Colonial Williamsburg’s Shaky Finances Are A Reflection Of Americans’ Knowledge Of History


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When I was in the second grade our class studied the history of the 50 states.  Each of us was assigned a state about which we were to write a report.

Mine was Virginia.

Like most Philly kids, who believed that life ended west of Paoli or south of the Navy Yard, I had never been to Virginia, and it seemed awfully far away at the time. I was intrigued by the fact that it was a commonwealth, since I lived in one of the other three. I dug into my assignment.

Naturally my first reading about Virginia led me to Jamestown and Williamsburg.   I was fascinated and dreamed of one day being able to visit Williamsburg.

My parents were never flush with cash, but after a lot of  begging and pleading on my part, they managed to cobble together enough to get me to Williamsburg  I was as wide-eyed and star-struck on my first visit as on my most recent.

Colonial Williamsburg was an enchanted land of real history, the roots of our great nation and the western world. I couldn’t take it all in at once.

Imagine my disappointment and sadness to receive a recent letter from the president of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, announcing that they are in serious financial trouble and have been forced to make serious staff cutbacks, among other things.

What stood out in his lengthy description of the causes of their difficulties was the simple declaration that, “less American history being taught in schools” was one of the reasons that Colonial Williamsburg is now drawing half the visitors they had a generation ago.

As a history buff that startled me. It shouldn’t have. The truth is that less than a fifth of American colleges and universities require even a single course in American history for graduation.

But it starts long before kids reach college.

Remember when they taught civics in every elementary school?  If you do, you probably have as much gray hair as I do.

While American history is still part of most curricula, it’s a far cry from what it used to be and what it should be.

Much of the American history being taught today is a watered down, politically correct version that apologizes for our successes and denies our exceptionalism.

As a result, a quarter of American adults can’t identify the nation from whom we declared independence on the day we just celebrated.

If you’re a regular viewer of Jesse Watters you’ve seen his interviews with ordinary folks that reveal such interesting views of history as the Civil War being fought between North Korea and South Korea.

You don’t need to be a fan of Watters World, though, to know that our collective knowledge and understanding of American history is appallingly shallow.

A survey by the University of Pennsylvania Annenberg Public Policy Center found that only 26 percent of adults could identify the three branches of government. Another recent survey found that 65 percent of Americans can’t name a single U.S. Supreme Court Justice.

The current generation’s woeful ignorance of American political history will cripple their ability to become informed and effective citizens.

Fortunately there are some bright spots.  Just up the road at Lebanon Valley College, Professor James Broussard has started the nation’s first and only Center for Political History.

Among the goals of the center are to increase student interest in political history at the high school and college level.

At the state level, Sen. John Rafferty has introduced legislation that would require students to take and receive a passing score on the a test that is identical to the 100 questions on the United States Citizenship test as a condition of high school graduation.  His bill has widespread bipartisan support.

We’ve got  a great and glorious history to celebrate. American history. Read it. Teach it. Learn it. Love it.

Charlie Gerow, the CEO of Quantum Communications in Harrisburg, is a PennLive Opinion contributor. This originally appeared in the July 9, 2017 edition of PennLive.

 The views expressed here are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Susquehanna Valley Center.

 Nothing contained here should be considered as an attempt to aid or hinder the passage of any legislation before the General Assembly.