When did the Civil War take place? What was the name of the war that brought America its independence? Who did we even declare independence from? You probably know the answers, and if so you’re apparently better informed than many American students and citizens. The Huffington Post recently posted this video called “Lunch Scholars,” in which one student asks his classmates seemingly simple questions about America’s history and current events. But when high schoolers have no idea how many stars are on our flag, there is something wrong.
The spreading ignorance of basic American history is something the New-York Historical Society is fighting to stop, and nowhere is that more evident than in our DiMenna Children’s History Museum, where we strive to make history attainable and interesting to even the youngest scholars. There children can learn about everything from the history of U.S. voting rights to life on the Orphan Train. In a piece in the Huffington Post, the late Howard Kissel spoke of a nurse he once met who thought the Civil War took place in 1500. “I wish I could remember his name,” he wrote, “so I could urge him to visit the Historical Society’s children’s museum.”
Kissel visited the New-York Historical Society to watch the unveiling of a handwritten copy of the Thirteenth Amendment, which abolished slavery, on view through April 1. New-York Historical invited a group of eighth and eleventh graders to the ceremony, to see firsthand a document that changed the course of American history. This sort of “hands-on history” gives both students and teachers a chance to examine the stuff of history, letting them actively figure out the past instead of just hearing about it. Whether through curriculum materials, class visits or Saturday Academy, a free, seven week program for students in grades 8-12 that offers American history and SAT prep courses, we’re always looking for ways to bring history to life. And however our students learn, hopefully these memories will stick, and inspire a passion for understanding what made America the country it is today. Because only by learning from our past can we prepare for our future.