test1. What inspired you to launch the series?
David Bruce Smith: My father. He always said how grateful he was to be an American, and that really stuck with me. Most of my family are Jewish immigrants, and they knew how lucky they were to be in this country. I have always felt that way, too, and I passed that on to my children. I hope to inspire others to do the same.
2. Why do you think so many people, kids especially, don’t have a passion for American history?
David Bruce Smith: Generally, kids are not being taught history effectively. With that comes the tendency to get bored with the material and slough it off. We need to have the same feeling of patriotism that existed after 9/11, but without the framework of a disaster. I think the title, “The Grateful American Series™,” will help stimulate some of those thoughts.
3. What are your goals for the project?
David Bruce Smith: One would be to encourage the teaching of history in the most interesting, innovative way possible. To do that, schools need to find the most qualified people. Otherwise, kids will turn off—fast.
4. Do you think textbooks, which can be less than riveting, are part of the problem?
David Bruce Smith: Textbooks can be part of the problem, in that they cover the sweep of history unevenly or not at all. Also, sometimes they are too complicated and verbose. I think it’s good to mix standard texts with films, biographies, diaries, and guest speakers.
5. Adults don’t seem to know much more than kids when tested on their knowledge of American history. Do you think this is really a problem, and if so, why?
David Bruce Smith: Adults having little knowledge about American history? I think this shows the problem has existed for a long time. It’s hard to fix those deficiencies, but you can make up for it by educating this generation and the upcoming one, conscientiously. A standardized test is not going to fix it, because all that means is students cram in a lot of dates, and then quickly forget them.
6. What are some solutions to getting more kids and adults excited about knowing American history, and re-igniting our passion for the people who founded the country?
David Bruce Smith: Qualified teachers, and more visits to historical sites. School budgets are tight; I don’t know why local and national businesses don’t contribute funds to make these outings possible. It would be an investment in their future employees. I would also encourage more interactive lessons, and getting historians, authors, and key people from the presidential homes to visit schools.
7. In The Grateful American Series™, you are interviewing the leaders of the nation’s biggest presidential homes—including Mt. Vernon, Monticello, Montpelier, Lincoln’s Cottage, as well as the national museum at Gettysburg and Ben Franklin’s House in London. What are some of your favorite things about each home?
David Bruce Smith: Except for Lincoln Cottage, all of the other homes were owned by founding fathers. These were the men who made it possible for all of us to live in this wonderfully free society—in the best country in the history of the world.
8. Who is your favorite president, and why?
David Bruce Smith: Definitely Abraham Lincoln. Ever since I was a little boy, Lincoln was my favorite for one reason: he freed the slaves. Had he not, it would have been many years before anybody else was bold and brave enough to do it.
9. You also have a passion for the First Ladies, and the women who shaped America’s early history. Why is that, and what are some of your favorites stories about these ladies?
David Bruce Smith: Some of the First Ladies are under-recognized for their contributions to their husband’s successes. For example:
Had it not been for Abigail Adams, I don’t think John Adams would have become president. He was difficult and moody, but she evened him out.
Dolly Madison filled in the weaknesses of James Madison. He was bookish and scholarly, but she had personality and she was a great hostess. As a couple they were a perfect combination.
Mary Todd Lincoln, even with her justifiable mental illness, was intelligent, advised Lincoln well, and was prescient. Thirty years before the inauguration, she informed the Todd family that one day, Abraham will be president.
Nancy Reagan was the non-pathological version of Mrs. Lincoln. I think that because she was not able to make it the movies, she channeled all of her ambition, love, and energy into his career.
Eleanor Roosevelt was probably the best First Lady in history. She was FDR’s legs, ears, and trusted advisor.
10. If you could accomplish one thing with The Grateful American Series™, what would it be?
David Bruce Smith: To develop an appreciation for history. This shouldn’t be difficult, especially if the challenge is properly framed. If one thinks about the whole—or even a piece—of learning about our nation’s history as “doing an Ancestry.com” on the country, history would make more sense, and be fun to learn.
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