Congressman Tom Petri
Press Release, July 11, 2000
WASHINGTON - Alarmed that America's young people know more about the Three Stooges than they do about the three branches of their federal government, Rep. Tom Petri (R-Wisconsin) on Monday won unanimous agreement of the U.S. House for a resolution calling on colleges to restore the teaching of American history.
"The need for this resolution is demonstrated by a Roper Center survey commissioned by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni," Petri told his colleagues on the House floor. Seniors at the the top 55 liberal arts colleges and research universities were sampled during the month of December 1999. "The results of this survey revealed a grade of D or F on history questions from a basic high school exam. Seniors could not identify Valley Forge, words from the Gettysburg Address, or even the basic principles of the United States Constitution," he said.
"When we lose our civic memory, when we lose our understanding of the remarkable individuals, events, and values that have shaped our experiment in self-government, we are losing much of what it means to be an American. We are losing sight of the responsibilities we share as citizens in a free democracy," Petri said.
Petri's resolution, identical to one recently approved in the Senate with the sponsorship of Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.), expresses "the sense of Congress regarding the importance and value of United States history," and calls on boards of trustees, college administrators and state officials to strengthen American history requirements.
Following House approval of the measure, Petri said he is attempting to get people to think about historical illiteracy. Among other findings, the Roper survey found that only 22% of the nation's top college students knew that the phrase, "Government of the people, by the people, and for the people" was from Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address while 99% knew who cartoon characters Beavis and Butthead are, and 98% could identify recording artist Snoop Doggy Dogg.
Petri further noted that a 1999 Luntz Research Survey found that 59% of 13 to 17-year-olds could identify Three Stooges Moe, Larry, and Curley while only 41% correctly cited the legislative, executive and judicial branches of government.