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History matters for all Americans
History matters for all Americans

Congressman Ike Skelton
WASHINGTON, D.C. (Sept. 27, 2009) — My friend, the late Congressman Fred Schwengel, told me about meeting then-Senator Harry S. Truman in 1935. Schwengel was a college student in Missouri at the time and recalled Truman advising him that to be a good American, “you should know your history.”

Unfortunately, studies have shown that Americans of all ages have a disappointingly poor understanding of American history and civics. Our educators are likewise concerned that neither high school nor college graduates have an adequate grasp on the historical events that have made this nation what it is today. Neither do they have a consistent understanding of how our government and constitution function.

In an age when national security is a primary concern, why does history matter? While we will never forget that the terrorist attacks of 9/11 were a direct attack on American lives, the attacks were also an attempt to undermine American values and freedoms. Our homeland security efforts have properly focused on our physical safety, but to defeat terrorism we must not fail to remember and protect our democratic ideals and the principles of freedom on which our nation was founded.

One way we can preserve our heritage for future generations is by improving our familiarity with American history. Through a project entitled “History Matters!” I have promoted history and civic education in Missouri’s Fourth Congressional District through a variety of methods: guest lecturing to students about our unique history; supporting legislation in the House of Representatives that promotes history; highlighting important historical sites within the Fourth Congressional District, such as the Lewis and Clark Trail and the Battle of Lexington State Historic site; and promoting several history and civics programs, including the National Endowment for the Humanities “We the People” initiative, which provides grants for teachers and librarians. I have also developed a page on my website that provides links to websites on historical topics, including Missouri and American history, and I have posted a monthly “Historical Highlight” on a subject or person who helped to shape our unique history. My “History Matters!” website is available by visiting www.house.gov/skelton/history_matters.shtml.

When students of all ages learn about American history and their government, they become better citizens. The strength of America’s democracy comes from the informed, active participation of its citizens, whether voting in an election, participating on a jury, volunteering for community service, or simply being aware of current affairs. We must do everything we can to ensure that the next generation of citizens have the knowledge, skills, and interest to fulfill their civic responsibilities.

So however you access history – through the information on my website, a trip to a museum, or by reading a book from the library — share what you learn! Without a common civic memory and a shared understanding of the remarkable individuals, events and ideals that have shaped the nation, we risk losing much of what it means to be an American.

Congressman Ike Skelton (D-Mo.) serves as chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. Congressman Skelton’s website is at www.house.gov/skelton.

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