Passing on the Lessons of American History
October 7, 2013
Newt and Callista Gingrich
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This month’s government shutdown and the frenzy surrounding it are a perfect reminder of why it is crucial that every American learns American history. The context of this conflict is much larger and more important than the daily public relations maneuvering we see on the news.
The Founding Fathers wanted to protect the freedom they had fought so hard to win from devolving into a dictatorship. They understood from their experience with the British king that the executive needed to be restrained by the people. As a result, they wanted tension between the legislative and executive branches, and consciously divided power to protect liberty. The strongest power they gave the Congress to restrain the president was the power of the purse.
When we see a conflict that causes the government to shut down temporarily, it is not a sign that our system is broken. It is an expression of deep disagreement between two branches of government.
Sadly, many Americans seem to lack this context today. They do not appreciate the virtues of our system of government, the traits that made America great, who made America great, or the ideas and events that motivated them.
These are the very lessons Ellis the Elephant explores in Yankee Doodle Dandy, Callista’s new children’s book about the American Revolution. The need to pass on the story of our nation is what prompted Callista to create Ellis the Elephant and the New York Times Bestsellers Sweet Land of Liberty, in which Ellis learns about American exceptionalism, and Land of the Pilgrims’ Pride, in which he explores colonial America.
Yankee Doodle Dandy may be Ellis’s most important adventure yet, as he learns about the courage, determination, and wisdom of the men and women who won our freedom and laid out the principles upon which our government is based.
In Yankee Doodle Dandy, Ellis discovers:
- the Sons of Liberty and the Boston Tea Party
- the “shot heard ‘round the world” at the Battle of Concord, marking the beginning of the American Revolution
- the Founding Fathers signing the Declaration of Independence
- Betsy Ross sewing the first American flag in Philadelphia
- General George Washington sustaining his troops through the long winter at Valley Forge
and many more critical moments of the American Revolution!
It’s crucial that we pass on to the next generation of Americans an appreciation of the courage and dedication earlier generations have shown in defense of freedom. That’s the only way our children will grow up knowing what it means to be American. If they don’t know about the men and women who made America exceptional, they will have a hard time defending our country’s founding principles, and an even more difficult time preserving freedom for themselves.
Tragically, we’re doing a poor job of teaching our children about America’s past. A recent Department of Education survey shows an alarming lack of knowledge of U.S. history among our students. 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 2010 NAEP exams.
Our students struggled with even the very basics. Only one in three fourth graders could identify the purpose of the Declaration of Independence. Not even half understood why George Washington was an important leader in American history. Most did not know why the Pilgrims left England.
The American Revolution was a defining moment in our history–and indeed, in the history of the world. The Declaration of Independence was a radical founding document which remains at the core of how we think about government today. It’s very sad that most of our children do not understand its importance. It’s equally sad that they know little about the heroic men and women who fought to win our independence.
We believe it’s incredibly important that young people feel proud of America and the values it represents in the world. We encourage you to talk with your children and grandchildren about the patriotic heroes who have preserved our freedom and the system of government we are so fortunate to have today. Yankee Doodle Dandy is the perfect place to start!