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Jewish World Review May 28, 2002/ 17 Sivan, 5762

Don Feder

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For public education -- America is history | "Our ability to defend, intelligently and thoughtfully, what we as a nation hold dear depends on our knowledge and understanding of what we hold dear," says historian Diane Ravitch. A reasonable proposition, this.

Unfortunately, young Americans are oblivious to their heritage. Ignorance of our past has been carefully cultivated by the educational establishment. The result is a cut-flower generation, severed from its roots.

The recently released survey of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (known as the nation's report card) shows nearly 60 percent of high-school seniors lack even a basic knowledge of U.S. history.

Only 41 percent of 12th-graders know the Monroe Doctrine was intended to keep Europe out of the Americas. A bare 29 percent connect the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution with the Vietnam War.

The NAEP results are the latest indication that America's schools aren't teaching America's history.

In a 1999 survey of seniors at 55 of our best colleges and universities, only 23 percent correctly identified James Madision as the principal framer of the Constitution. Almost 80 percent earned a D or F grade on a high-school level American history test.

On July 4, 1999, an enterprising reporter for The San Francisco Examiner asked teens at local malls their understanding of the day's significance.

One maintained the holiday was related to Pearl Harbor. A 17-year-old thoughtfully explained: "They put some flag up. It's like the freedom. Some war was fought and we won, so we got our freedom." Somewhere in the great hereafter, the Continental Army soldiers who froze to death in the snows of Valley Forge and the G.I.s who died in the steaming jungles of Bataan must be weeping.

This epidemic of ignorance is due in part to a crowding-out effect.

Schools are so busy telling everyone else's story, there's no time for our own. At its 2001 convention, the National Education Association passed resolutions supporting multicultural education and global education. Absent was any suggestion that students should receive an American education.

When they absolutely must teach something about the United States, educrats prefer niche history -- the experiences of African Americans, Asian Americans, Hispanic Americans.

The idea of e pluribus unum (out of many, one) is anathema to them. Teaching American history -- our common story -- as opposed to group-identity history, is rejected as ethnocentric and jingoistic.

This mindset was displayed at a forum of the National Council for Social Studies, as reported in The Weekly Standard of May 6. The council represents 26,000 teachers of history, social studies and related subjects.

To a teacher who said that in the wake of Sept. 11, her students wanted to know more about their nation's past, a panelist responded: "We need to de-exceptionalize the United States. We're just another country and another group of people."

Truly, as Yogi Berra would say, only in America. Only here do our elites cringe at the thought of teaching students that there's something special and unique about their homeland. They are traitors of the heart -- John Walker Lindhs of the spirit.

It's not even that they think we're no better than other people, but that we're considerably worse than most. Theirs is a highly truncated version of the American saga, consisting of slavery, the dispossession of Indians and the Vietnam War through the eyes of Jane Fonda.

The struggle of the settlers to build a new civilization, the genius of the Founding Fathers reflected in the Constitution, the greatness of Abraham Lincoln, the contributions to humanity of Thomas Edison and Henry Ford, the heroic sacrifices of the World War II generation are nothing to them.

Ronald Reagan warned, "If we forget what we did, we won't know who we are." (We'll be like amnesia victims wandering aimlessly about, wondering what it all means.) Reagan charged "the eradication of American memory" will inevitably lead to "an erosion of the American spirit."

"United We Stand," the bumper sticker that still festoon cars proclaim. But how long will we stand so, when our young don't know who we are, how we got here or what we represent?

JWR contributing columnist Don Feder's latest books are Who is afraid of the Religious Right? ($15.95) and A Jewish conservative looks at pagan America ($9.95). To receive an autographed copy, send a check or money order to: Don Feder, The Boston Herald, 1 Herald Sq., Boston, Mass. 02106. Doing so will help fund JWR, if so noted. He is also available as a guest speaker. To comment on this column please click here.

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© 2002, Creators Syndicate