NEW YORK - It appears that the political turmoil among America's youth since the November elections could be the result of a lack of perspective, according to Neme Alperstein, a recently retired teacher of gifted and talented students in the New York City Public School system since 1987.
"For those who feel there is a desperation in the air, perhaps it is because many among the younger generations are not familiar with the continuity in our democracy that ensures a peaceful transfer of power no matter which party wins an election. An understanding of our country's history might provide the perspective and restore the faith that is lacking. That knowledge can also serve as a road map for understanding one's rights. But, history lessons in classrooms have taken a back seat to other subjects," she says. "American history has a prominent place in math, science and technology."
Alperstein is one of the judges for the Grateful American Book Prize, an award designed to embolden new and established authors--and their publishers-- to produce more works of fiction and nonfiction based on American history. The Prize seeks to arouse the interests of middle and high school students in exploring why and how the United States came into existence, and to learn more about the events and personalities that shaped them.
"A better knowledge of how the United States conducts its transfer of power following elections can reassure the public of American democracy's strength. Our democracy's foundation is grounded in the knowledge of American history. Familiarity with the Constitution and the Bill of Rights are powerful tools to enforce accountability."
David Bruce Smith, co-founder of the Prize, agrees that by de-emphasizing history in school today's we hamper the ability of our kids to fulfill their responsibilities as good citizens.
As educator Alperstein puts it: "For meaningful discourse and debate, children need to hear stories rooted in our nation's history, and while those stories take many forms, all speak to nurturing citizenship that can effectively allow them to engage in the national conversation. We are indeed fortunate to have so many accessible resources (for example, The Library of Congress, its National Digital Library, and the New-York Historical Society) that tell so many stories. Those can only help our children develop analysis and critical thinking skills, but there is so much joy in the telling. If we are to enhance understanding, a dynamic and exciting American history must convey just why it is a foundation of our democracy. To capture our children's imaginations, we need to start telling those stories-early--in a manner that can excite them."
Numerous studies, polls, and quite a bit of anecdotal evidence exist which corroborates the notion that today's children often lack knowledge about history, says Smith. Some teachers will say it is because American schools favor the so-called practical schooling in the sciences and technology, not to mention that 21st century kids probably have much too many electronic gadgets that distract them. Meanwhile, "many Americans have forgotten we have public schools so students can become educated citizens capable of self-government," according to education consultant Robert Pondiscio.
Smith and Dr. Bruce Cole, the former chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, established the Grateful American Book Prize in 2015. In addition to Smith, Cole and Alperstein, Dr. Louise Mirrer, President and CEO, New-York Historical Society, Dr. Peter S. Carmichael, The Robert C. Fluhrer Professor of Civil War Studies & Director of the Civil War Institute at Gettysburg College, Dr. Douglas Bradburn, Author, Historian and Founding Director of the Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington at Mount Vernon and John Danielson, Founder of Chartwell Education Group and former Chief of Staff at the U.S. Department of Education also sit on the panel of judges for the Prize.