WASHINGTON, DC, Sep 9 – A new movement to engage America’s students in the study of history is underway. It’s led by a dedicated education advocate, David Bruce Smith, who admits that he and his team have a daunting task.
“Kids tend to do a lot of yawning in history class. Just look at the findings of the Department of Education’s National Assessment of Educational Progress [NAEP]. Their newest study revealed that fewer than half of our twelfth-grade students have a basic proficiency in U.S. history. Among fourth-graders, it’s less than a third,” said Smith, who is also an established author and publisher.
NAEP surveys have been administered since 1969 and have consistently revealed an “alarming” deficiency among students in their knowledge of U.S. history. Smith said that without an understanding of how and why America came to be and who were the important personalities who shaped the past, they won’t fully grasp what is required to become civically responsible citizens.
“That’s why I co-founded the Grateful American™ Book Prize. It is an effort to get kids curious about history and to give them the power they need to realize that the past is prologue to the future. While textbooks may provide the details, works of fiction and nonfiction based on fact provide the context of history. A good page-turner does for an early learner what dry recitations of dates and events cannot do— namely to leave them wanting for more information.”
The Prize is designed to encourage authors who are just getting started to write good, readable books about American history. The winner of this year’s award will be announced at a reception in Washington on October 22.
Dr. Louise Mirrer, President and CEO of the New York Historical Society, is on the panel of judges for the Prize. She says textbooks and hand-outs are dull and kids simply don’t see the connection with their lives today. But an amazing thing happens after they leave school and get out into the world. Many of them develop a hankering for the past. And what do they read if they want to get absorbed in a novel? The answer, as often as not, is historical fiction. Just look at the current best-seller list: All the Light We Cannot See, The Nightingale, Four Nights with the Duke and Outlander.”
These historical novels work hard to be engaging, she says. The authors’ livelihoods depend on it—and so the curiosity of readers is aroused, their capacity to imagine the past is awakened, their store of information is enriched.
“Our question is: Why wait for kids to turn into grown-ups? One way that we could help get students hooked on history today is to put historical novels into their hands—ones that are both entertaining and faithful to the experience of the past.”