The Problem: America Is At Risk

AHEF Addresses the Need for Civic Education among Americans of All Backgrounds

Many recent studies point to a growing problem in America that can no longer be ignored. The problem is that Americans of all backgrounds lack sufficient civic knowledge about our nation’s history, founding ideas, and governing institutions. This widespread deficiency among the general public is a serious matter in a self-governing republic such as ours, which relies on an educated citizenry to govern itself. If these trends continue, as many historians and practitioners note, America will not be able to endure as our Founders designed it.

America’s Heritage Is at Risk in Our Society, Culture, Institutions, and Education Today

Various political, educational, intellectual, media-informational, immigrational, socio-economic, and cultural factors have likely contributed to the nation’s civic knowledge deficiency, but one solution seems obvious. Students and citizens in every generation need effective doses of civic education throughout their school years and beyond.

Unlike countries governed by dictatorships or state-controlled systems, America was founded on ideas, principles, and values such as God-given individual rights and Freedom, Unity, Progress, and Responsibility. These principles appear in our history and our Declaration of Independence, U.S. Constitution, U.S. Bill of Rights, and other founding documents. They are also found in the philosophical ideas and values of Western Civilization.

The teaching and learning of these principles and values are largely declining or being de-emphasized in K-12 schools, colleges, and universities. Yet a nation built on philosophical ideas and principles cannot survive if those principles are not taught, learned, and reinforced in schools and institutions.

The American Heritage Education Foundation’s Patriotic Mission

AHEF and many professional historians and educators recognize the need for civic education among American students and citizens. With small beginnings in 1995, AHEF has been working to address this problem–to strengthen civic education among students and citizens–so that America can survive and prosper philosophically, socially, culturally, and economically.

AHEF has become a national leader in providing free K-12 lesson plans to educators and parents on America’s founding principles to kick-start the (re)education of citizens and young people in our constitutional republic’s noble principles and values. AHEF is working hard to reach more students and citizens with its tested, quality educational resources and with new programs, resources, and partnerships currently underway.

Americans of all ages must commit themselves to learning, with increasing competency, about America’s founding history and philosophy—about America’s values and ideals. We must know and apply the rights and responsibilities of citizenship. Moreover, we must pass this knowledge and these values on to others and the next generation. Civic learning, participation, and education should continue throughout our adult lives. This commitment is the responsibility of every American.

Less than one-quarter of students in grades 4, 8, & 12 performed at or above a proficient level in history.

Studies in the Last 20 Years Show the Need for Civic Education Among Students at All Grade Levels

Various studies over the last 20 years indicate a dire need for civic education and knowledge among Americans of all backgrounds and grade levels:

In 2003, a report commissioned by the Carnegie Corporation and the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning & Engagement (CIRCLE) on The Civic Mission of Schools warned that “school-based civic education is in decline” and “young people’s political and civic knowledge is inadequate.” It observed that in recent decades increasing numbers of Americans have disengaged from civic and political institutions. Young people reflect these trends: they are less interested in public affairs, less likely to vote, and less likely to discuss political and public issues than older groups or past generations of young people. There are also “gaps in young people’s knowledge of democratic principles and processes.” As a result, many young Americans are not prepared to fully participate in our democracy.

In 2005, the American Bar Association conducted an opinion poll on Civics Education, revealing the general public’s lack of knowledge and understanding of civics, government, history, and law. The study showed that 45% or nearly half of Americans could not identify the three branches of government.

In 2008, the Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI) found in its study Our Fading Heritage that 71% of Americans of all backgrounds, incomes, and education failed a basic civic literacy test. Only 27% knew that the Bill of Rights prohibits the establishment of an official religion in the United States.

In 2010, the National Center for Education Statistics conducted its National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), or Nation’s Report Card, in Civics and U.S. History. Less than one-quarter of students in grades 4, 8, & 12 performed at or above a proficient level in history. Its findings indicate a need for civic and history education among K-12 students.

In 2013, the National Association of Scholars (NAS) conducted a study called Recasting History. The study found that many college history courses have significantly reduced coverage of important U.S. history subjects–like intellectual, religious, diplomatic, and military history. As a result, students often get “a less-than-comprehensive picture of U.S. history.”

In 2014, the National Assessment Governing Board and National Center for Education Statistics conducted its Nation’s Report Card, in U.S. History, Geography, and Civics. The report showed that only 18% of 8th-grade students are proficient in U.S. History, 27% are proficient in Geography, and 23% are proficient in Civics. Its findings indicate a continuing need for civic and history education among K-12 students.

In 2017, the National Association of Scholars (NAS) conducted a study called Making Citizens: How American Universities Teach Civics. The study found that a new movement in American higher education aims to transform the teaching of civics to make students supporters of a political agenda to “fundamentally transform” America.  It observed that “instead of teaching college students the foundations of law, liberty, and self-government, colleges teach students how to organize protests, occupy buildings, and stage demonstrations”— forms of engagement that are “far from being a genuine substitute for learning how to be a full participant in our republic.” The study concluded that “traditional civic literacy is in deep decay in America.”

In 2020, the Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF) examined the origins, nature, and effects of “action civics” as a means of civic education in a qualitative study titled Action Civics, New Civics, Civic Engagement, and Project-Based Civics: Advances in Civic Education? The study found some merit in action civics or experience-based learning but concluded that it “placed too much stress on participation and too little on the acquisition of the knowledge of the fundamental political, philosophical, and moral principles undergirding the Constitution.”

See also:
Civic Knowledge: Americans’ Ignorance Can No Longer Be Ignored – Civic Studies Summaries

Experts Discuss the Need for Civic Education Among Americans

Something’s eating away at the national memory, and a nation or a community or a society can suffer as much from the adverse effects of amnesia as can an individual.”

–David McCullough, Historical Biographer (Archibald, ‘Amnesia’)

“America’s roots and heritage have been under attack in recent decades.”

– Dr. Judd W. Patton, Educator

“It’s important that students understand not only our flaws and failings, but also the degree to which the United States was really the first modern democracy and the degree to which it has inspired democrats around the world…. It’s a call for balance; it’s not a call for purging from the history books honest criticism of our failings.”

– Larry Diamond, Hoover Institution (Fox)

“’We are raising a generation of people who are historically illiterate’ and ignorant of the basic philosophical foundations of our constitutional free society. ‘We can’t function in a society if we don’t know who we are and where we came from.’”

– David McCullough, Historian

“Americans have a sense that something is seriously wrong with education in America. What they do not know is that the situation is far worse than they imagine.”

– Matthew Robinson, Author and Columnist

“Numerous recent surveys point to a common conclusion: Americans believe that we are economically prosperous but civically impoverished. If our young people are disengaged from public life, it is not they who are failing our country, it is we who are failing them by not providing suitable opportunities for civic learning and by not sending clear messages about its importance. “

– Bill Galston, Educator

“Patriotism is scorned in the college classroom today. As with physical muscles, unexercised cultural and spiritual muscles tend to wither away.”

– Chester E. Finn, Jr.

“Schools, in many ways, have lost their civic souls.”

– Terry Pickeral, Educator

“Most textbooks, produced by a handful of giant commercial publishers, are exposing generations of children to cultural and history amnesia that threatens the very basis of American free institutions and liberties, warn leading historians who are calling for better-defined, more rigorous state teaching standards.”

– George Archibald, Washington Times

“I believe that our nation’s growing lack of knowledge about our nation’s past could eventually lead to its downfall.”

– David Schults, High School Educator

“We’re not conveying to young people forcefully enough the American Heritage, the American way of life…. [The “Education for Democracy” report of the nonpartisan Albert Shanker Institute] puts strong emphasis on the inadequacy of our civic knowledge and our civic engagement.”

– Lee Hamilton, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars

See also:
The Need for Civic Education – Historic & Contemporary Excerpts (PDF)
The Need for Civic Education – Books & Articles List (PDF)

Dr. Danilo Petranovich is an Advising Scholar for AHEF.  Dr. Petranovich is the Director of the Abigail Adams Institute at Harvard University in Cambridge, MA. Previously, he taught political science at Duke University and Yale University.  His scholarly expertise is in nineteenth-century European and American political and social thought, with a special emphasis on American culture and Abraham Lincoln.  He has authored a number of articles on Lincoln and is currently writing a book on nationalism and the North in antebellum America.  He is a member of Harvard’s Kirkland House.  He holds a B. A. from Harvard and a Ph. D. in Political Science from Yale University.

Dr. Richard J. Gonzalez (1912-1998) is Co-Founder of AHEF.  Dr. Gonzalez served as Chief Economist and a member of the Board of Directors for Humble Oil and Refining Company (later Exxon Mobil) in Houston, Texas, for 28 years.  Later, he served as an economic consultant to various federal agencies and studies including the Department of Defense and the National Energy Study. 

He consulted with the Petroleum Administration for Defense and the Office of Defense Mobilization. In 1970, he was appointed by the U. S. Secretary of the Interior to the National Energy Study.  In addition, Gonzalez chaired and directed many petroleum industry boards and committees.  He served as director of the National Industrial Conference Board, chairman of the Economics Advisory Committee-Interstate Oil Compact Commission, and chairman of the National Petroleum Council Drafting Committee on National Oil Policy.  Gonzalez also held visiting professorships at the University of Texas, University of Houston, University of New Mexico, Stanford University, and Northwestern University.  From 1983-1991, he was a Senior Research Fellow at the University of Texas IC2 Institute (Innovation, Creativity, and Capital).

Gonzalez authored many articles and papers on topics ranging from energy economics to the role of progress in America. His articles include “Economics of the Mineral Industry” (1976), “Energy and the Environment: A Risk Benefit Approach” (1976), “Exploration and Economics of the Petroleum Industry” (1976), “Exploration for U. S. Oil and Gas” (1977), “National Energy Security” (1978), and “How Can U.S. Energy Production Be Increased?” (1979).

Born in San Antonio, Texas, Gonzalez earned his B.A. in Mathematics, M.A. in Economics, and Ph.D. in Economics (Phi Beta Kappa with highest honors) from the University of Texas at Austin.  He was and still is the youngest candidate ever to earn his Ph.D. from UT-Austin at the age of 21 in 1934.

In 1993, Dr. and Mrs. Gonzalez were recognized by the National Society of the Sons of the American Revolution (NSSAR) with the Bronze Good Citizenship Medals for “Notable Services on Behalf of American Principles.”

Selected Articles:
1. “What Makes America Great? An Address before the Dallas Chapter Society for the Advancement of Management” (1951)
2. “Power for Progress” (1952)
3. “Increasing Importance of Economic Education” (1953)
4. “Federal Spending and Deficits Must Be Controlled to Stop Inflation” (1978)
5. “What Enabled Americans to Achieve Great Progress? Keys to Remarkable Economic Progress of the United States of America” (1989)
6. “The Establishment of the United States of America” (1991)

Eugenie Gonzalez is Co-Founder of AHEF. Mrs. Gonzalez was elected to the Houston Independent School District (HISD) Board of Trustees with Dr. Herman Barnett III and David Lopez from 1972-1976 and was a key designer and advocate for HISD’s Magnet School program.  With HISD and AHEF in 1993, she designed and implemented HISD’s annual American Heritage Month held every November throughout HISD. 

Jeannie was recognized in 1993 by the National Society of the Sons of the American Revolution (NSSAR) for “Notable Services on Behalf of American Principles” with the Bronze Good Citizenship Medal and in 2011 by the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution (NSDAR) for “Outstanding Achievement through Education Pursuits” with the Mary Smith Lockwood Medal.  In 2004, she was honored to receive HISD’s first American Heritage Month Exemplary Citizenship Award.

Jeannie was a volunteer, participant, and supporter of M. D. Anderson Cancer Hospital, St. Luke’s United Methodist Church, Gethsemane United Methodist Church, Houston Grand Jury Association (board member), League of Women Voters, Houston Area Forum, the Mayor’s Charter Study Committee, Vision America, Houston Parks Department, and Houston Tennis Association.  She was instrumental in the founding of the Houston Tennis Association and Houston Tennis Patrons.

In her youth, Jeannie was the leading women’s tennis player in the Midwest Section of the US Lawn Tennis Association and competed at the U. S. National Championships.  She attended by invitation and became the first women’s tennis player at the University of Texas at Austin.  In 1932, 1933, and 1934, Jeannie was women’s finalist at the Houston Invitational Tennis Tournament which became the River Oaks Invitational Tennis Tournament and is now the USTA Clay Court Championships.  She was instrumental in bringing some of the nation’s top amateur tennis players to that event.  Jeannie became the first teaching tennis professional at Houston Country Club and River Oaks Country Club, starting active junior programs at each.  Jeannie and her father, Jack Sampson, were jointly inducted into the Texas Tennis Hall of Fame in 2012.

Claudine Kamrath is Outreach Coordinator, Office Manager, and Resource Designer for AHEF. She oversees outreach efforts and office administration. She also collaborates on educational resource formatting and design.  She has served as an Elementary Art Teacher in Texas as well as a Communications and Design Manager for West University United Methodist Church in Houston. She also worked as a childrens’ Camp Counselor at St. Luke’s United Methodist Church in Houston.  She holds a B.A. in Art and a Bachelor of Fine Art from the University of Texas at Austin as well as Texas Teacher Certification from the University of Houston. She has served in various children’s and student ministries.

Dr. Brian Domitrovic is an Advising Scholar for AHEF.  Dr. Domitrovic is a Senior Associate and the Richard S. Strong Scholar at the Laffer Center for Supply-Side Economics. He is also Department Chair and Professor of History at Same Houston State University.  He teaches American and European History and Economics.  His specialties also include Economic History, Intellectual History, Monetary Policy, and Fiscal Policy.  He has written articles, papers, and books–including Econoclasts–in these subjects.  He is a board member of the Center for Western Civilization, Thought & Policy at the University of Colorado-Boulder and a trustee of the Philadelphia Society.  He has received several awards including the Director’s Award from Intercollegiate Studies Institute and fellowship grants from Earhart Foundation, Krupp Foundation, Princeton, Texas A&M, and SHSU.  He holds a B. A. in History & Mathematics from Columbia University, an M. A. in History from Harvard University, and a Ph. D. in History, with graduate studies in Economics, from Harvard University.

Jack Kamrath is Co-Founder and Vice-President of AHEF.  A Texas state champion and nationally-ranked tennis player during his high school and college years, Kamrath is the Co-Founder and Principal of Tennis Planning Consultants (TPC) in Houston, Texas, since 1970. TPC is the first, oldest, and most prolific tennis facility design and consulting firm in the United States and world.  Mr. Kamrath is also the founder and owner of Kamrath Construction Company and has owned and managed various real estate operating companies.  He worked with Brown and Root in construction and human resources in Vietnam during the Vietnam War from 1966-1970. He holds a Bachelor of Business Administration from the University of Texas at Austin.  He is a member of St. Luke’s United Methodist Church in Houston.  In 2008, AHEF President Mr. Kamrath and AHEF received the Distinguished Patriot Award from the Society of the Sons of the American Revolution (NSSAR) for leadership in preserving America’s heritage and the teaching of good citizenship principles.

1.  1776:  From Oppression to Freedom
2.  FUPR:  The Formula for the American Experiment
2.  In Support of Our Pledge of Allegiance
3.  A Summation of America’s Greatest Ever Threat to Its Survival and Perpetuation
4.  A Brief Overview:  The Moral Dimension of Rule of Law in the U. S. Constitution (editor)

Dr. Michael Owens is Director of Education of AHEF. He has served as a Presenter/Trainer of AHEF teacher training workshops. Owens has taken on a number of administration leadership roles in Texas public education throughout his career–including Superintendent in Dripping Springs ISD, Assistant Superintendent in Friendswood ISD, and Associate Executive Director of Instruction Services for Region IV Education Service Center. He has also served as Director of Exemplary Programs for the Texas Education Agency, Director of Curriculum and Instruction for College Station ISD, and Director of Elementary and Secondary Education for College Station ISD. Owens has led many professional development worships for the Texas School Boards Association, Texas Assessment, Texas Education Agency, and others. He has specialization in educational technology systems and educational assessments, and has Texas teaching experience. He currently serves as Texas Technology Engineering Literacy (TEL) test administrator for the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) for part of Texas. He holds a B.S. and a M.Ed. from Stephen F. Austin State University and a Ed.D. from the University of North Texas.  He retired in 2021.

Angela E. Kamrath is President and Editorial Director of AHEF.  She is the author of the critically-acclaimed The Miracle of America: The Influence of the Bible on the Founding History and Principles of the United States of America for a People of Every Belief. She is editor and co-contributor of AHEF’s widely-distributed teacher resources, America’s Heritage: An Adventure in LibertyAmerica’s Heritage: An Experiment in Self-Government, and The Miracle of America High School Teacher Course Guide. In addition, she is editor and contributor for The Founding Blog and AHEF websites. Kamrath has taught, tutored, and consulted in writing and research at the University of Houston, Belhaven College, and Houston Christian University.  She also served as a Secondary English Teacher in Texas and as a Communications Assistant for St. Luke’s United Methodist Church in Houston.  She served as a Research Assistant intern in the Office of National Service during the George H. W. Bush administration.  She holds a B.A. in Government from the University of Texas at Austin, a M.A. in Journalism from Regent University, and a M.Ed. in Curriculum and Instruction as well as Texas Teacher Certification from the University of Houston.  She has served in various children’s and student ministries.

Dr. Steve Balch is an Advising Scholar for AHEF.  Dr. Balch is the Principal Founder and former President of the National Association of Scholars (NAS). He served as a Professor of Government at City University of New York from 1974-1987.  Dr. Balch has co-authored several NAS studies on education curriculum evolution and problems including The Dissolution of General Education:  1914-1993The Dissolution of the Curriculum 1914-1996, and The Vanishing West.  He is the author of Economic and Political Change After Crisis:  Prospects for Government, Liberty and Rule of Law and numerous articles relating to issues in academia.  Dr. Balch has also founded and/or led many education organizations including the Institute for the Study of Western Civilization at Texas Tech University, Alexander Hamilton Institute for the Study of Western Civilization, Association for the Study of Free Institutions, American Academy for Liberal Education, Philadelphia Society, Historical Society, and Association of Literary Scholars.  He has also served on the National Advisory Board of the U. S. Department of Education’s Fund for the Improvement of Post-Secondary Education (FIPSE), Educational Excellence Network, and New Jersey State Advisory Committee to the U. S. Commission on Civil Rights.  Dr. Balch was awarded the National Humanities Medal by President George W. Bush in 2007, and the Jeanne Jordan Kirkpatrick Academic Freedom Award by the Bradley Foundation and American Conservative Union Foundation in 2009.  He holds a B. A. in Political Science from City University of New York and a M. A. and Ph. D. in Political Science from the University of California-Berkeley.

Dr. Rob Koons is an Advising Scholar for AHEF.  Dr. Koons is a Professor of Philosophy and Co-Founder of The Western Civilization and American Institutions Program at The University of Texas at Austin. He teaches ancient, medieval, contemporary Christian, and political philosophy as well as philosophy of religion.  He has authored/co-authored countless articles and several books including Realism RegainedThe Atlas of Reality, Fundamentals of Metaphysics, and Neo-Aristotelian Perspectives on Contemporary Science.  He has been awarded numerous fellowships and is a member of the American Philosophical Association, Society of Christian Philosophers, and American Catholic Philosophical Association.  He holds a B. A. in Philosophy from Michigan State University, an M. A. in Philosophy and Theology from Oxford University, and a Ph. D. in Philosophy from the University of California-Los Angeles (UCLA).

Dr. Mark David Hall is an Advising Scholar for AHEF.  Dr. Hall is a Professor of Political Science in the Robertson School of Government at Regent University and a Senior Research Fellow in the Center for Religion, Culture & Democracy at First Liberty Institute.  He is also a Distinguished Scholar of Christianity & Public Life at George Fox University, Associate Faculty in the Center for the Study of Law and Religion at Emory University, and Senior Fellow in the Institute for Studies of Religion at Baylor University. His teaching interests include American Political Theory, Religion and Politics, Constitutional Law, and Great Books.  Dr. Hall is a nationally recognized expert on religious freedom and has written or edited a dozen books on religion and politics in America including Proclaim Liberty Throughout All the Land:  How Christianity Has Advanced Freedom and Equality for All AmericansDid America Have a Christian Founding? Separating Modern Myth from Historical TruthGreat Christian Jurists in American HistoryAmerica’s Wars: A Just War PerspectiveFaith and the Founders of the American RepublicThe Sacred Rights of ConscienceThe Founders on God and Government, and The Political and Legal Philosophy of James Wilson.  He writes for the online publications Law & Liberty and Intercollegiate Studies Review and has appeared regularly on a number of radio shows, including Jerry Newcomb’s Truth in Action, Tim Wildman’s Today’s Issues, the Janet Mefferd Show, and the Michael Medved Show.  He has been awarded numerous fellowships and the Freedom Project Award by the John Templeton Foundation in 1999 and 2000.  He holds a B. A. in Political Science from Wheaton College and a Ph. D. in Government from the University of Virginia.