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The conservationist

"The conservationist" Continued...

Issue: "Bush: Hail to the chief," Jan. 29, 2005

The cornerstone of the NEH attempt to address this problem is the "We the People" initiative, started in 2002. NEH has been giving grants to develop model curriculum for the teaching of American history, culture, and civics; to establish web-based resources for teaching about America's colonization, the Revolution, early American history, and Abraham Lincoln; and to hold a national history bee, a competition for young people modeled after the national spelling bee.

Other projects include challenge grants for programs that advance the knowledge of America's founding principles; publishing the papers of James Madison, the First Federal Congress, Frederick Douglass, and Thomas Edison; a television documentary about John and Abigail Adams; databases on the history of the West; and new exhibits at Baltimore's Star-Spangled Banner Flag House and the U.S.S. Constitution.

The NEH itself has initiated several "We the People" programs. Since educators themselves often lack knowledge in history, the Landmarks of American History Teacher Workshops offer seminars for teachers, held at key historical sites such as Jefferson's Monticello and Jackson's Hermitage. The NEH is also sponsoring a lecture series on the "Heroes of History" and an essay contest for 11th-graders.

With the "We the People Bookshelf," the NEH is trying to encourage young people to read great literature. Schools and libraries that develop a plan to use the program can apply to receive a complete set of books, broken down by age level. Last year the program's theme was courage, with books ranging from The Hobbit to The Red Badge of Courage. This year the theme is freedom. That collection will include The Chronicles of Narnia, the Christian classic that deals with the spiritual dimension of freedom from the bondage of sin.

In another ambitious project the NEH is converting to digital files 140,000 historical newspapers from every state in the union, thus recording the day-to-day, region-to-region events and ideas going back to our nation's founding. These will then be available on the internet for everyone, which, as Mr. Cole says, "democratizes" the historical record.

This reflects another change in the NEH, the desire to reach beyond academia. "Part of our plan has been to reach out and serve underserved communities," Director of Communications Erik Lokkesmoe told WORLD. "We have made a concerted effort to reach out to homeschoolers." Homeschooling parents "can go to teacher workshops, teacher seminars, apply for the bookshelf, for the essay contest, for the history lecture." He reported that four out of the six essay contest winners were homeschooled.

Many conservatives still object to agencies like the NEH on principle. But just as there is more to culture than the moral wasteland of Hollywood, there is more to the culture war than debates about specific moral issues. The culture war, like the war on terrorism, is between those who want to protect America's culture-which includes the nation's religious, moral, aesthetic, constitutional, and historical heritage-and those who want to destroy it in favor of a very different kind of culture. Under President Bush, the NEH is at least using its resources for the national defense.

Historically challenged

American amnesia, according to the following examples from the NEH, is in need of a cure:

· 51 percent of American high-school students think Germany, Japan, or Italy was an ally of the United States during World War II.

· 40 percent of seniors at America's top 55 colleges do not know within 50 years when the Civil War took place.

· 56 percent of seniors at America's top 55 colleges do not know that Abraham Lincoln was the president during the Civil War.

· 40 percent of seniors at America's top 55 colleges do not know that the document establishing the separation of powers in our government is the U.S. Constitution.

· 69 percent of voting-age Americans think that Karl Marx's principle of "from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs" either is (35 percent) or might be (34 percent) a quotation from the U.S. Constitution.

· Zero percent of America's top 55 colleges have an American history requirement.

Gene Edward Veith
Gene Edward Veith

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