WASHINGTON, DC – Contrary to what may be popular opinion, Presidents Day was not established to generate sales for America’s retailers. But, the fact of the matter is that many of our schoolchildren can only identify Abraham Lincoln and George Washington from either TV or Presidents Day commercials. They are more likely to know that Lady Gaga headlined the half-time show at this year’s Super Bowl than to appreciate what the holiday commemorates.
David Bruce Smith, an author and publisher, says “there are some who believe the reason is that there is a movement afoot to deemphasize American culture in the schools that favors a worldview. They put the blame on the emphasis placed on STEM education, which prioritizes science, technology, engineering and mathematics as a means of accomplishing that goal. After all, it leaves little room for teaching history.”
Smith co-founded the Grateful American Book Prize in an effort to rejuvenate the love of history– American history in particular. The award is presented each year to authors who seek to encourage curiosity in young learners about the events and personalities that shaped our country over the past 240 years.
As one teacher told New York Post Opinion writer Karol Markowicz: “All the pressure in lower grades is in math and English Language Arts because of the state tests and the weight that they carry.”
Markowicz cites a 2014 report by the National Assessment of Educational Progress that showed “an abysmal 18 percent of American high school kids were proficient in US history.” She also notes that “a 2012 story in Perspectives on History magazine by University of North Carolina professor Bruce VanSledright revealed that 88 percent of elementary school teachers considered teaching history a low priority.”
But the blame cannot be placed entirely on the teachers, says Smith. “While many of our children don’t know who Lincoln and Washington were, we live in the age of technology. And so it is not surprising that our schools want to prepare students for a workplace that relies on employees with math-based comprehension. However, we ignore history at a peril to our nation because knowledge of our past is the key component of good, responsible citizenship.”
Writer Markowicz points out there is a national debate focused on how America is in danger of becoming “fractured.” She concludes that the less our children know about “our shared history” the more divided we become.
As we prepare to celebrate Presidents Day, only nine percent of the nation’s fourth graders are able to pick out a picture of Lincoln, and just 23 percent know that Washington was our first President, according to NAEP reports.
“It is interesting to note that the first two winners of the Grateful American Book Prize were Kathy Cannon Wiechman for her Civil War novel, Like a River, in 2015, and Chris Stevenson in 2016 for his novel, The Drum of Destiny. These selections are gripping accounts of the key events over which President Lincoln and President Washington presided, respectively. Their books presented those events in a way that can inspire young readers to learn to love history. The mission of our Prize is to provide an incentive for authors and publishers to produce more books like these—works that encourage our children to explore the past and become knowledgeable, productive—and proud– citizens,” says Smith.