February 17, 2014, Washington, DC — In celebration of Presidents’ Day, David Bruce Smith launched today his new interactive multimedia program, designed to restore enthusiasm for American history in children—and grown-ups, too.
“You have to know where you came from to know where you are going,” insists Smith, a Washington, DC-based author and publisher who recently penned, American Hero: John Marshall, Chief Justice of the United States. “Kids are often asked to memorize a bunch of dates that don’t mean anything to them, so history seems boring,” he says. “Then they are given standardized tests, which don’t measure what they don’t know—they measure what they haven’t been taught. It’s not the teachers’ fault. The system is dysfunctional.”
Plus, Smith believes Americans should feel patriotic about their country—without having to have a crisis such as 9/11 to pull them together.
The Grateful American™ Series includes:
- The Grateful American™ Radio Show on the Inkandescent Radio Network, featuring interviews about historical figures (George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, etc.) with the chief executives of the nation’s presidential homes, historians, and other experts.
- The Grateful American™ TV show on YouTube, public access, and national TV stations.
- The Grateful American™ Guidebooks: Featuring insights from the leaders of the presidential homes, and interactive exercises that explore, engage, and help readers develop an interest in American history.
- The Grateful American™ Events: Dovetailing with and promoting the events-in-progress currently going on at each of the nation’s top presidential homes.
- An interactive website: Here, students will post art, photos, writing, music, and other creative works that share their ideas about what excites them about American history.
Smith has described the project as giving more people a way to dive into the country’s genealogy.
Smith knows of what he speaks, for he comes from a long line of grateful Americans.
“I actually borrowed the title for the series from my father,” explains Smith, whose father—Robert H. Smith (1928–2009)—was a successful builder and developer. The Robert H. Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland, College Park, was named in his honor in 1998.
“He never let the opportunity pass to remind us how fortunate we were to be Americans,” says Smith. “He knew this was the greatest country in the world, and he was always thankful for the opportunities, luck, and good fortune that we found here.”
Unfortunately, studies show too many Americans—kids especially—aren’t knowledgeable about the country’s history.
Smith points to the 2010 National Assessment of Educational Progress report, which shows that just 13 percent of high school seniors tested showed solid academic performance in American history. The two other grade levels tested didn’t perform much better, with just 22 percent of 4th grade students and 18 percent of 8th graders scoring proficient or better.
“The test quizzed students on such topics as colonization, the American Revolution, the Civil War, and the contemporary United States. One question asked 4th graders why it was important for the United States to build canals in the 1800s,” Smith explains. “But an astonishing number of students weren’t able to answer those questions.”
“At the time, Education Secretary Arne Duncan said, ‘The results tell us that, as a country, we are failing to provide children with a high-quality, well-rounded education.’ And I couldn’t agree more.”
Smith is frustrated that adults don’t seem to fare much better when tested on their knowledge of American history.
“In 2009, the Intercollegiate Studies Institute asked 2,500 randomly selected Americans 33 questions on civic literacy, and 71 percent of them received an average score of 49 percent—which is an F,” Smith shares. He notes that the quiz revealed that more than twice as many people know Paula Abdul was a judge on the TV program, “American Idol” than know that the phrase “government of the people, by the people, for the people” comes from Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.
“This isn’t a problem that only young people have,” says Smith, who is hoping to change the way Americans view history with the Grateful American™ Series.
Click here (www.InkandescentRadio.com) to listen to Smith’s podcast interviews with the leaders who run the nation’s presidential homes and historic landmarks, as well as historians who will provide insight into the lives of our Founding Fathers and Mothers:
- February: Meet Dr. Douglas Bradburn at Mount Vernon.
- March: Go inside Lincoln’s Cottage with Erin Carlson Mast.
- April: Learn from historian Tom Fleming, author of 50 books, including several on the Founding Fathers.
- May: Learn more about Thomas Jefferson from Leslie Greene Bowman at Monticello.
- June: Discover James Madison’s Montpelier in our interview with Kat Imhoff.
- July: Visit the Gettysburg battlefield with Jerry Moore on the anniversary of the great battle.
- August: Hear the Civil War discussed with Adam Goodheart, author of “1861: The Civil War Awakening.”
- September: Take a virtual visit of Benjamin Franklin’s London home.
Scroll down for our 10-question Q&A with David Bruce Smith for more information on why he launched the Grateful American™ Series.
1. What inspired you to launch the series?
David Bruce Smith: My father. He always said how grateful he was to be an American, and that really stuck with me. Most of my family are Jewish immigrants, and they knew how lucky they were to be in this country. I have always felt that way, too, and I passed that on to my children. I hope to inspire others to do the same.
2. Why do you think so many people, kids especially, don’t have a passion for American history?
David Bruce Smith: Generally, kids are not being taught history effectively. With that comes the tendency to get bored with the material and slough it off. We need to have the same feeling of patriotism that existed after 9/11, but without the framework of a disaster. I think the title, “The Grateful American™ Series,” will help stimulate some of those thoughts.
3. What are your goals for the project?
David Bruce Smith: One would be to encourage the teaching of history in the most interesting, innovative way possible. To do that, schools need to find the most qualified people. Otherwise, kids will turn off—fast.
4. Do you think textbooks, which can be less than riveting, are part of the problem?
David Bruce Smith: Textbooks can be part of the problem, in that they cover the sweep of history unevenly or not at all. Also, sometimes they are too complicated and verbose. I think it’s good to mix standard texts with films, biographies, diaries, and guest speakers.
5. Adults don’t seem to know much more than kids when tested on their knowledge of American history. Do you think this is really a problem, and if so, why?
David Bruce Smith: Adults having little knowledge about American history? I think this shows the problem has existed for a long time. It’s hard to fix those deficiencies, but you can make up for it by educating this generation and the upcoming one, conscientiously. A standardized test is not going to fix it, because all that means is students cram in a lot of dates, and then quickly forget them.
6. What are some solutions to getting more kids and adults excited about knowing American history, and re-igniting our passion for the people who founded the country?
David Bruce Smith: Qualified teachers, and more visits to historical sites. School budgets are tight; I don’t know why local and national businesses don’t contribute funds to make these outings possible. It would be an investment in their future employees. I would also encourage more interactive lessons, and getting historians, authors, and key people from the presidential homes to visit schools.
7. In the Grateful American™ Series, you are interviewing the leaders of the nation’s biggest presidential homes—including Mt. Vernon, Monticello, Montpelier, Lincoln’s Cottage, as well as the national museum at Gettysburg and Ben Franklin’s House in London. What are some of your favorite things about each home?
David Bruce Smith: Except for Lincoln Cottage, all of the other homes were owned by Founding Fathers. These were the men who made it possible for all of us to live in this wonderfully free society—in the best country in the history of the world.
8. Who is your favorite president, and why?
David Bruce Smith: Definitely Abraham Lincoln. Ever since I was a little boy, Lincoln was my favorite for one reason: he freed the slaves. Had he not, it would have been many years before anybody else was bold and brave enough to do it.
9. You also have a passion for the First Ladies, and the women who shaped America’s early history. Why is that, and what are some of your favorites stories about these ladies?
David Bruce Smith: Some of the First Ladies are under-recognized for their contributions to their husband’s successes. For example:
- Had it not been for Abigail Adams, I don’t think John Adams would have become president. He was difficult and moody, but she evened him out.
- Dolly Madison filled in the weaknesses of James Madison. He was bookish and scholarly, but she had personality and she was a great hostess. As a couple they were a perfect combination.
- Mary Todd Lincoln, even with her justifiable mental illness, was intelligent, advised Lincoln well, and was prescient. Thirty years before the inauguration, she informed the Todd family that one day, Abraham will be president.
- Nancy Reagan was the non-pathological version of Mrs. Lincoln. I think that because she was not able to make it the movies, she channeled all of her ambition, love, and energy into his career.
- Eleanor Roosevelt was probably the best First Lady in history. She was FDR’s legs, ears, and trusted advisor.
10. If you could accomplish one thing with The Grateful American™ Series, what would it be?
David Bruce Smith: To develop an appreciation for history. This shouldn’t be difficult, especially if the challenge is properly framed. If one thinks about the whole—or even a piece—of learning about our nation’s history as “doing an Ancestry.com” on the country, history would make more sense, and be fun to learn.
About David Bruce Smith
David Bruce Smith has a bachelor’s degree in American Literature from George Washington University and a master’s in Journalism from New York University. During the past 20 years he has been a real estate executive and the editor-in-chief/publisher of Crystal City Magazine.
He is the author of 11 books: “In Many Arenas” • “13 Young Men” • “Tennessee” • “Three Miles From Providence” • “Conversations with Papa Charlie” • “Afternoon Tea with Mom” • “Letters to My Children” • “Building the Community” • “Continuum” • “Building My Life” • and his most recent, “American Hero: John Marshall, Chief Justice of the United States.”
His company, David Bruce Smith Publications, specializes in creating, designing, and composing limited-edition books on a variety of subjects: authors, historic figures, artists, and leaders. Several are about the amazing life-story of real estate developer and philanthropist Charles E. Smith. David Bruce Smith Publications is committed to educating young children through books, literature, and historic sites.
For additional details, visit www.davidbrucesmith.com.
For more information:
Contact Hope Katz Gibbs, executive director • firstname.lastname@example.org • 703-346-6975