Welcome Remarks at the Educating for American Democracy National Forum
Welcome and thank you for taking part in the Educating for American Democracy National Forum today!
On January 6, I stood in my office window overlooking Pennsylvania Avenue and watched an angry mob make its way from the Ellipse rally to Capitol Hill. These fellow Americans were on their way to disrupt a sacred ceremonial rite of presidential transition. I was horrified to watch the storming of the Capitol and the increased agitation of the mob still streaming by our building. Not since 1814 have the hallowed halls of Congress been breached and those were foreign troops. Our own countrymen invaded the Capitol that day.
For decades civic literacy, individual rights, and historical understanding have been waning in America.
The events of January 6 were a stark reminder that teaching civics has never been more important in this country.
The National Archives is home to our nation’s most sacred documents: the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. These Charters of Freedom make up our foundation as U.S. citizens. And yet most Americans do not know what is actually written in them. Recent statistics show that:
- 68% of Americans can’t correctly name all three branches of the U.S. Government
- 33% of Americans can’t name any of the rights guaranteed under the First Amendment
- 75% of Americans can’t pass the U.S. citizenship exam
The release today of the "Roadmap for Excellence in History and Civic Education for all Learners” is well timed. As a nation, we need to make civic literacy a high priority.
At the National Archives, we are doing our own part to support teachers and students, helping them become active participants in our national civic life. We do this through our Civics Education programs.
In our Center for Legislative Archives, we have conducted educator professional development workshops for more than a decade. The National Archives is working with the National Archives Foundation to dramatically expand these workshops to provide educators with tools and strategies to teach students about the Constitution and key moments in U.S. history.
In our Presidential Libraries across the country, we have created White House Decision Centers. Students spend days preparing for and participating in a dramatic role playing exercise related to real historical events using facsimiles of the records used by the original decision makers.
And our DocsTeach initiative provides students and teachers with access to over 10,000 facsimiles of primary sources covering a wide variety of civic and historical topics. Teachers can discover and create online activities that help illustrate abstract civic concepts through real-life examples from the holdings of the National Archives. With hands-on access to primary sources and analysis techniques, students will form a connection to historical evidence and deepen their understanding of the past and our nation’s founding principles. And teachers can help their students understand what government does, why it matters, and prepare them for civic life.
Today’s forum and the release of the Roadmap are a good start in strengthening civic literacy in this country. I look forward to seeing where the Roadmap will take us and continuing this national conversation.