<i> The following is a commentary by Carrie David Ford, editor of the Fort Jackson "Leader."</i>

FORT JACKSON, S.C. (Army News Service, March 22, 2007) - What year did Abraham Lincoln sign the Emancipation Proclamation' What British document provided a framework for the United States' founding fathers while they penned the Declaration of Independence' In what document can the words "separation of church and state" be found'

For some, the answers to these questions are easy. Others may be asking what does "emancipation" mean and why should I care'

The United States' founding fathers believed that educating the country's citizens was the best safeguard for the freedoms we possess. In 1787, John Adams wrote, "Children should be educated and instructed in the principles of freedom." But are they'

The short answer is no. A 2005 study of 50 colleges by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute tested 14,000 college freshmen's and seniors' knowledge with 60 multiple-choice questions covering four sections: American History, Government, America and the World, and Market Economy. Neither group passed the exam, or any section of the exam for that matter. Freshmen scored an average of 51.7 percent, while seniors scored an average of 53.2 percent. My favorite result from this study is the 5.7 percent of respondents who said Israel was the main source of Saddam Hussein's political support. What'!

Beyond these study results, the most striking facts I have discovered is that although 57 percent of 12th grade students scored below basic knowledge of U.S. history on the National Assessment of Educational Progress in 2001, the average national grade-point average in social studies actually rose in graduates from 1990 to 2000 - from 2.56 to 2.83.

How can a GPA rise - which means higher grades - when more than 50 percent of high school seniors are ignorant of American history and incompetent about civic and citizenship functions and duties' How do we as parents ensure our children are functional citizens'

It is not enough to "get out and vote." Citizenship goes beyond that. Understanding how our political system works is imperative to understanding the passing of laws and how they affect us as citizens and as a nation. Understanding history helps us not to repeat mistakes made both in the past in America and in other countries.

If you don't learn about Hitler or Stalin, how do you recognize a tyrant' If you don't know how the world dealt with these leaders and their countries, then how do you know if our political leaders are trying the right approach to dealing with current foreign leaders'

Thomas Jefferson said in 1781, "History by apprising (citizens) of the past will enable them to judge of the future; it will avail them of the experience of other times and other nations."

If you don't know about socialism, communism or totalitarianism, then how do you know how great America really is' I've listened to middle and high school students talk about America, and somehow they've learned not only to dislike this great country, but that we are in some sense evil. The mentality of children today is something foreign and strange to me.

I was raised an Army brat by patriotic parents who honored Soldiers and the sacrifices they made so that I could sleep safely in my bed each night. History was an integral part of my upbringing. My father majored in history with a minor in political science, and he was quick to set me straight if I said something that was inaccurate.

I have taken it upon myself to share my beliefs with my 8-year-old daughter, because I am certain that what little she will be taught in school about America won't be flattering. I want my daughter to understand the political process and how laws passed can diminish her rights as a U.S. citizen and whether the cost is worth the gain.

I want her to understand, above all else, that freedom is not free, and countless men and women have paid with blood for her to enjoy the rights she has been granted as a United States citizen, and for that gift she owes a debt.

(Editor's note: The answers to the three questions beginning this article are: 1863, the Magna Carta and a letter from Thomas Jefferson to the Danbury Baptist Association in 1802.)

Page last updated Thu March 22nd, 2007 at 10:53