We are looking for excellence in writing and storytelling.
Author and publisher David Bruce Smith has boundless enthusiasm for American History and a limitless longing to share his passion with the nation’s school children. So, it’s no wonder that he created the Grateful American™ Prize.
The new literary award is his way of recognizing authors who pen works for children that are focused on historical American events and personalities. David says it wasn’t his idea but a notion suggested to him by the late Dr. Bruce Cole, the former Chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Dr. Cole and David have long shared their concern that history has taken a back seat to math and science in education, especially in early education.
“Over the past several decades schools have gradually deemphasized history in the classroom with the result that kids today do not know who George Washington and Benjamin Franklin were,” David is quick to note.
In fact, he cited an Internet history survey of about 1,000 Americans conducted by the American Revolution Center. “A shocking 83% of those who took the test failed miserably. Half of them did not know that the American Revolution took place before the Civil War. It was an extremely embarrassing way to prove how little people know about even the most basic facts of the country’s past.”
Dr. Cole said that one reason “practical” subjects are stressed in our schools today is because math and science are the cornerstones of the high tech world in which we live. But, he added, “I’m not so sure that having a degree in a technical subject offers easier access to a job than a degree in history.”
A Grateful American
David had a close relationship with his grandfather, real estate developer and philanthropist Charles E. Smith, a Russian immigrant who came to America in 1911 and it was he who instilled in David a passion for history.
His father, Robert H. Smith, who assumed leadership of the Smith family real estate concerns, and his mother, the renowned artist, Clarice Smith, reinforced David’s love of history. “They believed in education and felt very fortunate to be able to live in a country where you could say and think anything you wanted.”
“I was energized by their passion and, in turn, from the time I was in third grade I became an eager reader of books, especially biographies. As a matter of fact, once I was criticized by an English teacher for reading too many biographies and not enough fiction,” David recalled.
His father often referred to himself as a “Grateful American” when David was growing up and so he adopted the term to describe himself, his family and the Grateful American™ Foundation he founded which has a focus on encouraging kids to learn about who they are and what it means to be an American. The foundation has a singular mission: to restore enthusiasm in American history.
So, when Bruce Cole texted David with the idea of establishing a literary award – The Grateful American™ Prize – he didn’t hesitate to put the wheels in motion almost immediately in an effort to launch the endeavor. “I saw that it would take the foundation in a new, meaningful direction.”
Dr. Cole has described the U.S. as “a country of historical amnesiacs” and the surveys and statistics bear him out. Kids today are hard pressed to describe key historical documents such as the Bill of Rights or to identify important historical figures, including our Founding Fathers. Many don’t know the roles George Washington, Benjamin Franklin or Thomas Jefferson played in the founding of America.
In fact, the National Assessment of Educational Progress Report of 2010 revealed that less than a quarter of fourth grade students knew that George Washington was the first president of the United States. Another study of children in elementary school showed that 25% of the kids they asked said Columbus sailed not in 1492, as the old rhyme has it, but sometime after 1750.
As Bruce Cole put it: “…we’re not united by blood or by land or by common religion, but by ideas and ideals. And if we don’t know those, then our democracy is imperiled. And tests and polls and studies have shown that our citizens, but especially our young people, don’t know enough about where we’ve come from and how the past informs the present and has some bearing for the future.”
Dr. Cole believes that the Grateful American™ Prize for factual children’s books on history will make a significant contribution to fulfilling the need for young learners to understand their past, present and future. And, he said, it will encourage established authors and writers who are just getting started to write good, readable books about American history.
History provides logical context
An Associated Press analysis concluded that history teaches us “how to become better citizens.” It reinforces the notion that students, especially those in grade school, need to know why historical events and the people who helped build the country are so important to us today and in the future.
Former Secretary of Education, Dr. Rod Paige, has always been a proponent of history as part of a well-rounded education: “History is an important and integral part of the foundation upon which our education system is built. It provides a logical context for our lives as Americans. It offers an understanding of how to overcome adversity and how to learn from our mistakes. It teaches us about ourselves—who we are, how the U.S. came to be a model for democracy in the world and why our melting-pot population has played and continues to play such an important role in the country’s development and success. If we don’t teach our children these things, they will be doomed to a lifetime of doubt and struggle.”
Another former Education Secretary, Senator Lamar Alexander, stressed the importance of unity derived from diverse cultures in the teaching of history. He said: “From the founding of our country, we have always understood how important it is for citizens to understand the principles that unite us as a country. Other countries are united by their ethnicity. If you move to Japan for example, you can’t become Japanese. Americans, on the other hand, are united by a few things in which we believe. To become an American citizen, you subscribe to those principles. If there were no agreement on those principles, as Samuel Huntington has noted, we would be the United Nations instead of the United States of America. Still, many children are growing up as ‘civic illiterates,’ not knowing the basic principles that unite us as a country.”
David Bruce Smith is confident that the Grateful American™ Prize will gain attention and begin making a difference in the literary/real worlds in which we live.
The Prize will be awarded to the authors of books for children in grades seven through nine dealing with important moments and people in America’s history. The books can be works of fiction or non-fiction and will include illustrations to help bring the author’s words to life. “We are looking for excellence in writing and storytelling.”
David said the award will have significance. In addition to the fact that it will be among the richest prizes for literary accomplishment, $13,000 – thirteen for the number of original colonies – it will also stand alone, among the nearly six dozen literary awards presented each year for children’s books. The Grateful American™ Prize is the only one that recognizes works dealing with American history. As of 2017, “Honorable Mention” winners will get a cash prize of $500 each.
“Our objective is to emphasize the importance of American history no matter your nationality or what part of the country in which you reside. Many history books are regional or ethnic in their approach. In some cases they seem to serve a personal interest that distorts the way kids are educated. Our intent is to ensure that facts are the facts and not a biased interpretation that inhibits understanding rather than promoting it.”