Publication Date

May 1, 2009

Perspectives Section


Legislation Introduced to Improve the Teaching of American History and Civics

In March Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), along with cosponsors Senators Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.), introduced a bill (S. 659) entitled the “Improving the Teaching and Learning of American History and Civics Act of 2009.”

The bill would do the following.

  • Increase the annual authorization (from $100 million to $150 million) for funding “Teaching American History” programs in local school districts.
  • Create presidential academies for the teaching of American history and civics.
  • Create congressional academies for students of American history and civics.
  • Authorize $50 million for the academies for fiscal years 2010–15.
  • Authorize appropriations for National History Day. In fiscal 2009, for the first time, National History Day received $500,000 in federal funding.
  • Require states to develop and implement standards for student assessments in U.S. History. However, there would be no federal accountability requirement as there is for reading and mathematics.
  • Allow for the comparison of history and civics test scores of 8th- and 12th-grade students by establishing a 10-state pilot program that would expand the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP).

The bill has been referred to the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee that Senator Kennedy chairs. Senator Byrd is the originator of the Teaching American History grants program and is a senior member of the Appropriations Committee. In addition, Senator Alexander is a former secretary of education and the ranking Republican in the Subcommittee on Children and Families that has jurisdiction over the Department of Education. So the key players are in a position to move this bill quickly.

Leon Kass Named Jefferson Lecturer

Leon R. Kass, a widely published author, award-winning humanities teacher, and one of America’s leading moral philosophers and experts on medical ethics, will deliver the 2009 Jefferson Lecture in the Humanities, the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) announced. The annual NEH-sponsored Jefferson Lecture is the most prestigious honor the federal government bestows for distinguished intellectual achievement in the humanities.

Kass will deliver the 38th Jefferson Lecture in the Humanities on Thursday, May 21, 2009, at 7 p.m. at the Warner Theatre in Washington, D.C., on the topic, “‘Looking for an Honest Man’: Reflections of an Unlicensed Humanist.”

Tickets to the lecture are free of charge and will be distributed on a first-come, first-served basis. Ticket requests must be submitted by May 4 via the online form at All other inquiries, as well as ticket requests for persons lacking online access, may be directed to (202) 606-8446.

Currently Kass is the Addie Clark Harding Professor in the College and the Committee on Social Thought at the University of Chicago, and the Hertog Fellow in Social Thought at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C. For nearly four decades, Kass has been engaged with ethical and philosophical issues raised by biomedical advances, and, more recently, with questions of human nature and with broader moral and cultural issues.

Civil War Preservation Trust Releases List of “Most Endangered Battlefields”

On March 18, the Civil War Preservation Trust (a member of the National Coalition for History) unveiled its annual report on the status of the nation’s historic battlegrounds. The report, entitledHistory under Siege: A Guide to America’s Most Endangered Civil War Battlefields, identifies the most threatened Civil War sites in the United States and what can be done to save them.

History under Siege is composed of two parts. The first section presents the 10 most endangered battlefields in the nation, providing a brief description of the history and preservation status of each site. The second section briefly describes the 15 additional “at risk” sites that round out the top 25 endangered Civil War battlefields in the United States. A copy of the report can be read online at

— is the executive director of the National Coalition for History. He can be reached His regular, informative, “Washington Update,” can be read at where readers can also sign up to receive the update or to get an RSS feed about the latest post.

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