A Teachable Moment For American History

School Bus: (Credit: Stuart Monk / Shutterstock.com)

Callista Gingrich Callista Gingrich is the former United States Ambassador to the Holy See.
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On Monday, the White House released encouraging data about American students. In 2015, high school graduation rates rose to 83 percent — up from 79 percent in 2011.

This is certainly good news. However, what do our graduates actually know?

The Nation’s Report Card, based on results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, indicates that a majority of 12th graders today graduate with an alarming lack of knowledge.

In 2015, for example, only 37 percent of 12th graders were proficient in reading, and only 25 percent were proficient in mathematics.

Students scored worst of all, however, in American history. Only 12 percent of high school seniors were actually proficient in American history.

And it’s not just 12th graders who are failing to learn about our country’s past. Test results show that students score worse in American history than in any other subject–at every grade level and often overwhelmingly so. Just 20 percent of fourth-graders and 18 percent of eighth-graders are at grade-level proficiency in American history.

Amazingly, the longer students are in school, the less familiar they become with history.

Those of us who care about passing on the lessons of our past to the next generation of Americans have only ourselves to blame if, from the very beginning, children are failing to learn the basics. For two generations now, we have done a poor job of teaching young people about our country’s past.

The history we teach in many of our schools has become revisionist, politically correct, and too often, an overly critical version of American history. It’s no wonder students aren’t interested in learning more.

Each of us has a responsibility to help make sure the next generation knows who we are, where we come from, and what it means to be American.

And with surveys showing such discouraging results at every grade level, it’s more important now than ever to find creative ways to introduce young people to American history. It’s crucial that we start early in passing our love for America on to our children and grandchildren.

This is the goal of my New York Times bestselling series of children’s books featuring Ellis the Elephant. In my latest book, Hail to the Chief, Ellis discovers America’s greatest presidents and learns how they have led our country throughout American history.

This extraordinary election season offers the perfect opportunity to inspire young people with a new interest in American history. Throughout our history, Americans have chosen some exceptional leaders–tough and energetic figures who have inspired the nation. We have also selected some unlikely presidents, who offered unique leadership when it was urgently needed.

In Hail to the Chief, Ellis discovers one such example in Andrew Jackson, who rose from humble beginnings to rock the political establishment in Washington, D.C. with a populist campaign for president. Jackson was a tough, blunt, and strong-willed leader with no political background who promised to shake up the old order. Indeed, some might find themselves drawing comparisons to Donald Trump’s campaign today.

As our country prepares to choose it’s 45th president, a renewed appreciation for American history is a good way to help young and old alike understand the critical lessons of the past.

With the help of dedicated parents, grandparents, teachers and friends, our graduation rates won’t just go up. We’ll once again graduate students who actually know what it means to be American.

Callista Gingrich is the author of Hail to the Chief and the president of Gingrich Productions