- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 19, 2002

Karl Marx may have helped draft the Constitution, as far as some Americans are concerned.

A survey conducted by Columbia Law School found that 35 percent of the 1,012 voting-age residents polled thought the nation's founding document contained the Marxist dictum: "From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs."

On Tuesday, President Bush marked the Constitution's 215th anniversary by announcing three programs to combat such historical amnesia.

"Our founders believed the study of history and citizenship should be at the core of every American's education," he said. "Yet today, our children have large and disturbing gaps in their knowledge of history.

"The primary responsibility for teaching history and civics rests with our elementary and secondary schools, and they've got to do their job. The federal government can help" with three initiatives, he said.

The first, called "We the People," will be headed by the National Endowment for the Humanities and will promote American history and civic education through grants, teacher-training seminars, a lecture series and a national essay contest.

"People increasingly are forgetting what shaped their past and led to a national identity," NEH Chairman Bruce Cole said. "When a nation fails to know why it exists and what it stands for, it cannot be expected to long endure."

The National Archives is supervising "Our Documents," the second initiative, which will provide classrooms with Internet access to 100 of the nation's most significant documents. It also will provide history lesson plans to teachers.

The third initiative is a forum on American history and civics, scheduled to convene early next year at the White House. Educators will gather to discuss ways to improve history instruction.

Several studies have pointed to gaps in Americans' historical knowledge. Findings include:

•None of the top 50 U.S. colleges and universities required students to take an American history course.

•Nearly one in three Americans thought the president could suspend the Bill of Rights during a war.

•More than one in two high school seniors thought the United States allied with Italy, Germany or Japan in World War II.

•More than one-third of seniors from America's top schools did not know the Constitution established separation of powers in the federal government.

•Forty percent of high school seniors couldn't place the Civil War in the correct half-century.

While announcing the initiatives, Mr. Bush praised Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, and Sen. Judd Gregg, New Hampshire Republican, for their work on education. Also at the White House event was Lynne V. Cheney, wife of Vice President Richard B. Cheney and the author of a new children's book stressing the importance of learning history.

"I don't think there is any question that students in our institutions of higher learning have less grasp, less understanding of and less respect for American history than ever before," said David McCullough, a historian who introduced Mr. Bush at the press conference. "To our shame, we're raising a generation of young Americans who are, to a very large degree, historically illiterate."

"Our history is not a story of perfection," Mr. Bush said. "It's a story of imperfect people working toward great ideals."


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