Alexander: The Importance Of American History

Friday, July 1, 2005 - by Sen. Lamar Alexander

This week we celebrate Independence Day, and the sad fact is that millions of young Americans don’t know much about why.

According to the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP), commonly referred to as the “Nation’s Report Card,” fewer students have just a basic understanding of American history than have a basic understanding of any other subject which we test – including math, science and reading. When you look at the national report card, American history is our children’s worst subject.

Last week, I held a hearing to examine the American History Achievement Act—legislation I introduced in April with Senator Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts.

This modest bill provides for improved testing of American history and civics so that we can determine where history is being taught well – and where it is being taught not so well – so that improvements can be made. We also know that when testing is focused on a specific subject, states and school districts are more likely to step up to the challenge and improve performance.

The American History Achievement Act gives the National Assessment Governing Board (NAGB) the authority to administer a ten state pilot study of the NAEP test in U.S. history in 2006. They already have that authority for reading, math, science and writing.

This pilot program should collect enough data to attain a state-by-state comparison of 8th and 12th grade students’ knowledge and understanding of U.S. History. That data will allow us to know which states are doing a better job of teaching American history and allow other states to model their programs on those that are working well. It will also put a spotlight on American history that should encourage states and school districts to improve their efforts at teaching the subject.

Teaching American history is a unique and special responsibility of our public schools.

I can remember a meeting of educators in Rochester a few years ago when I was president of the University of Tennessee. The then president of Notre Dame University, Monk Malloy, asked this question: “What is the rationale for the public school?” There was an unexpected silence around the room until Al Shanker, the late president of the American Federation of Teachers, answered in this way: “The public school was created to teach immigrant children the three R’s and what it means to be an American with the hope that they would then go home and teach their parents.”

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.

However, as Al Shanker pointed out, we cannot overlook the special mission of our public schools: teaching our children what it means to be an American. U.S. history is the last great subject that we need to fully integrate into our public school curriculum.

And, according to recent poll results, that’s exactly what the American people – who pay the taxes – want. Hart-Teeter recently conducted a poll of 1,300 adults for the Educational Testing Service (ETS), where they asked what the principal goal of education ought to be. The top response was “producing literate, educated citizens who can participate in our democracy.” Twenty-six percent of respondents felt that should be our principal goal. “Teach basics: math, reading, writing” was selected by only 15 percent as the principal goal of education. You can’t be an educated participant in our democracy if you don’t know our history.

The American History Achievement Act is part of a broader effort to strengthen understanding of our nation’s history and shared values. Last year, Senator Kennedy and I joined together with other senators to pass the American History and Civics Education Act by a unanimous vote in the U.S. Senate, and it was signed into law by the president. The purpose of the bill was to create summer academies for outstanding teachers and students of American history and civics. Senator Charles Schumer of New York and I introduced a bill to codify the Oath of Allegiance which immigrants take when sworn in as new citizens of the United States. The Oath should be protected in law just as the National Anthem and the Pledge of Allegiance are.

Our children are growing up ignorant of our nation’s history. Yet teaching our children what it means to be an American is one of the principal reasons we created the public school. It’s time to put the teaching of American history and civics back in its rightful place in our schools so our children can grow up learning what it means to be an American and why it is that we celebrate the Fourth of July.


Vehicle Emissions Testing Causes More Pollution Than It Prevents

While a noble cause to make sure vehicles are operating efficiently with the minimum amount of pollutants, a simple analysis makes it somewhat evident the VET program in Chattanooga causes more pollution that it prevents.  Though I don't know how many vehicles are tested on an annual basis, if you assume an average round trip of 10 miles to the nearest testing station (five ... (click for more)

Is Poverty Inherited?

Is poverty inherited was meant and is meant as query to all of us.  The school system is a mess. Yes, a mess. Teachers in most of the schools in both the inner city and the fringes deal with behavior problems of some magnitude. The obvious solutionm rid the troublesome student and all will be well. That argument accomplishes little. Lil Joey in the back of the classroom ... (click for more)

Valerie Bray Pleads Guilty In Death Of Well-Known Runner Cameron Bean

A long-time Moccasin Bend Hospital employee pleaded guilty on Tuesday morning in connection with the death of well-known runner Cameron Bean. Ms. Bray pleaded guilty to criminally negligent homicide and leaving the scene of an accident with a fatality involved. Defense attorney Bill Speek said she faces one-two years on each charge at a sentencing hearing on Feb. 1 at 1:30 ... (click for more)

Officer Who Was Shot Returned Fire; Is Recovering Well; Shooter Still On Loose

Chattanooga Police Chief Fred Fletcher said Monday morning that the officer who was shot three times on Thursday is recovering well.   Chief Fletcher said the officer was wearing a bullet-proof vest and one bullet hit the vest, which protected him during the shooting.  The officer was able to return fire, although Chief Fletcher would not comment on how many bullets ... (click for more)

Vols' Barnett On All-SEC Coaches' First Team Defense

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – Tennessee defensive end Derek Barnett, who tied legendary former Vol Reggie White for the school’s all-time sack record (32), has been named to the 2016 All-Southeastern Conference Coaches’ Football Team. Vols quarterback Joshua Dobbs was selected to the second-team offense and return specialist Evan Berry was picked as the second team return specialist. ... (click for more)

UTC Hoops: UTC vs. Marshall and Toys for Tots Tonight

Tonight is important as the UTC men’s basketball team hosts old rival Marshall at 7 p.m at McKenzie Come ready to watch exciting, fast-paced hoops … a track meet in tennis shoes. The Mocs are 6-2, while the high-scoring Thundering Herd is 5-2. Marshall averages 83 points a game and relies heavily on the 3-point shot (66 of 188), while the Mocs will look to minimize ... (click for more)