students alike were unable to recall the simplest facts. Many could not identify the first president of the United States. Some did not know who Abraham Lincoln was, let alone that his Emancipation Proclamation freed the slaves,” says David Bruce Smith who co-founded the Grateful American Book Prize with Dr. Cole.

Now comes news that so-called improvements in education and graduation rates across the country may have been “artificially propped up by dumbed down standards,” according to a recent article in a journal published by Intellectual Takeout, a non-profit organization promoting education.

“That suspicion was affirmed over the weekend when Tennessee announced that many of its graduates had not fulfilled a number of the requirements for the diploma they received. And it wasn’t just a handful, either. Fully one-third of Tennessee graduates had not completed all the required course work for a high school degree,” wrote Annie Holmquist, a senior writer at Intellectual Takeout

She pointed out in her article that the deficiencies included, in particular, history. “If Tennessee is a microcosm of what’s happening in the other 49 states, then perhaps this explains why only 12 percent of seniors are proficient in U.S. history and only 24 percent are proficient in civics. If school administrators are turning a blind eye and passing students through school without requiring them to take these subjects, then it’s no wonder students know so little about their nation and how it works.”

Smith agrees. He notes that “numerous scholars over the years have proved that in order to be a good citizen, a knowledge of history is required. In other words, we learn how to fulfill our responsibilities as citizens from the events and personalities who shaped our nation.”

Conceding that history class can be boring at times, he says the rationale for the Prize was to encourage new and established authors and their publishers to produce works of historically accurate fiction and nonfiction that make history come to life for young learners.

“We encourage parents and grandparents to actively encourage children to become lovers of history by providing them with such books. Many educators will tell you that giving your kids good reads that capture their imaginations is a smart way to learn their history lessons.”