Restoring trust in America's future, From Sea to Shining Sea

It’s time to restore trust in America’s future. And introducing our children to the great history of our country may be a powerful first step. If we can learn the facts of our past achievements it will help us understand that we can solve the problems of today to create an even better future for America tomorrow.

Polls tell us Americans overwhelmingly believe our country is on the wrong track. People worry about our economy, foreign threats, potential epidemics, failing bureaucracies and gridlock in Washington.

However, focusing on what currently worries us may not be the best way to get to a better future.

We need to put our current problems in historic context and see how Americans have succeeded in past generations.  Teaching our children about our history helps remind us about who we Americans are.

As Americans, we???ve endured two world wars, we???ve overcome slavery and secession, we???ve landed on the moon, cured diseases and built great cities. Big challenges are nothing new.

One of the most inspiring examples in our history–and one that kids should be learning about in school–is the expedition of Lewis and Clark, whom President Jefferson sent to explore the territory of the Louisiana Purchase and to chart a route to the Pacific.

The obstacles Lewis and Clark faced were extraordinary. With little idea of what they would find, they led roughly 40 people across the continent and back on a journey that lasted more than two years. They climbed mountains with canoes on their backs, crossed the perilous Rockies, and nearly starved to death. They had no radios to communicate with their countrymen in the east, and by the time the expedition returned, many Americans wondered if the explorers might have been lost.

Like the Founding Fathers before them, Lewis and Clark helped forge the spirit of America. Soon many Americans were heading west, resolved to create better lives for themselves and their families. Their courage, resourcefulness, and clear-eyed determination became a model for how our nation would overcome big obstacles and emerge stronger in the future.

When you remember all of the extraordinary things Americans have achieved in the past, it???s much easier to feel confident about our challenges today.

More than ever before, though, we are in danger of forgetting this history. For two generations, we have done a poor job of teaching American history in our schools. As a result, our children are failing to learn the hopeful lessons of our nation???s past.

The numbers show just how much work we have to do. According to the Department of Education???s National Assessment of Educational Progress, only 20 percent of fourth-graders, 17 percent of eighth-graders and 12 percent of twelfth-graders are at grade-level proficiency in American history.

A majority of fourth graders don???t know the purpose of the Lewis and Clark expedition, Department of Education data show. Most fourth graders can???t say why the pioneers moved west. And two-thirds don???t understand that westward migration resulted in new states being added to the union.

There is no doubt that we have to fix our schools and support them in teaching American history. But the task of helping young people appreciate that America is an exceptional nation is not limited to our schools. It???s something we can all take part in.

We can start by finding fun and creative ways to introduce children to American history. In From Sea to Shining Sea, my new book for four to eight-year-olds, Ellis the Elephant joins the Lewis and Clark expedition as they venture west into unknown territory. Ellis helps children see that courage matters, having big dreams matters, and patriotism matters.

There are many other ways to help inspire a love for American history. Our country is home to many wonderful historical sites and museums, from Mount Vernon and Monticello in the east to Lewis and Clark’s Pacific campsites in the west.

Taking the time to pass on the American story to the next generation is one of the most important things we can  do. Our history is full of Americans who were brave and determined in the face of great challenges..  These courageous Americans have a lot to teach us, and our children as well.

Callista Gingrich is the author of “From Sea to Shining Sea”.