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President Colin G. Campbell

President Colin G. Campbell

Message from the President

The Idea of America

To begin to appreciate how much the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation relies on history to inform the future, to get an inkling of the promise of our Education for Citizenship initiatives, a person need only stand for a while on Duke of Gloucester Street to watch the youngsters throng by.

In the summer, the children are often dressed in rented costumes, vacationing with their families. They come to the restored colonial capital to get a feel for Williamsburg during those tumultuous years when such men as Washington, Jefferson, Henry, Randolph, and Mason challenged the English king and led their fellow colonists from being subjects of the monarch to citizens of a republic which is all about freedom.

During the school year, 140,000 young people tour the Historic Area to engage with these “nation builders” and observe the seeds of revolution being sown. Also during the school year, as many as six million elementary and middle-school students make virtual Historic Area visits through electronic field trips broadcast across the country. This innovative approach to teaching enlivens classrooms and helps overcome the myth that history is dull. About 400 teachers spend a summer week at Colonial Williamsburg to immerse themselves in early American history in order to enrich the learning experience of their students and to expand the horizons of their teaching.

Building on this remarkable record of educational leadership, and consistent with our aspiration to change the way American history is taught at all levels, we are now launching a totally digitally delivered secondary-school curriculum, The Idea of America, an initiative based on the belief that history and civic education are mutually reinforcing and can be taught together in exciting new ways.

Supported with $4.5 million from generous Colonial Williamsburg donors, and aided by a host of classroom teachers from across the nation, Bill White, Theresa A. and Lawrence C. Salameno Director of Educational Program Development, has designed a pathbreaking new history and civics curriculum for America’s high school students. It is interactive and case-based. There is no textbook as such, but rather it is a Web-centric program which will be particularly appealing to the current generation of students.

The Idea of America is best described as a series of case studies in how individual citizens created and sustain the republic we enjoy today. It does that from a historical perspective as compared to the old way of teaching civics—this is a legislature, this is an executive, this is a judiciary—which was seldom a scintillating educational experience.

In fact, the teaching of civics has almost disappeared from our schools. Yet, knowing how our citizens relate to our government, to their government, is critically important to people today, just as it always has been. If we are going to encourage engagement through effective education, which is one of the main goals of our Education for Citizenship program, we have to help citizens understand what they are engaging, how others have gotten involved, and what has worked and what hasn’t worked.

Through reliance on primary sources, video, timelines, and online text, The Idea of America teaches students to analyze, synthesize, and make choices as they examine the historical and contemporary tensions between freedom and equality, unity and diversity, private wealth and common wealth, and law and ethics. Partnering with Pearson Education, a global leader in digital as well as print material publishing, the program will be marketed during the second quarter of 2010 for use in high schools beginning in the fall.

The Idea of America exemplifies how we are seeking to address Education for Citizenship in the Historic Area, in the nation’s classrooms and in teacher education. This program links it all for the benefit of students and their teachers, so that the future may learn from the past.

Colin G. Campbell
President and CEO



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