Our schools need to put a new emphasis on American history

WASHINGTON, DC – Numerous news reports indicate that elementary, middle, and high schools are giving little attention to the study of American history, according to education consultant John Danielson.

Professor Katy Swalwell teaches courses in elementary social studies methods at Iowa State University. In an article she published at the National History Education Clearinghouse Web site, Dr. Swalwell noted that “the condition of history in the elementary classroom is one of great concern.   History is rarely included as part of the curriculum and, if it is taught, relies upon a conventional and canonical perspective that ignores historical scholarship and excludes multiple perspectives. Our best hope is that current and future teachers become critical consumers of state standards and district-sponsored materials and see themselves as ‘smugglers’ of good history back into the school day.”

It’s shameful but true that less than 20% of young learners are proficient in U.S. history. More disturbing is a report issued by the Annenberg Public Policy Center that shows nearly 75% of Americans cannot name the three branches of government.

“There is a general lack of knowledge about our history; perhaps, that is the reason why political dissention has become more violent in recent times,” says Danielson, a long-term colleague of former Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander. He also served as Chief of Staff for Education Secretary Rod Paige.

“Dissention, in itself, is not a bad thing. Skeptics like George Washington, John Adams and the other Founding Fathers put our nation on the road to a unique style of governance—a federation of states with a Representative Democracy. And, it took nonconformists such as Abraham Lincoln, Susan B. Anthony and Martin Luther King, Jr. to incorporate their visions of a better world to bring about much needed reforms to the American way—which actually—permanently influenced the world for the better. They were our revolutionary role models,” said Danielson.

Is the country losing faith in the values and ideals that made it great, because of its historical illiteracy?

“The late Dr. Bruce Cole, former chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, and history education advocate David Bruce Smith thought so. And, that is why the Grateful American Book Prize was established. It occurred to them that if kids were not learning history in the classroom, perhaps they could be enticed with stories of adventure, romance and ingenuity. The Prize is aimed at encouraging authors and their publishers to produce more historically accurate fiction and nonfiction for middle schoolers. Regaling our kids with exciting tales that capture their imaginations can hook them on history.”

As columnist Karol Markowicz put it an OpEd in the New York Post: “We talk often about how fractured our country has become. That our division increases while school kids are taught less and less about our shared history should come as no surprise.”

If that’s the case, says Danielson, we need to do whatever it takes to “re-capture” the kids. It would help, too, if parents petitioned the education authorities in their communities and states, requesting them to reinstate the importance of history in the classroom.

“How can we expect America’s younger generations to learn how to be responsible and productive citizens without informing them of the events and personalities that shaped the nation? How can they make knowledgeable, intelligent choices without knowing the critically important decisions of the past?” Danielson said.

Fact: for those newly arrived in the U.S. seeking to become citizens, a thorough knowledge of American history is a requisite. They need to know about the Constitution, the workings of our three branches of government and more. There are no less than 100 questions on the examination they must take in order to qualify for citizenship.

Says Danielson: “ask yourself, could my middle and high school students pass a citizenship test?”

The Kent County Arts Council (KCAC) has received a Maryland Heritage Areas Authority “Stories of the Chesapeake” capital grant for $100,000 toward the renovation of the Vincent and Leslie Prince Raimond Arts Building in Chestertown

Vincent and Leslie Prince Raimond Arts Building

“The significance of this grant cannot be understated,” said Arts Council President Clark Bjorke. “To be recognized by a division of the Maryland Historic Trust for renovation of an historic anchor building for Chestertown’s Main Street and Arts & Entertainment District, is quite exciting.  What better way to tell more of the stories of our region than through the arts.”

The grant brings total capital funding to nearly $300,000 toward a $1 million goal, in just 12 months, according to John Schratwieser, Director of the KCAC.

“Thanks to the generosity of so many, we have purchased this historic building, fully replaced the roof, and now, thanks to Stories of the Chesapeake, we can stabilize the structure and begin the process of renovating the inside to create a real ‘home’ for the arts in Kent County,” he added.  Already, the Raimond Arts Building has hosted two major KCAC exhibitions, and has been used free of charge by Chestertown RiverArts, National Music Festival, Poetry Out Loud, Kent County Public Schools, Maryland State Arts Council, the County Arts Agencies of Maryland, Arts Education in Maryland Schools Alliance, Music in the Park, and more.

“We can’t wait for it to be renovated and to increase its use as a service to the residents of Kent County,” Schratwieser said.


In keeping with its mission to invest, infuse, and inspire the arts for all in Kent County, the KCAC is also announcing the opening dates for its FY19 (July 1, 2018 – June 30, 2019) grant cycles. On Aug. 7, it will open its General Operating Support grant applications.

These grants are specifically for the annual operations and programming of nonprofit arts organizations, whose primary mission is to deliver arts services and programs to the community.  In fiscal year 2018, the KCAC awarded more than $30,000 in this category supporting Chestertown RiverArts, The Garfield Center for the Arts, The Mainstay, National Music Festival, Chester River Chorale, Eastern Shore Wind Ensemble, Kent County Community Marching Band, The Chestertown Spy and the Chester River Youth Chorale. For FY19 nearly $40,000, an increase of over 30%, will be available.  The Board of the Arts Council is finalizing new guidelines and a new process for FY19.

In FY18, Project Grants were awarded to nearly 20 community organizations including: Legacy Day, Chestertown Tea Party, Rock Hall Fall Fest, Sultana Downrigging, Dickens of a Christmas, Chester Valley Ministers Association, Martin Luther King Day Breakfast, Vincent Hynson Scholarships, ChesterGras, Kent County High School Mural, Whitsitt Center Mural, and Janes United Methodist Church’s Gospel Celebration, among others. For FY19, $20,000 has been committed to this category — a 25% increase over last year. Project Grants are available on a rolling bases throughout the year and are typically between $500 and $1,000.


The Kent County Arts Council (KCAC) has received a Maryland Heritage Areas Authority “Stories of the Chesapeake” capital grant for $100,000 toward the renovation of the Vincent and Leslie Prince Raimond Arts Building in Chestertown

Kent County High School students and teachers work with guest artist Sue Stockman on KCHS Mural

The KCAC, working with local nonprofit consultant Darran Tilghman, hosts “Infusion Sessions” for arts administrators in the County. This year, KCAC is coordinating opportunities for directors of the general operating grant recipients to meet with and learn from veteran administrators in their field, working in organizations throughout Maryland.  The KCAC will provide a stipend to cover travel and food for a one-day visit as follows:  Chestertown River Arts with The Delaplaine Arts Center in Frederick, MD; The Garfield Center for the Arts with Creative Alliance in Baltimore, MD; The Mainstay with Strathmore Hall and its related AMP venue in Bethesda, MD; National Music Festival with the University of Maryland College Park’s National Orchestra Institute, College Park, MD; Sumner Hall with the Prince George’s African American Museum in Hyattsville, MD and KCAC has even reached across the Chester to connect Church Hill Theatre with Everyman Theater in Baltimore, MD.  “These professional development meetings are fantastic opportunities to enhance and expand upon the great work our local arts and culture administrators are already doing,” Schratwieser said.

The Kent County Arts Council will also continue to grow the popular ARTS IN MOTION Program created by Tom McHugh in collaboration with the Kent County Public Schools.  As such, we will host a second annual Professional Development Day for Kent County Public School teachers, working in tandem with KCPS’s Gina Jachimowicz and Superintendent Dr. Karen Couch to support Kent County fine arts teachers, and to share examples of arts integration with faculty from all subjects.  The First “PD” day, held in January 2018, focused on introducing our 11 fine arts teachers to artists and arts organizations in the County who stand ready, willing, and able to support our teachers and their students through the arts.  This program is funded in part by the John Ben Snow Memorial Trust.


The Kent County Arts Council has a role to play in providing inspiring opportunities for artists and residents alike.  The Arts Council continues to celebrate the success of last year’s “WarFront/HomeFront” and “Heroin & Healing” exhibitions, both of which reached deep in to the community to raise the level of understanding of the use of the arts to transform lives and communities, and to provide a vehicle for empathy and understanding.  Our mission — to Inspire — continues this fall with two major works.

First, in partnership with Sultana Education Foundation’s Downrigging Weekend Festival, Oct. 26–28, the KCAC will produce a new short play written by Kent County playwright and poet, Robert Earl Price, called “UNLADING”. This poem-turned-dramatic work will feature six to eight actors embodying the voices of the first 23 enslaved Africans brought to Jamestown, VA almost 400 years ago, in August 1619. The production will be performed in the sanctuary of historic Janes United Methodist Church in Chestertown.

Second, in collaboration with The Philips Collection in Washington, D.C., the KCAC will partner with Kent County High School, the Garfield Center for the Arts and Chestertown RiverArts on a multi-faceted program called “Migration: An Exploration in Art, Words and Music, Inspired by Jacob Lawrence” in September, October and November 2018 that will culminate with four evenings of theater, Nov. 1–4 at the Garfield and an exhibit of student “Migration” themed art work at RiverArts Nov. 1 – 11.

KCAC has engaged playwright and producer Jacqueline Lawton, assistant professor of Theater at UNC Chapel Hill, to bring five new plays to Kent County. Commissioned by the Philips Collection in 2015, each is based on one of the 60 “Great Migration Series” panels painted by renowned African-American artist Jacob Lawrence.  Michele Volansky, Washington College chair of Theater and Dance, will direct the plays, which will be presented as the first act of a two-act evening. The second act will be a revival of Kent County’s own “migration” story — “Red Devil Moon” by Pam Ortiz and Robert Earl Price.

As part of the Arts Council’s work to increase access to the arts for KCPS students, 40 students from Kent County High School and four KCPS art teachers will have the opportunity to visit the Philips Collection in September. The students and teachers will see some of Lawrence’s Great Migration Series panels up close and get a full workshop on the panels and other great works at the art museum.

Following this field trip, the high school students will work with their teachers to create their own works, interpreting the Migration Series panels, and elementary school art teachers will also work with their students to create work related to Lawrence.

Finally, to further solidify the student’s connection to the Great Migration, the KCAC and The Garfield will partner to bus students from all over Kent County to a day-time performance of “Red Devil Moon” at The Garfield on Thursday, October 18, as part of this comprehensive program.

KCAC is grateful to the Indian Point Foundation, The Philanthropic Network, and the Hedgelawn Foundation for their generous support of our programming.  The Kent County Arts Council is funded in large part by a grant from the Maryland State Arts Council with investment from the National Endowment for the Arts. Additional support is provided by the Kent County Commissioners and the people of Kent County, Maryland.

Kent County Arts Council Announces FY19 Officers, Names Carla Massoni to Board

The Kent County Arts Council (KCAC) elected the following officers at its June 10, 2018 annual meeting to serve two-year terms:
Clark Bjorke, president
Charles Taylor, vice president
Meredith Davies Hadaway, secretary
Jason Claire, treasurer

The board also unanimously welcomed Carla Massoni of Massoni Art Gallery to a three-year term, effective July 1, filling a vacancy created by long-time member Marilee Schumann’s retirement.

“I am honored that Carla agreed to join our board,” said KCAC Director John Schratwieser, praising Massoni’s three-plus decades of commitment to arts and culture in Kent County. “She is one of those people who when we first met, I knew she ‘got it’. She shares the KCAC’s vision for the role of the arts in education, community development and economic vitality, and we shared the desire to maximize this role for the future of Kent County and its residents.”

Massoni has over 40 years of experience as an entrepreneur. A resident of Chestertown, Md., since 1985, she has been actively involved in community arts and humanities projects. She established a premier contemporary craft and fine art gallery (Massoni- Sommer) in 1990 and continues to provide educational programming and exhibitions featuring established contemporary artists at MASSONIART. In 2016, she opened CREATE art.craft.design in Chestertown with five partners – all award-winning craft artists.

Previous career highlights include: partnership in a pioneering human resources firm; founder and partner of a training program and school for women re-entering the job market, and owner of a boutique hotel and restaurant. She was the 2014 recipient of the William Donald Shaefer Helping People Award for Kent County.

Putting a new focus on history for America’s students The National History Day Contest and the Grateful American Book Prize

WASHINGTON, DC – More than half a million students participated in the 2018 National History Day Contest (NHD), including “more than 3,000 middle and high school students [who] presented documentaries, exhibits, papers, performances, and websites related to the 2018 theme, Conflict & Compromise in History.”

History education advocate David Bruce Smith believes the program imparts incentives for young learners, such as scholarships and cash awards, to focus on history.

“The late Dr. Bruce Cole, former chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, which is a sponsor of National History Day, encouraged me to join him in creating the Grateful American Book Prize with the same goal in mind. Our aim was to create an inducement for authors and publishers to produce more books of historically accurate fiction and nonfiction that would inspire middle school students, and stimulate a curiosity about the past; NHD and the Grateful American Book Prize are important ways of creating better informed, more responsible generations of citizens.”

The NHD was established in 1974. It has already announced that the 2019 theme will be Triumph & Tragedy in History. Parents and teachers should consider encouraging their sons, daughters and students to get involved. The how-to page at the NHD Website provides information about entering.

Meanwhile, the judges for the 2018 Grateful American Book Prize are in the process of reading the books that have qualified for that contest. The deadline for entries is July 31st. The Prize will be presented on October 11th at The Society of the Cincinnati. The winner will receive $13,000 and a one-of-a-kind medallion created by American artist Clarice Smith. In addition, two authors will be selected as “Honorable Mentions.” They get $500 each and the medallion.

Why all this fuss about history? Peter Stearns, professor of History at George Mason University, points out there are plenty of reasons for instilling a love of the subject among our children. Perhaps most important is that it “provides data about the emergence of national institutions, problems, and values—it’s the only significant storehouse of such data available. It offers evidence also about how nations have interacted with other societies, providing international and comparative perspectives essential for responsible citizenship. Further, studying history helps us understand how recent, current, and prospective changes that affect the lives of citizens are emerging or may emerge and what causes are involved. More important, studying history encourages habits of mind that are vital for responsible public behavior, whether as a national or community leader, an informed voter, a petitioner, or a simple observer.”

August 2018 Book Recommendations

A. Scott Berg’s KATE REMEMBERED; a biography compiled from hours of interviews with Hepburn.

Barbara Feldon’s LIVING ALONE & LOVING IT: A GUIDE TO RELISHING THE SOLO LIFE; advice from Get Smart’s “99”.

Liz Carpenter’s RUFFLES AND FLOURISHES; inside the Johnson White House, according to Lady Bird’s press secretary.

Christopher Reeve’s NOTHING IS IMPOSSIBLE: REFLECTIONS ON A NEW LIFE; still productive despite paralysis.