Callista Gingrich: Preserving the America We Love

Sunday, 03 Nov 2013 05:10 PM

By Callista Gingrich

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In a world of incredible change, it’s vital that young Americans learn American history.

America is a large and diverse country, founded upon common principles and values that have drawn millions of people here from across the globe for over 200 years. It’s critical that each generation learns about the ideas and traditions upon which our country has been built, and understands the sacrifices of those who came before us.

This means that each new generation must learn American history to understand what it means to be American.

Today, unfortunately, we are doing a poor job of passing on our history to the next generation. Many students are failing to learn the basics about American history, and are consequently failing to appreciate our rich heritage.

The Department of Education’s National Assessment of Educational Progress shows the enormity of this challenge. In a recent NAEP survey, just 20 percent of fourth-graders, 17 percent of eighth-graders and 12 percent of twelfth-graders were at grade-level proficiency in American history.

In the same survey, only one in three fourth graders could identify the purpose of the Declaration of Independence. Less than half understood why George Washington was an important leader in American history. And most fourth graders didn't know why the Pilgrims left England.

These results suggest that most students are failing to learn the fundamentals. Being born in a time of relative prosperity, safety, and freedom, we must look back to those who fought for and won our freedom. We can start by teaching our children about our founding fathers, including, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, as well as our founding documents, such as the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

We must find creative ways to engage our children in learning American history. As the author of three children’s history books, I’ve visited classrooms and libraries across the country to share the adventures of Ellis the Elephant, my time-travelling pachyderm, with four to eight year olds. Most young people I meet are energetic and eager to learn.

As adults, we must be enthusiastic ourselves about learning and find creative ways to teach American history.

This is my goal with Ellis the Elephant. In my new book, "Yankee Doodle Dandy," children join Ellis as he discovers the pivotal moments of the American Revolution, including the Boston Tea Party, the signing of the Declaration of Independence, and Washington’s long winter at Valley Forge.

In addition to children’s books, technology has its place in making history exciting for young Americans. We have only just begun to explore the potential of new online learning systems such as Khan Academy, for instance, or educational and entertaining video games.

Visits to historic places like George Washington’s home, Mount Vernon, or Independence Hall in Philadelphia can also inspire a lifelong passion for history.

It’s imperative that each generation of Americans learns the story of our nation to preserve the America we love.

Callista Gingrich is the President of Gingrich Productions, a multimedia production company based in Washington, DC. The wife of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, she is the author of the New York Times best-selling children’s series featuring Ellis the Elephant. Her children’s books include “Sweet Land of Liberty,” about American exceptionalism, “Land of the Pilgrims’ Pride,” about Colonial America, and her latest book, “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” about the American Revolution. 

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