Programs To Strengthen Cultural Studies Launched
Washington--Citing evidence that many students lack knowledge of the "very basics" of both American and foreign cultures, the National Endowment for the Humanities last week announced the creation of two new grant-making initiatives designed to strengthen the study of such subjects from the primary grades through college.
"Despite the resurgence of interest in basic education and the billions spent on schooling, we as Americans may know less today about our culture and our history than at any other time" in the nation's past, said John Agresto, acting chairman of the neh, at a news conference last week.
"What is needed most," he said, "is not hyperspecialization, but some transmittable vision of our formative principles, our shared perils, our unprecedented diversity, our common destiny."
Mr. Agresto said the agency is willing to devote "a significant portion" of its resources to the new programs--called "Understanding America" and "Understanding Other Nations"--but he did not give a dollar estimate.
Senators Orrin G. Hatch, Republican of Utah, and Paul Simon, Democrat of Illinois, expressed strong support for the ventures. Both lawmakers are members of the Senate Subcommittee on Education, Arts, and Humanities, which oversees the activities of the neh
'Scandalous' Survey Cited
The preliminary findings of a pilot survey of students' knowledge of American history and culture are "scandalous," Mr. Agresto said.
The initial results of the survey--which was funded by the endow4ment and conducted by the National Assessment of Educational Progress--indicate that two-thirds of the 17-year-old students tested could not place the Civil War in the correct half-century; that one-third did not know that the Declaration of Independence was signed between 1750 and 1800; and that one-half did not recognize the names of Winston Churchill or Joseph Stalin.
The same survey found that fewer than one-third of the students tested could identify Great Britain, France, or West Germany on a map of Europe. Six out of seven students could not point to the Soviet Union.
The new education initiatives were proposed to mark the endowment's 20th anniversary. They will be carried out through grants from the various neh divisions, including the offices for education, research, fellowships and seminars, general programs, and state programs.
Applications will be encouraged and grants made for projects at all levels, from the primary grades through college, according to Mr. Agresto. Programs in museums and on public television and radio also will be funded.
Possible projects in American history and culture noted by Mr. Agresto include: increasing the number of seminars and institutes for secondary-school teachers in these areas; helping schools offer sequential and coherent courses of study in history and literature instead of "diffuse courses in social studies"; supporting proposals to restructure course offerings in schools of education to equip future educators with "the breadth of knowledge needed to teach their students the full sweep of American history"; and encouraging filmmakers to undertake major produc-tions based on American history and literature.
In the area of foreign languages, possible projects suggested by Mr. Agresto include: institutes for elementary- and secondary-school teachers in foreign languages and texts; support for consortia of colleges, high schools, and elementary schools that would work toward sequential and coherent language programs on a regional basis; support for nontraditional scheduling of language instruction and for programs using nontraditional instructors; and support for the translation into English of the "basic texts" of the world's major cultures.
The endowment will pay particular attention to languages rarely offered in the schools--such as Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, and Russian--according to Mr. Agresto.
In another development that would create a new education project for the endowment, the Senate approved this month the formation of an neh program to commemorate the bicentennials of the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights.
The program was included in the Senate version of a bill reauthorizing the neh and the National Endowment for the Arts, but was not contained in the version approved by the House of Representatives late last week.
If the Senate version prevails, the chairman of the neh would be authorized to fund projects for the development of elementary- and secondary-school instructional materials and programs on the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. The Senate provision would also set up an annual national competition aimed at awakening students' interest in learning about the two documents.