Oscar-winning actor Richard Dreyfuss speaks to students in Jefferson Co., W.Va. about learning civics

September 16, 2011|By RICHARD F. BELISLE |
  • Actor Richard Dreyfuss replies Friday to Washington High School students questions during a presentation at the school.
By Kevin G. Gilbert/Staff Photographer

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. — In something of a reprise of his popular film, "Mr. Holland's Opus," Oscar-winning actor Richard Dreyfuss sat in high school auditoriums Friday and lectured seniors on the subject of civics and the need to learn it.

 "Only about 4 percent of the students are being taught civics in the country today," he said.

 Dreyfuss, 64, spoke first to Washington High School students then headed to Jefferson High School to meet with students there.

 The actor is in Jefferson County this week to dedicate Happy Retreat, the former home of Charles Washington, founder of Charles Town and George Washington's youngest brother.

 Happy Retreat will become headquarters of The Dreyfuss Initiative, the nonprofit corporation Dreyfuss is launching to revive and enhance the teaching of civics in public schools in kindergarten through the 12th grade.

 Dreyfuss and Walter Washington, a Charles Town attorney and Washington family descendant, will cut a ribbon at noon Saturday to officially seal his purchase of Happy Retreat at 600 Mordington Ave.

 Dreyfuss has said that civics must be included in the public school curriculum "to teach our kids to run the country before they are called upon to run our country. If we don't, someone else will run our country."

 He said history is the most disliked subject by students when they're in school and the most liked once they leave school. More history books are sold than books on any other subject, he said.

 "History shows how nutsy, grotesque and fabulous mankind is," he said.

 Dreyfuss cited Ghengis Khan as an example. The Mongol leader's talent for war was so great that terrified Europeans didn't think he was human. His hordes swept through Europe like a scythe through wheat, but it wasn't an invasion. He was just looking around to see what was there.

"It was like a reconnaissance mission in force," Dreyfuss said.

 He also said that history teaches that the Chinese, not Columbus, came first to what was to be America, and that Magellan used maps made by the Chinese to reach the Pacific Ocean.

 The United States is a political miracle that created the most extraordinary society that's ever been, one that established due process of law for everyone, he said.

"The preamble of the Constitution contains five lines that changed the world," he said.

 Citizens of other countries know more about the Constitution than most Americans. Many Americans can't name the three branches of government, he said.

 Dreyfuss blames the current generation of adults for not willing to spend the money needed to teach civics in schools, and that's what his new foundation hopes to change.

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