Don't know much about history in Hagerstown

June 30, 2011|By TAYLOR ECKEL |
  • From left, Ken McDonald as Thomas Jefferson, Ron Rockwell as Benjamin Franklin and Michael Stiles as John Adams sing in this image from the Apollo Civic Theatre's 2001 production of the musical "1776." Jefferson, Franklin and Adams are listed in the answer to question No. 1 in our informal American history poll.
File photo

Every year, the Fourth of July brings a celebration of the red, white and blue, and an occasion to celebrate this nation’s birth.

But in the midst of cook-outs and fireworks, do people really think it is important to remember this nation’s history?

In honor of the upcoming Independence Day, the Herald-Mail asked a number of local residents if they think it is important for citizens to understand the founding of the United States and the general structure of American government.

Mary Anne Burke of Hagerstown said it is “absolutely” important for citizens to know their U.S. history.

“It is our heritage and the reason our country exists, and (the reason for) all the freedom we have in this nation,” she said.

“I think it’s important because we should know where we came from and where our freedom comes from,” said Robin Atkinson, of Hagerstown.

Others said there exists a relationship between government and history.

“If we don’t know how we came about, how can we know if we’re doing a good job?” remarked Peggy Loudenslager of Boonsboro. “If we don’t know how (government) works, we shouldn’t criticize it.”

“What happens in government now shapes what happenes tomorrow, just as what happened in history shapes what’s here today,” said Nikki Borggren of Hagerstown.

Randy Kershner of Hagers-town said the nation’s history is important because it helps people understand the structure and purpose of government.

Brenton Arrington of Berkley Springs, W.Va., believes an understanding of the country’s history is absolutely important for U.S. citizens because history relates the past to the present.

“As many people say, ‘History repeats itself,’” the 18-year-old said. “Without a good knowledge of our nation’s history it is difficult to understand our current events.”

Arrington added that a knowledge of American government helps people understand current policies, and Americans should exercise their freedom to express their opinions.

Maryland State Delegate Andrew Serafini stressed the importantance of history as the key to the American identity.

“The fiber of who we are as a people was shaped by our founders. Understanding why they made the decisions they did is vital to understanding the uniqueness of our government,” he said in an email.

“It’s absolutely essential to undertand how we’ve gotten to where we are today,” said Wayne Ridenour, president of the Washington County Board of Education. “(History) teaches you what can happen if you ignore what’s going on in government.” He quoted the Roman statesman Cicero, who famously said, “To not know history is to forever be a child.”

Serafini said citizens should know the relationships between the various levels of government, and understand how to communicate with elected officials and “participate in the process.”

As part of this unofficial poll, we asked six questions pertaining to the birth of United States and the American government.

Of the approximately 20 people polled, there were a wide range of answers. Two participants asked if Abraham Lincoln signed the Declaration of Independence, and another participant said the three branches of the federal government were, “Congress, the secretary of defense and the secretary of state.”

No one was able to correctly name five signers of the Declaration of independence, and no one knew that the United States government is a constitutional republic, not a democracy. No one answered all of the questions correctly, but they are not alone.

In 2008, the Intercollegiate Studies Institute found that 71 percent of Americans from varied educational backgrounds failed an American history and institutes test.

Ridenour encouraged citizens to know their history and stay abreast of current events in the government.

“My favorite (Thomas) Jefferson quote is, ‘Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty,’” said Ridenour, who taught American History for 30 years.

He explained that Jefferson was not necessarily referring to foreign threats to American liberty, but also to internal threats.

“(Jefferson) was saying you have to be vigilant in all areas of society,” he said, “That quote is as good a reason as any to pay attention to what’s going on.”

In our informal poll on American civics and history, participants were asked the following questions:

1. Can you name five of the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence?

2. What is the Bill of Rights? Can you name one of the first 10 amendments?

3. The Constitution was drafted to replace what document?

4. Name the branches of the federal government?

5. What form of government did the Constitution establish?

6. Can you name your state delegate? State senator?

1. Find the entire list of 56 signers at

2. For a list of the Bill of Rights, go to

3. The Articles of Confederation

4. Executive, Legislative, Judicial

5. A constitutional republic

6. Readers can find their legislators here:
• For Maryland, go to
• For Pennsylavania, go to
• For West Virginia, go to

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