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LEARNING FROM THE PAST: President’s Budget Includes Increases for History Programs

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"Our Founders believed the study of history and citizenship should be at the core of every American's education. Yet today, our children have large and disturbing gaps in their knowledge of history. . . Ignorance of American history and civics weakens our sense of citizenship. To be an American is not just a matter of blood or birth; we are bound by ideals, and our children must know those ideals."

According to a recent National Assessment of Education Progress report on student achievement in U.S. history, American students continue to lack a basic understanding of our nation’s past. Fifty-seven percent of twelfth-graders, for instance, scored below basic on the test. In an effort to raise these test scores, as well as generate a greater understanding of our shared history throughout the country, the President’s fiscal 2004 budget makes a strong commitment to American history and teaching history to our nation’s schoolchildren.

On Sept. 17, 2002, the anniversary of the signing of the U.S. Constitution and a little more than a year after the terrorist attacks on our nation, President Bush announced the creation of “We the People,” a new program that would raise awareness of American history throughout our country, but especially in classrooms:

Our Founders believed the study of history and citizenship should be at the core of every American’s education. Yet today, our children have large and disturbing gaps in their knowledge of history. . . Ignorance of American history and civics weakens our sense of citizenship. To be an American is not just a matter of blood or birth; we are bound by ideals, and our children must know those ideals.

 

To follow through on this commitment, the President’s budget requests $25 million to support “We the People” as part of a $152 million request for the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). The $25 million request would enable NEH to establish and implement an ambitious program for the American people focused on the nation’s history, culture, ideals, and principles. Not only would the program provide additional opportunities for humanities teachers to study significant texts on American history, it would also help schools establish or improve course offerings in American history, create summer enrichment programs for teachers and principals centered around American history, and fund an annual national essay contest for high school students.

The President’s budget also includes $100 million for the Teaching of Traditional American History, a $50 million increase from his budget request a year ago, but a $50 million cut compared to what Congress included in the omnibus bill. This program makes competitive grants to school districts to promote the teaching of American history in elementary and secondary schools as a separate academic subject, instead of grouping it with related fields under the umbrella of social studies.

In related news, a recent Education Week article, “History Invading Social Studies’ Turf in Schools,” gives a very good summary of the debate about permanently separating history from social studies classes.

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