Friday, July 22, 2016

From the Archives: Lamar Alexander honored for his work promoting civics, history education

Publisher's note: This article was originally published on on March 5, 2015. The publishing platform was discontinued July 1, 2016, and its web site was scheduled to go dark on or about July 10, 2016.  I am republishing this piece in an effort to preserve it and all my other contributions to since April 6, 2010. It is reposted here without most of the internal links that were in the original.

Lamar Alexander honored for his work promoting civics, history education

Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander (R) accepted the 2015 John M. Ashbrook Award bestowed by the Ashbrook Center at Ashland University in a brief ceremony at the Library of Congress on March 4.

The Ohio-based Ashbrook Center has presented the annual award since 1983, when the first recipient was President Ronald Reagan. Other recipients have included Speaker of the House John Boehner, former Ambassador to the United Nations Jeane J. Kirkpatrick, and former Vice President Dan Quayle, as well as journalist M. Stanton Evans, who died on March 3.

In presenting the award, Ashbrook Center executive director Roger L. Beckett explained that, about ten years ago, as a result of legislation sponsored by Senator Alexander, the center competed for and received the first federal grant to administer congressional and presidential academies for teachers of American history and civics. From that first grant, which allowed 50 teachers (one from each state) to further their own educations, the Ashbrook Center's programs now include 4,000 middle- and high school teachers annually.

Beckett said Alexander was chosen to receive the 2015 award “for his integrity of thought and action, for his devotion to principle, and for his dedication to teaching the next generation about what it means to be an American.”

'What it means to be an American'
Alexander recalled that the subject of his maiden speech on the floor of the United States Senate “was the importance of teaching U.S. history in our schools so our children could grow up knowing what it means to be an American.” He noted that the lowest test scores for high school seniors “are not in math or science. They're in United States history.”

He conceded that “there's not much the federal government ought to try to do about that in local schools” because that kind of involvement at the local level is “not a very good Republican, federalist idea.”

He explained that he was inspired to sponsor congressional and presidential academies for school teachers, one from each state, to learn more about American history and how to teach it better.

Sense of history
He found an ally in the late Senator Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.), who, he said, “had a great sense of American history” and worked to find 21 Democratic cosponsors for Alexander's bill and helped to get it passed – ultimately resulting in the Ashbrook Center's first grant to administer the teacher education program.

Senator Alexander – who was Secretary of Education under George H.W. Bush and is now chairman of the Senate Education Committee – also recalled being at a conference in 1988 when someone asked, “What is the rationale for the public school?”

There was “stunned silence around the room,” he remembered, until Albert Shanker, then the president of the American Federation of Teachers, said, “A public school is for the purpose of teaching immigrant children reading, writing, and arithmetic, and what it means to be an American, with the hope that they'll go home and teach their parents.”

That, Alexander said, is “such a great definition of what we should be doing in our public schools.”

In addition to Lamar Alexander, three previous recipients of the John M. Ashbrook Award were present at the Capitol Hill reception: Lee Edwards, David Keene, and John Von Cannon.


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