The Heritage Keepers of America
June 2006
by Rick Revel

As many of you know, I have been a regular writer for the Civil War Courier magazine for over two years. Teaching and preserving history through writing is an honor and a wonderful learning experience. In our May 2006 issue of the Civil War Courier, the front page bore this headline; U.S. History: Crisis in the Classroom written by Stan Johnson. In this article, Mr. Johnson brought out many of the "sell points" we use for Heritage Keepers. Since I began my crusade in 1999 to offset the "dumbing down" of America, for the most part I have been greeted with welcome enthusiasm. At times though, I have been told by a select few, that our education system is just fine without me. Well, I agree to a point with them, I am nothing special, but I disagree completely about our education system.

We have many great things to offer in the American education system, but American History since the early to mid 1990’s has become a shell of what it once was. There are so many other subjects that rate above American History and our students are suffering for it. In the end, America will suffer if our students do not know of our founding and the history that followed. To be quite honest with you, generally speaking, I am very alarmed with the information found below, but not terribly surprised.

According to some of Mr. Johnson’s findings, you too should have cause for alarm. In the Gallup Youth Survey, 25% of the fourth graders polled did not know who fought in the American Civil War, 13% thought the war was between the United States and England. A survey commissioned by the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation indicates that one in five American teens do not know from which country American claimed it’s independence. While most teens know July 4th is a national holiday, 13% do not know why. About 10% of teens do not know that George Washington was the first president and 17% are unaware of the number of original colonies. A survey commissioned by the Columbia Law School disclosed that Americans old enough to vote know very little about our Constitution and the Bill of Rights, much less how and why they originated.

The U.S. Department of Education conducted an assessment of high school students and found that 57% of high school seniors are below the basic level of history competency. It was also found that 60% did not know that 1492 was the year that Columbus discovered America. Understand that those same seniors have been taught some form of history since grade school, so what is the problem?

Time and time again I have asked educators this very question and the answer is always the same. "We are teaching to the test, so there are a lot of topics and facts that are overlooked." Teachers today teach students on the subjects that are on the standardized test which is given once a year. Those test scores in turn determine a school’s rating and in the end what kind of funding the school receives. If this sounds like a disaster waiting to happen, well guess again, this disaster is taking place as we speak. Before you get upset with your local educators, keep in mind this is a federal mandate.

In Mr. Johnson’s article he wrote that according to Mark Robinson, an assistant director and director of public affairs for National History Day in Maryland, students who participate in History Day projects seem to become more excited about history. Ms. Lauren Danner at the Washington State Historical Society has come to same conclusions also. She noted that some local students got involved in researching Native American fishing rights in their state which is an ongoing issue. The research took the students on a journey back in time which helped trigger a greater interest in American History in general. They had become involved in a pressing contemporary issue and now they want to know more about their local history.

The article also addressed the fact that the federal government is yet to step up and provide a solution to the existing problem of poor history competency. As always they promise to throw more money at the problem, but to this date, that money hasn’t been issued. The bill that was passed in 2004 to help strengthen American History studies in the classroom is yet to be implemented and when it is, I’ll bet there will be yet another test to "teach to", just to qualify for the money.

The general conclusion of the article was that history has to become exciting in the classroom and it has to become interactive. Get students involved in history and they will learn. Hum!!!!!!!!! Sounds like the Heritage Keepers of America program don’t you think? All you Keeper Leaders should be doing cartwheels by now with this affirmation to our cause. Every negative aspect we fight against and every positive one we fight for was covered in this article.

From our "Keeper Workbook" and "The American History Challenge" contest to our "Treasured Words" booklet, for the past two years, fifth grade Junior Keepers have been learning about all those things that students in those surveys missed out on. Our field trips and Living History events further involve students in their history and heritage. The most important part of our program is that we make history personal by first helping students do a family tree, so they can know their own heritage roots. If this newsletter doesn’t inspire you to recruit another Keeper Leader, or start another Keeper Chapter, then nothing will. I have told you all along that a Keeper Leader is serving America in the most noble of ways. The future of our past is in the hands of those students in your community that are failing to make the grade. Wouldn’t it be better to leave the future of America in the hands of the Keeper generations to come? If you think the government will do the job, then I pity your resolve.

America can remain great if we each take the time to seek greatness in others and in ourselves. The situation at hand can only be changed by those who are willing to change themselves first. Now let’s go make a difference.

Thank you Mr. Johnson for writing such an inspiring article, I hope all will heed your warning. If you would like to read the article in its entirety, go to www.civilwarcourier.com.

Copyright 6-3-2006, Rick Revel, The Heritage Keepers of America, Inc.