Jim Lighthizer, president of the American Battlefield Trust.
Dear Fellow Students of History,
The numbers are terrifying, and our future is at stake.
The numbers I’m talking about are the test scores in American History from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, which were released recently.
They show that just 18% of 8th graders scored at or above the “proficient” level in history.
To put that another way, 82% of the nation’s 8th graders did not even score “proficient” in American History.
That means 82% of students are being “educated” every year with little or no appreciation for, or knowledge of, the Civil War.
That means 82% of students are graduating into the world with no appreciation for our country’s history and its heroes.
And that means 82% of students may grow to adulthood not caring about our history, or the importance of preserving it for future generations.
Over the years, through your generosity to my many requests to save priceless hallowed ground, you have saved many key parts of America's past.
Today, as millions of students head back to school, I ask you to help me save America's future.
Today, I ask for your help to pass along that spark of learning and excitement; I ask for your help to create the next generation of battlefield preservationists who will fight to save our nation’s history when you and I cannot do it any longer.
Today, I ask you to help fight back against the decline of history education, and ensure our future, by doing something very simple:
Let me ask you something: Do you remember the first time you ever visited a Civil War battlefield?
Remember how you felt? Did that hallowed ground “speak” to you, changing the way you thought about history?
Did it even – possibly – change your life, as it changed mine?
If so, you wouldn’t be alone. Civil War battlefields, as places where thousands of soldiers fought and bled and died, hold a special power to awe and inspire.
I’ve personally heard dozens of stories about how a trip to a battlefield changed a person’s life, especially if they were young when they first set foot upon that hallowed ground.
But what about those kids who never get to visit a battlefield?
What chance do they have to experience those feelings, or to gain that love of history that you and I share? What are the chances they will ever care enough to join us in the fight to preserve these hallowed places from development and destruction?
What kind of citizens do you think these students will become?
That’s why I am writing to you today about the other absolutely crucial part of the Civil War Trust’s mission, one that many members may not know much about: Education.
While the Trust is still dedicating the majority of our resources to land preservation, educating the next generation about history is a vastly important part of what we do.
Because, you see, you can't get people to preserve something if they don't care about it, and you can't get them to care about it unless they know something about it.
If we want the next generation to be the best possible stewards of the hallowed land we are working so hard to save today, then it’s up to you and me to train that next wave of preservationists.
That’s a pretty lofty goal, I’ll admit, but here at the Trust, we are already doing just that in some of the best ways we know how:
Through our Field Trip Fund, we are putting students – especially those who might not otherwise ever have the chance to visit a battlefield – onto hallowed ground, so they can experience those feelings personally. In the last school year, the Civil War Trust was able to send 1,200 students to 21 different historic sites, but we had to turn away many more for lack of funds.
Through our animated maps, smart-phone apps, website, and “Civil War In4” videos, (where we explain a single Civil War topic in just 4 minutes, so teachers can easily use them in lessons), we are speaking directly to the students in a language they all understand: Technology
We also help teachers directly by providing classroom materials not available anywhere else, including a complete Civil War Curriculum and “Traveling Trunks,” filled with hands-on Civil War items to help them reach even more students (and wow, are those teachers grateful!
We conduct an annual National Teacher Institute, hosting 150 passionate and dedicated teachers and librarians, giving them the tools they need to bring history education alive for thousands of their students. We provide the seminars and training free of charge, but the educators must still pay for their own travel and lodging expenses, which is often a hardship for many of them.
All of these key programs – and many more – are growing in importance and scope every year, and making a huge difference in the lives of each of the thousands of students we reach.
But as you and I both know, there is nothing like being on the actual ground where the battles were fought. You can read every book that has been written about a battle, but until you go there and see it with your own eyes, and feel it in your own heart, you never fully know what happened there.
In these times of tight school budgets everywhere, money for field trips is one of the first things that often gets cut.
But as a field trip may be the only way a student will ever get to experience a battlefield, I personally believe that the Civil War Trust’s Field Trip Fund is one of the most important education efforts you and I could undertake.
We simply must do everything we can to ignite that passion for history in the next generation, or much of the great preservation work that you and I are doing today may be forgotten.
With 82% of students not even proficient in history, it is up to the Civil War Trust to do everything we can to fill that void.
Of course, you are already a hero of battlefield preservation, and I thank you. Now, I truly need you to support the other pillar of our mission: Education.
The only way we can continue to save important, threatened hallowed ground… the only way we can continue to grow and expand our crucial education initiatives such as the Field Trip Fund… the only way we can put more students onto battlefield land, perhaps changing their lives forever …
… the only way we can continue to increase knowledge and appreciation for America’s Civil War history… is through your generous support.
I hope you will be inspired by the thought of “completing their education” by getting a student onto a battlefield!
Last school year, it cost the Civil War Trust just $20 to send a student on a field trip. Think about that for a moment…for just $20, you could potentially change a life, and create a life-long love of history.
Your gift of $40 will help send two students on a battlefield field trip, $80 will help pay for four students, and $100 will send five students to hallowed ground, where they can learn the meaning of heroism, valor, leadership and sacrifice firsthand.
Your gift of $500 will help send an entire classroom full of students, $1,000 will give this opportunity to two classrooms, and $2,000 will help provide a potentially life-changing experience to 100 students — again, many of whom may never get to go to a battlefield without your help.
Imagine if one of those kids goes on to be as successful in life and dedicated to historic preservation as you are. Isn’t this one of the best and most important investments in our future that you could make? I sure think so.
I am proud of every one of the 41,000+ acres of hallowed ground that you and I have saved over the years, my friend. But it is essential that we make the same progress in preparing the next generation of preservationists – they truly are our future.
If you could give one gift today “above and beyond” your normal battlefield preservation donations, I would be in your debt – and so will those future generations of American students who need you.
On behalf of those future leaders of our nation, I thank you very, very much.
P.S. There are thousands of students right now, many of them from disadvantaged schools, who – without your help – may never get to experience a Civil War battlefield. We already know that 82% of them are already suffering from a lack of knowledge about our country’s history – walking that hallowed ground might just be what lights that spark of passion changing their life forever. Please reply now, before it is too late, and thank you again!
Students from Jim Percoco and Brad Swain's Applied History classes at West Springfield High School take a field trip to the Gettysburg Battlefield that includes the use of our Gettysburg Battle App at Little Round Top and Devil's Den.
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