Watching television or reading the news, it would be easy to think that the only thing at stake on November 8th is which candidate moves into the White House next year. Press coverage tends to focus on who’s up and who’s down in the polls. And the policies the nominees speak about on the campaign trail get remarkably little attention.
In this frenzied campaign season, it can be easy to forget that Tuesday’s vote is not just a contest to determine a winner — like the final game of the World Series. It’s a decision about which of the two candidates will have the chance to change and shape history. And it’s a decision about what they will do when they have that chance.
For those of us who have witnessed presidential elections before, this is easy to see in retrospect. For young people, it can be much harder to appreciate the real stakes on election day — especially when so many young Americans do not know the basics about our history, including the achievements of our greatest presidents.
For two generations now, we have done a poor job of teaching young people about our country’s history. The results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress show that students score worse in American history than in any other subject — at every grade level and often overwhelmingly so. Unfortunately, just 20 percent of fourth-graders, 18 percent of eighth-graders and 12 percent of twelfth-graders are at grade-level proficiency in American history.
Amazingly, the longer students are in school, the less familiar they become with history.
Presidential elections such as this one are a great opportunity to correct this deficiency. And by helping young people learn about our nation’s past, we can help them understand that the stakes in our election are about much more than which side gets to claim victory on Tuesday.
To help children learn about our presidential past, Hail to the Chief, the latest in my New York Times bestselling children’s series featuring Ellis the Elephant, is an excellent place to start. By exploring the stories of some of our greatest presidents, Hail to the Chief can help children understand how our highest officeholders have changed and shaped history.
Young people will discover that there’s no single background or experience that qualifies someone to be commander-in-chief. Rather, our best leaders have brought valuable skills that were necessary at the time. Americans have chosen some exceptional leaders — tough and energetic figures who have inspired our nation. We have also selected some unlikely presidents, who offered unique qualities when they were urgently needed.
Ellis the Elephant discovers one such example in Andrew Jackson, who rose from humble beginnings to rock the political establishment in Washington, D.C. with his populist campaign for president. Jackson was a tough, blunt, and strong-willed leader with no political background who came to the White House promising to shake things up. Indeed, some might find themselves drawing comparisons between Andrew Jackson and Donald Trump today.
On Tuesday, millions of young Americans will witness history in the making. Help them understand how this year’s election fits into a long history of freedom in America.
Callista Gingrich is the author of Hail to the Chief and the president of Gingrich Productions.