Put a Student on a Battlefield with our Field Trip Fund
A Message from Jim Lighthizer, American Battlefield Trust President
Dear Fellow Students of History,
Being a member and supporter of the American Battlefield Trust, you well know that for the last 30 years, the main threat to preserving our nation’s hallowed ground has come from land developers.
Most of our fights have been against those who want to build casinos, housing developments, shopping centers, or roads on battlefield land. And while those threats are still out there, there is another danger on the horizon that I believe we must confront immediately, or it could destroy all the good work we have done so far.
Quite frankly, in America today, I believe we have a crisis on our hands. And it is a crisis in history education.
The numbers are terrifying.
I’m talking about the test scores measuring knowledge of American history from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, also known as the “nation’s report card.”
They show that just 18 percent of 8th graders scored at or above the “proficient” level in history. To put that another way, 82 percent of the nation’s 8th graders did not even score “proficient” in American history.
That means 82 percent of students are being “educated” every year with little or no appreciation for, or knowledge of, our country’s history and its heroes or the importance of preserving our history for future generations.
Another recent study found that less than one third of the top 75 colleges and universities ranked by US News and World Report magazine even require U.S. history as a graduation requirement for history majors!
Think about that . . . of the 75 top colleges and universities listed as America’s “best,” only 23 of them require history majors to take at least one U.S. history course to graduate! That same survey found that of more than 1,100 liberal arts colleges and universities, only 18 percent require students to take even one basic course in American history or government before they graduate.
At places like Williams College, history majors have the option of taking “Soccer and History in Latin America,” and at Swarthmore College they can enroll in “Modern Addiction: Cigarette Smoking in the 20th Century” to fulfill their history requirement.
Or perhaps they will take “Youth Culture in America” – a real course at the University of Connecticut – to fulfill the history requirement, instead of core subjects on the American Revolution or the Civil War.
It gets worse. Another study found that fewer than 20 percent of college students surveyed could accurately identify what the Emancipation Proclamation actually did.
Another survey published in 2015 found that more than one-third of new college graduates could not even place the Civil War within the correct 20-year time frame.
I could go on and on and on. Everywhere we turn we find more and more examples of our fellow citizens’ lack of knowledge about their own history and what it means.
My friends, this is the alarm bell in the night. We are in imminent danger of losing our history . . . losing our country . . . and losing our future.
Don’t get me wrong; I don’t blame the teachers. It is just a fact of life in modern American education today that teachers are forced, on the one hand, to be entertainers and social workers, if not actual miracle workers, and then on the other hand, told to focus almost exclusively on STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics).
And while these subjects are extremely important, they are crowding out history and other social studies.
The result of all of this leaves us with students who have no idea about their own country’s history and why we are the way we are. Worse, they have no frame of reference for making the important decisions about our nation’s future.
What type of leaders do you think they will be when it is their time to lead our country?
So what do we do? How do we even try to go about fixing this? Where do we start?
Well, over the years, through your generous responses to my requests to save priceless hallowed ground, you have saved many key parts of America’s past.
Today, I ask you to help me save America’s future. 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.
I ask you to help fight back in a very real and tangible way against the decline of history education, and ensure our future, by doing something very simple yet very important:
Let me ask you something: Do you remember the first time you ever visited a battlefield? How did you feel? 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. American battlefields, as places where millions of soldiers fought, and hundreds of thousands 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?
That’s why I am writing to you today: 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.
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.
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 Trust sent 9,395 students from 28 different states on 125 field trips to battlefields and related sites.
But we had to turn down applications for another 76 trips. Why? Quite simply, lack of funds. If we had the funding, we could have sent another 5,000 kids to a battlefield. To me, that is heartbreaking.
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 American Battlefield Trust’s Field Trip Fund is one of the most important – and cost effective – 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.
That’s why I hope you will join me in one of the most important and urgent tasks that we face today, educating our nation’s students about the importance of these priceless places, so they can never be forgotten.
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 history . . . is through your generous support today.
If you agree that educating and inspiring the next generation is an essential part of our work – will you please consider making a gift to support the Trust’s education efforts, including the Field Trip Fund, today?
I hope you will be as inspired as I am by the thought of “completing their education” by getting a student onto a battlefield!
Last school year, it cost the Trust just $9.30 to help send a student on a field trip. Think about that for a moment . . . for just $9.30, you could potentially change a life, and create a life-long love of history.
Your gift of $46.50 will help send five students on a battlefield field trip, $93 will help pay for ten students, and $186 will send twenty students to hallowed ground, where they can learn the meaning of heroism, valor, leadership and sacrifice firsthand.
Your gift of $250 will help send an entire classroom full of students, $500 will give this opportunity to two classrooms, and $1,000 will help provide a potentially life-changing experience to more than 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 as 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 50,000+ acres of hallowed ground that you and I have saved over the years, my friend. But I am just as proud of the 20,000+ students that we have helped to visit battlefields – 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. Just as I was finishing up this letter to you, I received word of a tremendously generous $25,000 matching grant for our education programs from the History Channel, so every $1.00 you give today will be doubled, up to that amount! As millions of students head back to school in the coming weeks, I ask you to help me save America’s future by taking advantage of this wonderful matching gift. Please let me hear back from you today! Thank you!
P.P.S. Please visit our website at www.battlefields.org/fieldtrips2018 to learn even more about how you can help send kids to battlefields and ignite in them a life-long love of history!