P.O. Box 12068, State Capitol
Austin, Texas 78711
Tel. (512) 463-0112
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
September 25, 2001
As the bell rings to start each school day this week, how terribly ironic it is that September 24-28 has been proclaimed by the Texas Legislature as the inaugural "Celebrate Freedom Week" in Texas public schools. When I served as Senate sponsor of House Bill 1776, passed and signed by Governor Perry earlier this year, I could never have contemplated the events of our devastating national tragedy.
HB 1776 was passed in response to the alarming lack of knowledge among students and even college graduates about the building blocks of our nation's history. We often laugh at things such as Jay Leno's regular "man on the street" interviews, in which passers-by are regularly found hopelessly lacking in answers to the most basic of questions about subjects such as history, geography, and current events. However, there is nothing humorous about the national Center for Survey Research and Analysis' recent survey of college seniors at 55 top universities nationwide, which found fewer than half able to provide answers to questions central to even an elementary knowledge of American history. Through HB 1776, which designates the last full instructional week of each September as Celebrate Freedom Week in all Texas public schools, state legislators sought to begin reversing that reality. Texas students are only required to take two courses in American history and government between 6th and 12th grades.
While it does not mandate the manner in which school districts participate, HB 1776 encourages each district to develop a program that will provide for an annual focus by students in 3rd-12th grades on the intent, meaning and importance of the documents central to our nation's founding, in particular the Declaration of Independence and United States Constitution, and to the events they engendered.
I would have infinitely preferred that our youth not be subjected to the horrors of this latest challenge to our nation's ideals. But America's existence and strength is based on its collective response to such challenges throughout its history, from the American Revolution, through the World Wars, to today.
If anything positive could be said to have emerged from the recent events, perhaps it is the glad discovery that our country still truly cherishes the ideal of freedom on which it was built - freedom to assemble peaceably, to express ideas and to disagree without resorting to violence, and for each person to have an opportunity to become who he or she aspires to be. That love of freedom, a torch some might have feared long ago extinguished, still burns brightly.
It is a reality we have witnessed in every conceivable fashion over the last two weeks as Americans have responded to this latest challenge: demonstrated by the heroic fireman, policemen, and ordinary citizens who bravely sought to help their fellow man in the face of catastrophe; shared in reflection wherever people gather, from places of worship to sporting events; and celebrated through American flags flown proudly everywhere, even placed in windows, on automobiles and draped across fronts of buildings.
So perhaps it is fitting that this is Celebrate Freedom Week. Recent events have refreshed our collective memory of what it means to be an American and of the sacrifices made by earlier generations to secure a nation that prizes freedom. Undoubtedly discussions about recent events have been taking place in classrooms across our state. As students discuss freedom this week, the words of our founding documents suddenly bear a renewed sense of relevance. They are the words of people who, just like Americans today, loved freedom. They are the words that launched the nation we are today. And they are words that expressed willingness and purpose in responding to the challenge of their right to freedom, just as we seek to do now.
It is one thing to feel a welling sense of patriotic pride in our nation at this time, but to fully appreciate what it means requires an understanding of the purpose behind the people, their words, and the events that created a nation. The intent of Celebrate Freedom Week is that today's young people might have such an understanding. It is a worthy goal anytime, but now especially is the time to help students understand why Americans hold their freedom so dear. So this week, let freedom ring in Texas schools.
State Senator Jane Nelson parts of Tarrant, Denton, Dallas and Ellis counties.