Signing of the Declaration of Independence

In his new book, We Still Hold These Truths, Heritage’s Dr. Matthew Spalding explains that American students lack a fundamental understanding U.S. history. Dr. Spalding writes:

The Department of Education reports that more than half of high school seniors lack even a basic knowledge of American history. Many college students, another study finds, can’t identify the Gettysburg Address and don’t know that James Madison was the father of the Constitution.

…High schools largely ignore, minimize, or disparage the story of America’s Founding in the classroom…We must reverse this course by making a commitment at every level of education to promote an awareness and appreciation of the true principals of the American Founding…The public mission of our schools in the past was to transmit this knowledge to young Americans as the most important requisite for democracy. This must be the mission of our schools again.

That’s exactly the mission that former U.S. Secretary of Education William J. Bennett has taken on.

Bennett has produced a series of history books and online curricula for students in grades 8-12, which are being made available this month. Bennett’s books are being lauded across the political spectrum as balanced, informed, and honest.

America: The Last Best Hope, is a three-volume American history series, covering 1492 through the present. Dr. Bennett discussed why he decided to write the series, which is being published and distributed by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company:

I wanted to tell the story of America…It is a story worth knowing; I think it is the greatest political story ever told…are there great stains on this history? Yes indeed. But overall, if you judge a country as you judge a man – in the totality of his actions – I believe it is as Lincoln said right after Antietam – right after Antietam – ‘We shall nobly save or meanly lose, this last best hope of earth.’

Teachers will note Bennett’s books are also accompanied by an online interactive website, called the Roadmap, which provides supplementary terms, timelines, laws, treaties, historical maps, a quiz center, and the Last Best Hope series in its entirety in electronic format. Students also have access to podcasts featuring Dr. Bennett, to enrich what they have read in the books. The Last Best Hope site proclaims:

The story of America is a great story…We have prevented epidemics, improved the conditions of mankind, and saved other countries. We have fought wars for ourselves as well as others, we have liberated, and we have become not only a shining city on a hill, but a place of refuge since our beginnings. America is not just the story of great leaders; it is the story of a great people who wisely choose how to save themselves and others, how to correct wrongs, and how to preserve what is still the greatest nation in the history of the world.

That’s not the only version of history being presented to American students today. Leftist historian Howard Zinn has produced a classroom series based on his book The People’s History of the United States that has a decidedly different view of American history. The curriculum, which is intended for use in classrooms beginning in preschool, ranges from a lesson on which presidents owned slaves and the political nature of the pledge of allegiance, to “Teaching Economics as if People Mattered” and a “Constitution Role Play” to give “students a chance to see the partisan nature of the actual document produced in 1787.” This negative view of the American Founding and American values is in clear contrast to the positive, impartial curricula in Bennett’s Last Best Hope.

Hopefully the message of America as a force for good in the world found in Bennett’s new books – not the negative, empty rhetoric found in Zinn’s – will be the curricula that makes its way into history classrooms across the country. As Lynne Munson, Former Deputy Chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities said of Dr. Bennett’s curricula:

I would recommend this as a textbook, unhesitatingly. It can be read as early as the high school level and would speak to adult students of all ages. This book conveys what so many of our textbooks today do not – a real love of the story of our country. I hope this book finds itself in the hands of many, many students.

Let’s hope students have the opportunity to learn from Bennett’s love of country, and the principals on which America was founded.