As Americans struggle with morale, due to the uncertainty of impending war and the economy, we also struggle personally with the effects of a down economy and seeing a friend or loved one in the Guard be called to active duty. Businesses, non-profits, and government agencies continue to focus on the shrinking bottom line, not always realizing the impact many decisions have on individuals and our collective future.
A few months ago, President Bush launched “We the People,” an initiative by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) to encourage the teaching, studying, and understanding of American history and culture. NEH Chairman Bruce Cole said, “The President has identified this lack of understanding as a serious problem and asked NEH to help combat it. The September 11 terrorist attack was designed to destroy not only thousands of people, but also the American way of life. In defending our homeland, we must fight to protect the democratic ideals and principles of freedom on which our nation was founded.”
As far back as the Old Testament, stories can be found of prophets and priests encouraging people to remember, to “write on their hearts” the events, circumstances, and stories that make up their history. Cole explains, “Of course, we are a forward-looking people. We are more concerned with what happens tomorrow than what happened yesterday. But we are in danger of having our view of the future obscured by our ignorance of the past. We cannot see clearly ahead if we are blind to history. Unfortunately, most indicators point to a worsening of our case of American amnesia.”
A Roper poll commissioned by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) surveyed students attending the nation’s top schools and found 40 percent didn’t know in what half century the Civil War occurred. A recent National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) “report card” stated more than half of high school seniors thought Germany, Italy, or Japan was our ally in World War II. None of the nation’s top 50 colleges and universities require students to study American history, and only 10 percent require students to study history at all.
Cole said, “We are a people of many creeds, races, and religions united by common purpose into a good and great nation. Our strength lies in our shared democratic ideals. America’s founders recognized the importance of an informed and educated citizenry for the survival of participatory democracy. The humanities tell us who we are as a people and why our country is worth fighting for. They are integral to our homeland defense.”
Not to be mistaken, our children are as concerned as we are. They search for answers from parents and teachers. We’re engaged in a “war” driven by philosophy, ideology, religion, and views of history—all humanities subjects. Defending our democracy demands more than military and diplomatic campaigns abroad. It requires a broad understanding among our citizens of the people, events, ideas, and ideals that have shaped our nation.
Thank you, Mr. President, for realizing the need to highlight our understanding of American history and culture. Now, more than ever, educating our children not just in math and science, but in art, culture, and history is critical to America. AA!