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White House Fact Sheet on Teaching American History and Civic Education

Bush Education Initiatives
17 September 2002

White House Fact Sheet on Teaching American History and Civic Education

Today’s Presidential Action

Today President George W. Bush observed the 215th anniversary of the signing of the United States Constitution by announcing new policies and initiatives to support the teaching of American History and Civics and by joining America’s students in a nationwide pledge of allegiance.

  • The President announced that the National Endowment for the Humanities will make support for the teaching of American History and Civics a top priority with a significant, ongoing investment in a new initiative called “We the People.” He will ask Congress to support the funding necessary for the initiative.
  • The President announced that the National Archives and Records Administration, in collaboration with National History Day, the Corporation for National and Community Service and the USA Freedom Corps, will be giving students and teachers across the country access to national treasures of American history through the “Our Documents” initiative.
  • The President announced a “We the People” Forum on American History, Civics, and Service to be held in February 2003.
  • With students from the East Literature Magnet School in Nashville, Tennessee, the President will participate in Pledge Across America, a nationwide patriotic observance.

Background: What Do American Students Know About our History and Democratic Traditions? Americans need to understand our history in order to be engaged and effective citizens in a democratic society. Yet according to the U.S. Department of Education’s National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP), which tracks both Civics and American History understanding among K-12 students, less than one quarter of America’s students are proficient in either subject.

The results of the 1998 NAEP civics examination administered to a sample of 4th, 8th, and 12th grade students across the country shows that students are not proficient in the skills that enable citizens to use their civic knowledge. In 1998, 77 percent of all 4th graders sampled scored below “proficient” levels. Results for 8th and 12th graders were similar, with approximately three-fourths of students at both grade levels scoring below “proficient” levels.

  • One-third of 4th graders could not explain the meaning of “I pledge allegiance to the flag” on a multiple-choice test.
  • A majority of 4th graders could not answer why “citizens elect people to make laws for them” in a democracy.

The NAEP 2001 U.S. History Report Card results also show a similar lack of proficiency. Again 4th, 8th, and 12th grades were tested, and the results showed that 89 percent of high school seniors, 84 percent of eight graders, and 82 percent of fourth-graders scored below “proficient” levels.

The American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) 2000 report, Losing America’s Memory: Historical Illiteracy in the 21st Century, includes a Roper survey. The survey showed that graduating seniors at America’s most elite institutions — the U.S. News and World Report’s top 55 colleges and universities — cannot correctly identify James Madison, Valley Forge, or words from the Gettysburg Address. The follow-up study released this week shows that despite the results of the 2000 survey, nothing has changed. Supporting the Teaching of American History and Civics Education The “We the People” initiative will be administered by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) as a top priority and includes competitive grant programs and other public programs to support the teaching of American History and Civics. At the President’s direction, the effort will start in 2003 with the first three initiatives listed below and later expand to include all programs with a significant, multi-year investment:

  • “We the People” Grant Solicitation: NEH will invite applications across all of its existing programs for projects that advance an understanding among Americans of American history.
  • Idea of America Essay Contest: High School juniors nationwide will be invited to submit a 1,200- word essay on the “Idea of America” and receive awards.
  • “Heroes of History” Lecture: An annual lecture will feature an acclaimed scholar telling the story of a hero in American life. The lecture will be made available to school libraries around the country.
  • Citizenship project: A new grant category will be created to support projects that help schools and universities improve and enhance their teaching of and course offerings in American history, government, and culture.
  • Summer Seminars and Institutes: There will be an expansion of the Summer Seminars and Institutes for school teachers and university faculty to expand their knowledge of and appreciation for our Nation’s important texts and principles.
  • Traveling Exhibits on “The Idea of America”: Support will be provided for exhibits that will travel to small and mid-sized communities throughout America.
  • Annual conference: The NEH will convene an annual conference on “We the People” themes including civics education, the state of historical knowledge, and ways to enhance the teaching of American history.

Providing Local Access to National Historic Treasures

  • “Our Documents” is a first time collaboration among the National Archives and Records Administration, National History Day, the Corporation for National and Community Service, and the USA Freedom Corps to offer students across the country access to the historic resources of the National Archives through:
  • 100 American Milestone Documents: Through web materials, a lesson plan sourcebook, and teacher workshops, 100 American milestone documents from the public holdings of the National Archives will be made available to educators with background and lesson plan ideas for each. National History Day: A year-long education program for students in grades 6-12, National History Day will encourage students to produce research projects, including papers, dramatic performances, exhibits, and multimedia documentaries. The annual theme for the 2002-2003 school year is “Rights and Responsibilities in History.”
  • Competition: To encourage student involvement in the National History Day project and theme, students submit their research project to be evaluated at local, state, and national competitions. For the first time this year, teachers will be invited to submit their National History Day lesson plans for recognition in a national competition.

Fostering dialogues on freedom and the rights and responsibilities of citizens. The President also announced that a “We the People” Forum on American History, Civics, and Service, to be cosponsored by the NEH, the Corporation for National and Community Service, the U.S. Department of Education, and the USA Freedom Corps will be held in February 2003.

The purpose of the forum is to call public attention to the need for more and better American history, civics, and service and draw attention to promising practices in history, civics, and student service as well as innovative initiatives.

Forum participants will discuss new policy options and new ways to make national treasures more accessible to citizens, schools, and local communities.

Pledge Across America

During his visit to Tennessee, the President will participate in Pledge Across America, a nationwide patriotic observance that invites every school child in America to participate in a simultaneous pledge of allegiance at 2pm Eastern Daylight Time. The pledge is being observed on the 215th anniversary of the signing of the United Sates Constitution, the conclusion of the first-ever National Civic Participation Week, and the beginning of Constitution Week.

National Civic Participation Week is observed between September 11 and 17, 2002. It was designated by Congress last fall to showcase American democracy and civic participation, honor the courageous spirit of the American people, and pay tribute to those we lost on September 11.

Fostering A Culture of Service, Citizenship and Responsibility The mission of the USA Freedom Corps is to foster a culture of service, citizenship, and responsibility. The USA Freedom Corps has developed a working group drawing upon federal agencies and departments that support education programs to advance student awareness and understanding of American History and Civics. The USA Freedom Corps will continue to work to build a better understanding of our democratic traditions and institutions and help create a better informed and more involved citizenry.

The policies and programs announced by the President today further the citizenship component of the USA Freedom Corps’ mission by:

  • Supporting the teaching of American History and civics education;
  • Providing local access to national historic treasures; and
  • Fostering dialogues on freedom and on the rights and responsibilities of citizens.
http://usinfo.state.gov/usa/edu/fs091702.htm
This project is funded through the Corporation for National and Community Service, Learn and Serve America — Higher Education.

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