Over the last decade, the general lack of knowledge about American government and history has become astoundingly clear. In fact, PragerU has done a series of videos highlighting just how poorly our society has been educated on these topics. In one of these videos, they asked people on the streets questions that are on the U.S. Citizenship Test, such as:
Even though these questions are not particularly difficult, an alarming number of people either answered incorrectly or stated that they had no idea.
As knowledge of America’s history plummets, it has become abundantly clear just how critical it is for our future. This week on Family Policy Matters, host Traci DeVette Griggs welcomes Tim Goeglein to discuss the continued importance of America’s history, especially in light of Tim’s new book, Toward a More Perfect Union.
Note: The North Carolina House is currently considering the NC REACH Act, which would require all public universities and colleges in North Carolina to add American government to their graduation requirements. The course outlined in the bill would require students to study documents like the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, and the Emancipation Proclamation. You can learn more about this bill here.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: Thanks for joining us this week for Family Policy Matters. In the past, the United States of America has been called a shining city upon a hill and the last, best hope for mankind. I think it’s safe to say that many people do not feel that way today, and there’s even a concerted effort to highlight every negative part of our country while at the same time ignoring the vibrant history and the vision and bravery of our country’s foundations.
A recent survey shows that three out of four public school students were not even able to identify George Washington as our first president. Well, that has to make us wonder what the cost will be for this loss of connectedness to the outstanding parts of our past. And how are Americans supposed to make informed decisions on the direction of our country if we don’t have a full understanding of even the simplest principles that America was founded upon?
Tim Goeglein joins us today from Focus on the Family to talk about this. He just wrote a book entitled, “Toward a More Perfect Union: The Moral and Cultural Case for Teaching the Great American Story.”
Tim Goeglein, welcome to Family Policy Matters.
TIM GOEGLEIN: Traci, thank you so much. It’s really an honor to be with you.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: All right. So start off — let’s make it basic. What makes America and Americans, in turn, exceptional and unique in the world? I think we need a reminder.
TIM GOEGLEIN: I think there are, actually, several answers to that question, but let me start with the narrative of the book and I think it really flows beautifully into your question. I think that the center of the United States is the United States Constitution. I mean in the history of the world, and you can go to the greatest civilizations ever, no nation, no country, no civilization has ever been freer because of the freedoms that are solidified in our United States Constitution.
The United States Constitution is the most important document for freedom in the history of the world, and I remember being at the White House where I worked for nearly eight years for George W. Bush. And I remember having a conversation with one of the most famous American historians ever — his name was David McCullough — and he said that he was suffering from insomnia, and he was very serious. He said that he was very concerned about what he perceived to be the historic level of constitutional, historic, and cultural illiteracy in the United States. That conversation took place more than ten years ago, and I think that the best research confirms the way that you began our conversation, Traci, which is what are the implications when the rising generation of young Americans don’t know the basics of the American story. And in large measure, that’s why I wrote the book.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: Because if three out of four public school students do not even know that George Washington was our first president, what is the chance that they’ve actually studied like our Constitution and compared it to other constitutions. It’s pretty grim.
TIM GOEGLEIN: May I say I’m an inveterate categorical optimist, but you have to deal, as you say, with the facts. One of my favorite presidents is the second president, John Adams, and he famously said, “Facts are stubborn things.” And the facts bear out precisely what you have raised today in our conversation. There is a major high school survey that is given regularly across our nation asking public school students what do they know about basic American history, and this study is very important because what students are given is the U.S. citizenship test that all legal immigrants must take to become citizens of the United States of America. And over the years the data show that the rising generation of young Americans do not know even the most basic history.
Let me share some of those data points with you and our listeners. Only one in four could name George Washington as the first president of the United States. Only 10 percent knew that there are nine justices on the United States Supreme Court. Less than 30 percent knew that the President of the United States is the head of the executive branch of our government. In summary, Traci, only three percent were able to answer six out of the ten question, which is the passing score for the U.S. citizenship test. So these students would now be in their early to mid-thirties. They are casting votes, rallying — they’re even holding political office, and yet they were woefully ignorant of the most basic points of our history and our system of government. So, “Toward a More Perfect Union,” is designed to be a tool in our toolbox to find a better way forward, and this is why I’m eager that everybody get a copy and use it.
I think parents, grandparents, families are very concerned, and they want to know how to do better, how they can better prepare the next generation for the American story and for liberty and religious liberty. And I think that this book really is designed to go a long way to do that.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: So do you think that this loss of connection with this great American story is contributing to the division that we see all over our country today?
TIM GOEGLEIN: I absolutely do. I believe that the breakdown in history and civic education, Traci, is very directly tied to many of the ills that we face as a nation in civility, bad leaders, cultural decay, cancel culture. In the book, I quote President Eisenhower. In 1953 in his inaugural address, he said just one sentence, but he said something I think very prophetic. He said, “A people that values its privileges above its principles soon loses both,” and I think that Eisenhower was right. I think that we have forgotten our principles while exalting our privileges, but without principles to serve as a foundation, it seems to me that eventually we will lose our privileges. So that, I think, is what we are seeing playing out in our culture, unfortunately, every day.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: I think it’s easy to blame the “Liberals” for this move away from teaching the great American story, but who is to blame really — what happened?
TIM GOEGLEIN: I love that question because I think that the ultimate goal of cancel cultures and erasure and wokeism, which is what we are seeing, I think it was baked into the cake among progressive American historians beginning as early as the 1950s. In fact, in “Toward a More Perfect Union,” I devote an entire chapter to the man who was the creator as a neo-Marxist of the erasure of the American story, of the transformation of the American story. In fact, his goal as the most widely used editor and writer of a single American textbook, called “A People’s History of the United States,” and his name is Howard Zinn. His entire goal was to arrive at the moment where we have now arrived, which is to erase our past, to erase fact-based history, and to essentially create a new story even if the new story was a series of lies. And I really don’t speak that way as a person, but that’s what you have to conclude. And I think after the era of Howard Zinn, what we have seen is a series of other copycats, among them the very malevolent, malicious major project called the 1619 Project. The ultimate goal of the 1619 Project is to destroy American’s foundation through ignorance and disinformation, and essentially to create an entirely different nation that no longer embodies the principles of the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution. I’m sorry to say it’s being used in thousands of schools, and it posits among many other falsehoods that America was not born with the Declaration of Independence in 1776 that America was born in 1619 when the slave ships came to the coastland of what is now the Commonwealth of Virginia. This is clearly false, but it is being taught as true in thousands of American schools.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: What is the underlying reason? What’s the purpose of these kinds of publications and efforts?
TIM GOEGLEIN: I’m really glad you asked because I do not think it was a conspiracy. I think it was a well-thought-out plan to rewrite the American story and to influence several generations of young Americans in a new history of the United States because these men and women I’m talking about who were the creator of the new story really did not like the United States of America. They didn’t like our history. They didn’t like western civilization. I might say that Howard Zinn, the primary architect of much of this disinformation, he said, in fact, it wasn’t a conspiracy at all. He said that his goal was not to teach fact, but opinion and his opinion, and he said that he wanted to transform American history. And his goal was to denounce western civilization and to convince students to reject it. In fact, he said western civilization was marred, and I’m quoting him now, “by the religion of popes, the government of kings, and the frenzy of money.” I mean among other things Howard Zinn and the men and women who came after him always state that America became involved in certain chapters of our history for reasons that we know not to be true.
In fact, Howard Zinn, he said America became involved in World War 2 to protect the imperial interest of the United States. I’m very sorry to say that his version of history is now the dominant one being taught in our education system, so no conspiracies, this was the plan, and Howard Zinn’s propaganda according to the scholar Mary Grabar, who has read and studied Zinn, that unfortunately his propaganda has been spectacularly effective. His dishonest American history, she says, is not the only factor in America’s turn away from our heritage of freedom towards these kind of fantasies, but he’s been instrumental, she says, in this destructive transformation. And I think she’s spot on.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: So let me ask your opinion, with the rates of suicide especially among our young adults just going through the roof, do you feel like there’s a connection? Is there a hopelessness in this kind of philosophy that’s being put forth through our public schools?
TIM GOEGLEIN: I believe very strongly that we are living in an era of moral relativism. That is the cancer upon our body politic. It’s the cancer upon the teaching of American and western history and of our culture, and I think we have to stand up to this lack of teaching and propaganda if we are to preserve America.
There is a writer, Bari Weiss, and she says very simply keeping the spirit of liberty alive in an age of creeping illiberalism is nothing less than our moral obligation. Everything depends on it, and I think she’s exactly right. To the heart of your question, I think we are now in a battle for the soul of our nation, and I believe firmly that it begins in our home, which will then hopefully transform our schools and restore the proper teaching of American history and civics.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: You said earlier you are an optimist, so tell us why are you optimistic? What can we do about this?
TIM GOEGLEIN: Well, I’m first and foremost happy to say that I’m a Christian, and I believe that discouragement and despair is a sin because it negates the hope of Jesus Christ. And I believe very strongly that America has been at difficult turns historically in the past, and we have most often come through when there has been a relook at what has been happening. And I believe, Traci, that there is a parental and I might even say a grandparental rebellion going on. People are saying, wait a minute, what is a school board, can I run for the school board, and who makes these decisions regarding history and culture for my children and grandchildren.
In other words, I think we have come to a moment where people understand that we are at a hinge point of history, and the wonderful story of the United States of America is that at major hinge points of history hope has won out and betterment and the better way forward has prevailed. And I believe that the better way forward will prevail. I think people do not want what we are discussing for their children and grandchildren. They understand the centrality of the church and local community, and they understand that Washington, DC really is out of answers when it comes to this kind of renewal and restoration. So I believe that regeneration and restoration is possible, and I think it begins in the home, in the church, in communities. And it’s principally why I wrote, “Toward a More Perfect Union,” because the American story is a great and remarkable story. And I pray and hope that it’s just one tool in the toolbox to help people prepare for a better way forward for our country.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: Well, I wish we could keep the conversation going because I have a lot of other questions I could ask you, but I assume that I can get answers to those in your book. So tell us where can our listeners go to follow your good work and also get a copy of your book, “Toward a More Perfect Union: The Moral and Cultural Case for Teaching the Great American Story.”
TIM GOEGLEIN: It’s available very widely wherever you buy books. I like FaithfulTech.com.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: All right. Tim Goeglein with Focus on the Family and author of “Toward a More Perfect Union.” Thank you so much for being with us today on Family Policy Matters.