Trustees | General Education

NWA editorial: Celebrate with knowledge


The fireworks are finished, except for those secret stashes someone will continuing launching or exploding for days to come. Please do your neighbors a favor: Don’t.

The explosions and dazzling shows of light and sound that accompany the nation’s Independence Day are exciting — on or just prior to the date that is in fact being celebrated. That would be the Fourth of July. Not the fifth. Not the sixth. And not the … well, you get the point.

What’s the point?

Celebrating our nation’s founding and history ought to be done with a full appreciation of both, so read.

What’s not to love about fireworks, besides the uptick at the local emergency room and the number of dogs who go missing because they’re trying to get away from the loud noises they don’t understand?

We’re not suggesting anyone put the kibosh on their celebration of this great nation’s birth. But the holiday is over and won’t be back for another 364 days. Until then, let’s let freedom ring, but the explosives ought to take a rest. Folks launching bottle rockets and other fireworks after the Fourth of July probably aren’t doing it out of a celebration of the American spirit, anyway.

We sure hope everyone had a fun and safe Independence Day. Americans celebrate in just about every way possible, from taking in a professional fireworks display to spending the day on the lake to just cooking out with friends and family in the back yard. The fact the holiday fell on a Wednesday this year may have kept more people close to home. Next year’s observance is on a Thursday, but in 2020 many Americans can expect a three-day holiday since it falls on a Saturday. Then just six more years and we’ll be marking the semiquincentennial, or the sestercentennial, or the bicenquinquagenary, or the quarter-millenial. OK, forget about all that: In simpler terms, our nation will have been around for 250 years in 2026 (another Saturday celebration!). Make those reservations early!

Maybe we’re getting ahead of ourselves. We’re just done with Independence Day 2018. Any early planning probably ought to deal with next year’s observance. So why not get started now. Preparedness isn’t just for tornadoes and floods, right?

So what can we do starting on this July 5 to get ready for next year?

Why not commit to find and read at least one book — a well-researched book — about the founding of this country? With all its flaws, the nation born of the American Revolution is worthy of more than just an annual tip of that hat, isn’t it? We Americans — whether liberal Democrats or conservative Republicans or something between or beyond — need to shore up our understanding of our homeland’s history.

A 2016 report by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni titled “A Crisis in Civic Education” reported a survey of 1,100 liberal arts colleges and universities. The survey found only 18 percent required students to take even one survey course in American history or government before they graduate.

“In a country that depends upon an educated populace, ignorance of our history and founding documents will be disastrous,” the nonprofit council said in its report. “An annual survey by the Newseum Institute gives point to the alarm: When asked to identify the rights guaranteed by the First Amendment, one-third of Americans could not name a single right; 43% could not even name freedom of speech as one of those rights.”

K-12 and college students and Americans in general demonstrate limited knowledge of their nation’s history, from fundamentals such as how many justices serve on the Supreme Court to the process of amending the U.S. Constitution. The American Council study found older Americans had far more knowledge of history and civics, while more recent generations struggled with the basics of America’s past and its governance.

Stronger civic education is needed in our education system without a doubt, but Americans who don’t engage in formal education need work on the nation’s history, too. So our simple recommendation is this: read. How about committing to find and read at least one book — a well-researched book — about the founding of this country. Will that solve our national deficit of knowledge? No, but it’s a start.

We asked a few professors of history at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, to offer us a summer reading assignment: one book or writing that delivers a greater understanding of our nation’s founding or its promise. Here are a few worth consideration:

• Kathleen DuVal’s “Independence Lost: Lives on the Edge of the American Revolution” — Professor Patrick Williams said the book offers a novel perspective on the American Revolution and is written by “an important young historian who was raised here in Fayetteville.”

• Associate Professor Michael Pierce offered several recommendations that portray the chaotic and contested nature of the American Revolution. “Too often, especially among politicians and the national media, the Revolution is portrayed as if there was a singular meaning to and that all of the Americans were in some sort of agreement about what the country should become,” Pierce said. “These books–focusing on the roles of common people rather than elites–provide a sense of the disagreements among the founding generation. His suggestions included Eric Foner’s “Tom Paine and Revolutionary America”; Alfred Young’s “The Shoemaker and the Revolution”; and two by Gary Nash, “The Forgotten Fifth: African Americans in the Age of Revolution” and “The Unknown Revolution: The Unruly Birth of American and the Struggle to Create America”

• Caree A Banton, assistant professor of African and African American Studies, suggested a read of Frederick Douglass’ “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July,” available for reading (free) at

• Assistant Professor Sarah K. Rodriguez offers several perspectives: “Original Intents: Hamilton, Jefferson, Madison, and the American Founding” by Andrew Shankman, for a brief, accessible intellectual history of the founding generation; Unruly Americans and the Origins of the Constitution” by Woody Holton, which she describes as a good social history that examines how average Americans experienced and shaped the nation’s founding; “Slavery’s Constitution: From Revolution to Ratification” by David Waldstreicher, focused on the debate around slavery and its place in the Constitution; and “Revolutionary Backlash: Women and Politics in the Early American Republic” by Rosemarie Zagarri, for a look at women’s role in shaping the nation’s founding.

• Somewhere along the way, a bibliophile suggested “Almost a Miracle: The American Victory in the War of Independence” by John Ferling.

Yes, yesterday’s celebrations are done, but one of the best ways Americans can celebrate this nation’s founding is to learn about the complexities of its history and develop a greater understanding of what it took to establish the country from the very beginning.

“If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.”

— Thomas Jefferson


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