- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 4, 2003

First lady Laura Bush and Lynne V. Cheney, wife of Vice President Dick Cheney, yesterday told leading scholars at a White House forum that it is even more important, post-September 11, for American schoolchildren to know their nation’s history”It is vitally important for young people to learn about our democracy,” Mrs. Bush told a gathering of about 300 scholars and administration appointees at the National Museum of American History.”An understanding and appreciation of history makes every American a more engaged citizen. John Adams said, ‘Liberty cannot be preserved without a general knowledge among the people.’ But studies show that many students do not know their history.”Mrs. Cheney said families and schools must do their part “to transmit our national story” to children and youth.”As parents and grandparents and aunts and uncles, we have so many opportunities to pass along our amazing national story to upcoming generations,” Mrs. Cheney said. “And we will best be able to fulfill this role when our knowledge and enthusiasm are evident.”Mrs. Bush said “forty percent of college seniors could not place the Civil War in the correct half of its century” in a recent Roper survey, “and 66 percent could not identify George Washington as an American general at Yorktown.”She praised the work of Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer David McCullough and the NEH’s “Heroes of History” lecturer Robert V. Remini for efforts to address the need for better teaching of history and civics and make history “truly come alive” to the American people.The first lady awarded gold medals and cash prizes from the National Endowment for the Humanities to six high school students, including an Arlington 17-year-old, who defied the trend of history illiteracy by writing winning essays on American history as part of NEH’s “We the People” initiative:•Matthew Rogan, a senior at Georgetown Day School, won a gold medal and $1,000 for his 1,200-word expository essay about President Washington’s action to establish “the rule of law in a new nation” in response to the Whisky Rebellion of 1794, generally seen as the first test of the new American government.•Amy Connolly, 17, of Lawrence, Kan., wrote an award-winning essay about prohibition and the Constitution — “allowing people to make mistakes and correct them.”•Morghan Transue, 17, of Kendall Park., N.J., received a gold medal and grand prize of $5,000 for her winning essay on the Supreme Court’s landmark 1803 decision in Marbury v. Madison, which elevated the Supreme Court to equal footing with the presidency under the Constitution.Other $1,000 prizewinners were Jessica Baris, 16, of San Diego; Andrea Hearst, 16, of San Francisco; and Sean O’Mara, 16, of Easton, Maine.The White House Forum on American History, Civics and Service was co-hosted by the U.S. Department of Education, NEH, Corporation for National and Community Service, and the USA Freedom Corps.President Bush has requested $100 million for NEH’s “We the People” initiative over the next three years to support academies to strengthen teachers’ understanding and ability to teach American history and culture.Yesterday, Education Secretary Rod Paige announced that $100 million is available from his department to local school districts and charter schools for grants to teach American history.Mr. McCullough, who won the Pulitzer Prize in 2002 for his biography of John Adams, told the forum: “The first heroes we ever had, outside our families, were teachers. … There is no more important person in our lives than the teacher. … We have to do a much better job of training teachers.”He said history must be brought alive to schoolchildren. “We must give books to children that they will want to read. It has to begin at home. Start in grade school. Get them young.”Mr. Remini spoke about the Revolutionary War and events leading up to the Constitutional Convention of 1787; the first meeting of Congress that officially declared George Washington the first president and John Adams vice president; and the writing and ratification of the Bill of Rights from 1789 to 1791.”It was a long line of heroism, done very often by ordinary individuals who created and gave us the republic we have,” Mr. Remini said.

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