February 20, 2017 is the third anniversary of David Bruce Smith’s Grateful American™ Foundation, an organization dedicated to restoring enthusiasm in American history — for kids, and adults!
David and I have been privileged to interview the historians at many of the nation’s preeminent presidential and historic homes, including George Washington’s Mount Vernon, President Lincoln’s Cottage, James and Dolley Madison’s Montpelier, and Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello.
Then, last July 4, we took another step toward getting students excited about American history when we launched Grateful American™ Kids and started to feature kids as the stars of our videos. If you missed it, be sure to take a look at our first music video, “Grateful American Kids Rock,” featuring first, second, and third graders from The Steward School in Richmond, VA.
Last fall, fourth graders from another Richmond’s school, Sabot at Stony Point, helped bring Revolutionary Era painter Charles Willson Peale to life in the setting where several of his paintings are on display — at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.
“Our goal is to have students teach students about what’s fascinating, fun, and fantastic about American history,” says Smith, an author and publisher based in Washington, DC, who writes and publishes books about figures in American history. “This year, we’ll be rolling out even more videos to inspire students and their families.”
Be on the lookout:
- This winter, students will be heading back to St. John’s Church to interview Patrick Henry about why he proclaimed, “Give me Liberty, or Give me Death.”
- The Grateful American™ team will be taking students to George Washington’s Mount Vernon to interview the nation’s first president and his first lady.
- Also at Mount Vernon, they’ll cook over a hearth with food historians to learn about how families prepared dishes popular in the 18th century. Plus, students will take us inside Washington’s famous distillery and gristmill to learn about the cutting-edge technologies used in the late 1700s to create beer, cider, and spirits.
- This spring, we will head to Brooklyn with students from New York to interview award-winning sculptor Ivan Schwartz, the artist whose company has given us life-size sculptures of George and Martha Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and James and Dolley Madison, as well as true-to-life creations of Lincoln’s horse Old Bob, and more.
- Back in Washington, DC, students will interview award-winning historic children’s book author and illustrator Roz Schanzer, who writes about America’s greatest adventurers. Her hits include “John Smith Escapes Again!,” “How Ben Franklin Stole the Lightning,” and “George vs. George: The American Revolution as Seen From Both Sides.”
- And this June, we’ll visit the Students Opposing Slavery International Summit (SOS) at President Lincoln’s Cottage, in Washington. Started in 2013 by four teenagers who believed they had a responsibility to do what they could to end slavery in modern times, this annual summit is an award-winning youth education program for high school students dedicated to raising awareness about modern slavery in their communities.
And that’s just for starters!
Be sure to keep watching Grateful American™ TV for these exciting kid-focused videos. And don’t miss an issue of Grateful American™ Magazine, your monthly news source that brings the Founding Fathers and Founding Mothers to life.
— I’m your co-host, Hope Katz Gibbs. With David Bruce Smith, founder of the Grateful American Foundation, we hope to increase your history IQ, and restore your enthusiasm for American history!
Hope Katz Gibbs: What inspired you to launch the series?
David Bruce Smith: Generally, kids are not being taught history effectively, and with that comes the tendency to slough it off. As grateful Americans, we need to have the same feeling of patriotism that existed after 9/11, but without the framework of a disaster.
I think the concept behind the Grateful American Foundation and Grateful American Kids will help stimulate some of those thoughts.
Hope Katz Gibbs: 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.
Hope Katz Gibbs: 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 many of them cover the sweep of history unevenly or not at all. Sometimes, they are also too complicated and verbose. I think it’s good to mix standard texts with films, biographies, diaries, and guest speakers.
Hope Katz Gibbs: 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 it up by educating this generation and the upcoming one, conscientiously. A standardized test is not going to fix it, because all that means is cramming in a lot of dates, which are quickly forgotten.
Hope Katz Gibbs: 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.
Hope Katz Gibbs: Through the Grateful American™ Foundation, you are interviewing the leaders of the nation’s biggest presidential homes—including Monticello’s Vice President Andrew O’Shaughnessy (pictured right), President Lincoln’s Cottage Executive Director Erin Carlson, and Benjamin Franklin House, London, Founding Director Dr. Márcia Balisciano. What are some of your favorite things about each home?
David Bruce Smith: Except for President Lincoln’s Cottage, all of the 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.
Hope Katz Gibbs: Who is your favorite president, and why?
David Bruce Smith: Definitely Abraham Lincoln. Ever since I was a little boy, Lincoln has been my favorite for one reason: He freed the slaves. Had he not, it would have been many years before anybody else would have been bold and brave enough to do it.
Hope Katz Gibbs: 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 favorite 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. Dolley Madison filled in the weaknesses of James Madison. He was bookish and scholarly, but she had personality and she was a wonderful 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 would be president. Nancy Reagan was the nonpathological version of Mrs. Lincoln. I think that because she was not able to make it in 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 adviser.
Hope Katz Gibbs: If you could accomplish one thing with the Grateful American™ Foundation, what would it be?
David Bruce Smith: To develop an appreciation for history. This shouldn’t be a difficult thing to do, especially if the challenge is properly framed. If one thinks about the whole—or a piece—of America’s history as an Ancestry.com on the country, it should make more sense, and be fun to learn.
About David Bruce Smith
David Bruce Smith has a bachelor’s degree in American Literature from George Washington University, and a master’s in Journalism from New York University. During the past 20 years he has been a real estate executive and the editor-in-chief/publisher of Crystal City Magazine.
He is the author of 11 books: “In Many Arenas” • “13 Young Men” • “Tennessee” • “Three Miles From Providence” • “Conversations with Papa Charlie” • “Afternoon Tea With Mom” • “Letters to My Children” • “Building the Community” • “Continuum” • “Building My Life” • and his most recent, “American Hero: John Marshall, Chief Justice of the United States.”
His company, David Bruce Smith Publications, specializes in creating, designing, and composing limited-edition books on a variety of subjects: authors, historic figures, artists, and leaders. Several are about the amazing, true-life story of real estate developer and philanthropist Charles E. Smith. David Bruce Smith Publications is committed to educating young children through books, literature, and historic sites.
For more information, visit davidbrucesmith.com.