EDUCATION; Learning History

Article excerpt

It's a cause for major concern that, according to Education Week, a recent poll found nearly 40 percent of all American teenagers don't even know the name of the national anthem.

For the record, it's The Star-Spangled Banner -- and all young people should be familiar with it, for two reasons.

One is that it's a masterful literary work, chock-full of colorful imagery. The other is that it has a powerful message of patriotism, set in an important historical context. To paraphrase the late philosopher George Santayana, it's only by understanding what others did before us -- and why -- that we can make good policy decisions today.

This is the background, according to online encyclopedia Wikipedia:

The British had captured a prominent physician in Washington during the War of 1812, and a young attorney named Francis Scott Key boarded an enemy ship to plead for his release. The request was granted, but the two were detained for the duration of a British siege on Fort McHenry in Baltimore.

The bombardment lasted 25 hours. Through the smoke, Key saw the U.S. flag still standing over the fort.

Greatly relieved and overcome with patriotism, he wrote the lyrics, complete with such memorable lines as:

Blest with victory and peace, may the heaven-rescued land

Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation. …