We Need to Hold on to American History; 'A Great Country'; Recalling the Past Can Remind Us of What the U.S. Can Achieve; OTHER VIEWS

Article excerpt

Over the past few months, I have had three experiences that have stirred my concern about the baby boomers' children, and grandchildren, not having a well-developed sense of American history.

Oh, yea, I have seen some academic studies on the low percentage of current U.S. students who can correctly locate World War I on a timeline and the few who can correctly name a current Supreme Court justice, but my recent realization came more like a bolt of lightning telling me "historical time has moved on ... and it is going to make a difference."

My first jolt was students in my senior political science class last March and their reaction to a book titled "Government's Greatest Achievements" that is a ranking by academic political scientists and historians of the importance of 50 national endeavors between World War II and 2000. My current students were surprised, and somewhat dismissive, of the No. 1 ranking -"U.S. rebuilding Europe after World War II." My surprise was not only the quickness that students were ready to overlook this national achievement, but their willingness to dismiss it as "not being important."

A week later I was on a flight from Florida and noticed the man next to me was holding a non-U.S. passport. For some reason, he said, "You have a great country." I was a little taken back and asked him where he was traveling and quickly learned that he spent the winter in Florida and returned to his home in Amsterdam for the summer. Mine was a short flight, so I figured he was worth a conversation and I asked, "What do people in the Netherlands think about the U.S?"

"They love the U.S. Your country saved Europe and rebuilt it. We do not forget. We love your country." His eyes teared up. I immediately recalled my students' reactions to "Government's Greatest Achievements" and wished they were riding along for this conversation.

I responded to him: "Ah, but that is probably true of the older generation - right? What about the 40-year-olds and the 20-year- olds?"

He laughed and said, "They don't remember. I don't know what they teach in school, but they don't remember. It will be a problem." Soon we were speculating if the place of the United States in global politics will slip, in part because American and European young adults have forgotten what the U.S. has done, and what it is capable of doing, in developing and preserving nations around the globe. …