September 17 is officially Constitution Day (celebrated on Monday, September 18 this year). Since 2005, every U.S. educational institution that receives federal funds is required to teach about the United States Constitution. The original Constitution, signed by the members of the Constitutional Convention on September 17, 1787, is the oldest working constitution in the world.
It was, and remains, the bluest blue I have ever seen. As I stood on a rock jutting out over Crater Lake, the remnants of a massive volcanic eruption 7,700 years ago, I thought about the immensity of time and history that gives this place shape and meaning. Then I leapt. The freezing cold water disrupted these thoughts for the moment, but the National Parks have a way of sticking with you.
On the last Monday in May the nation celebrates Memorial Day. It is, of course, a day off from school and work and the unofficial beginning of the summer. There are cookouts, picnics, and always a televised concert on the National Mall.
Much more important, it is an occasion to pay tribute to those men and women who have died in defense of the homeland. There is a rich literature of speeches, stories, poems, and essays about these sacrifices.
No one captured oral history like Studs Terkel. He was a one-of-a-kind radio show personality, a fixture in Chicago broadcasting, where he held court at WFMT for four and half decades, from 1952 to 1997, engaging in conversation with some of the greatest minds and artistic lights of the 20th century.
When most people think of the civil rights movement, they think of Martin Luther King, Jr., whose "I Have a Dream" speech, delivered on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in 1963 and his acceptance of the Nobel Peace Prize the following year. Malcolm X’s embrace of black separatism, however, shifted the debate over how to achieve freedom and equality by laying the groundwork for the Black Power movement of the late sixties.
So many of our students arrive with a negative impression of the discipline of history. They have come to the conclusion that the study of history is about memorizing a ton of dull facts. Why wouldn’t they feel this way? It is not until later in life that they will be exposed to the real work of historians through taking an upper-level college history course or researching family genealogy.
Jazz Appreciation Month (JAM) was created by the National Museum of American History back in 2002 to celebrate the extraordinary heritage and history of jazz. Each year the museum picks a major musician to commemorate. This year honors Ella Fitzgerald, who would have turned 100 this month, and JAM programs will shine a spotlight on women in jazz.
In the past few years, we highlighted how the writings of Prime Minister Winston Churchill of Britain (1874–1965) could profitably engage students in the study of informational texts through memorable language and powerful arguments. “Blood, Toil, Sweat, and Tears,” the speech Churchill delivered as he took office as prime minister during the dark days of World War II, illustrates the kind of complexity, quality, and range expected in college-bound student reading.
Last time, I began to survey how American artists viewed the Great War (1914–1918). This NEH-supported exhibition, World War I and American Art, has uncovered forgotten works that could help teachers illustrate and illuminate the course of the war, the political opinions pro and con, and the enormous human toll it had on the nation and the world. This week, I’ll talk about some neglected artists who deserve to be remembered as powerful and passionate witnesses to the carnage both on the battlefields and in the hospitals afterward.