Cheney calls for improved instruction in American history

Nov. 30, 2001 9:36 a.m.

Lynne Cheney, wife of Vice President Dick Cheney, urged American colleges and universities to strengthen their teaching of American history at an address on campus Thursday.

"We haven't given young people the knowledge they need in order to appreciate how greatly fortunate we are to live in freedom or, indeed, to have much insight at all into the American past," Cheney said.

Cheney delivered her talk, titled "Teaching for Freedom," in McCosh 50 at the invitation of the University's James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions .

Today's students often fail to have a grasp of basic historical facts, Cheney said, citing a pair of surveys of U.S. college seniors. Cheney acknowledged that the lack of knowledge has many causes, but asserted that "surely a contributing factor is that not one -- not a single one -- of the 55 elite colleges and universities whose students were polled required a course in American history."

Leading her talk with the story of George Washington's surprise attack across the Delaware River and his subsequent heroics in leading the battle of Princeton, Cheney said that a familiarity with such stories teaches students "that this nation was not inevitable."

Following her talk, which received a standing ovation, Cheney responded to questions from audience members, some of whom expressed skepticism about the openness of Cheney's plan to viewpoints critical of U.S. history.

"You've talked a lot about the wonderful things American patriots have done in the past. How do we also present a view of the violence and brutality that has happened in America?" one audience member asked.

"I think we address it honestly," Cheney responded. "Certainly American history is not well taught if we don't understand the mistakes we've made as well as the progress we've made."

Cheney also received a question about a recent report issued by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, a group Cheney co-founded. The council issued a report criticizing university faculty members for allegedly fostering an anti-American bias on campuses. A student asked Cheney's view of the importance of freedom of political expression.

"Free speech is a very important thing," said Cheney, who noted she is no longer associated with the group that issued the report. "Anyone on a campus or any place in our society has a perfect right to say something as inflammatory as he or she pleases. But other people have the right to say 'Are you sure you mean that? Are you sure that thought is in any way related to the mainstream of American thought? Are you sure that thought is sensible?' So free speech works on both sides."

Contact: Marilyn Marks (609) 258-3601