Washington, DC - There are those who dismiss George Santayana’s claim that “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." Among them was the late American author Kurt Vonnegut who is quoted as saying “we're doomed to repeat the past no matter what.”
“Whatever the position on the need to know our nation’s history, the fact remains that a knowledge of how the U.S. came to be and the stories of those individuals who made it happen are essential if our children are to grow up to be reliably industrious citizens. But the sad news is that too few of today’s schoolchildren take an interest in the lessons of history. And now there is evidence that their big brothers and sisters are apathetic, at best, about our past,” according to Dan Weber, president of the Association of Mature American Citizens.
Weber cites a recent Wall Street Journal article about the dramatic decline in the numbers of visitors to Civil War battlefield sites as reported by the National Park Service. The story noted that in 1970 more than ten million sightseers made trips to the top five sites compared with just 3.1 million last year-- a drop of some 70%. “A lack of interest by younger generations” was cited by the Journal for the extreme drop in attendance.
John Daniel Davidson at The Federalist says it goes beyond indifference. In an article published in the online magazine he wrote: “it’s not just that young people are not taught to respect history. They are often not taught history at all. To the extent they are, they are told that American history is a parade of horribles: slavery, genocide, bigotry, greed—a story above all of injustice and oppression, perpetrated by the powerful against the weak.”
In an interview last fall with the Daily Signal, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos recalled a visit to a classroom “where one of the teachers was wearing a shirt that said, ‘Find Your Truth,’ suggesting that, of course, truth is a very fungible and mutable thing instead of focusing on the fact that there is objective truth and part of learning is actually pursuing that truth. So roll it back, there is a very important need for students to know the foundations of our country and the ideas around which our country was formed. And to then have the ability to discuss and debate those ideas freely on their K-12 campuses and on their higher ed campuses.”
Weber underscored the fact that The Declaration of Independence is real and so is the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights. “They attest to the unselfish or non-biased elements of the birth of our nation. So too are America’s heroic individuals real, historic heroes such as our Founding Fathers and Abraham Lincoln. And, it cannot be denied that our unique form of government, our democratic republic, has proven to be as fair as any government that ever existed.”
So, Weber says, it is sad to learn that just 26% of Americans can name the three branches of government-- the executive, legislative and judicial branches. A survey conducted by the Annenberg Public Policy Center also found that 30% of the participants couldn’t even identify one of the branches of government.
Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Center for American Progress, commented on the Annenberg poll. Her reaction was that “those unfamiliar with our three branches of government can’t understand the importance of checks and balances and an independent judiciary. Lack of basic civics knowledge is worrisome and an argument for an increased focus on civics education in the schools.”