Ammunition in the Culture Wars; Knowledge and Character Create a Nation's Strength

Article excerpt

Byline: Suzanne Fields, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

The culture wars have entered a new phase and the feds have the big guns. They've put the politically correct educationists on the run, overwhelming them with intellectual firepower, campaigning to restore the teaching of civics and American history to the nation's schools.

If they succeed, we may not raise another generation of what historian David McCullough calls "historical illiterates," the consequences of what Bruce Cole, chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), calls "collective amnesia."

Laura Bush fired the first shot at a White House forum held the other day at the National Museum of American History for 300 teachers and scholars. "An understanding and appreciation of history makes every American a more engaged citizen," she said.

Putting government money where her mouth is, she reminded the audience that her husband initiated a program that would spend $100 million over three years on educational training programs for teachers. This would broaden teacher understanding of the nation's democratic traditions and establish model programs to focus on American history, ideals, culture and principles. The NEH already administers "We the People," which includes support for lectures and seminars on American history, with emphasis on heroes and heroic democratic institutions.

Seconding the first lady, Lynne Cheney, wife of the vice president, emphasized the power of parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles to pass on the narrative of our national story, in league with local schools, reciting personal stories to supplement larger historical narratives. That's how Mrs. Cheney discovered Fanny Peck, her great-great-grandmother, who, when she was 7 years old in the summer of 1852, walked beside her family's wagon on the Mormon Trail to the West. Fanny often walked barefoot because she wanted to save her only pair of shoes for Sunday services. Such personal discoveries whet the appetite for more history no matter what age.

Any teacher or student who wants to study "significant" texts in American history can find 100 milestone documents, such as George Washington's Farewell Address, the Voting Rights Act (1965), the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, on-line. (www.ourdocuments.gov.) No small thing. A survey of students at 55 elite colleges found that two-thirds of them were unable to identify the Constitution as establishing the separation of powers. Not one of these 55 "elite" institutions requires students to take a course in American history. …