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Courage and Determination

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

With the 2014 elections just a few days away, many Americans are justifiably worried about the future of our country. They feel that America is on the wrong track in what has been a somewhat difficult year.

Americans have watched a deadly epidemic, Ebola, make its appearance in the United States. We have watched the Middle East became more dangerous. We have watched a crisis develop on our southern border, and we have watched the government fall short of our expectations from the Veterans Administration to the IRS to the Justice Department.

This is the right time to be reminded that persistence matters. That courage matters. That determination matters. And most of all, that America has overcome extraordinary challenges before.

These are the very lessons that Ellis the Elephant learns in From Sea to Shining Sea, my new children’s book about a young nation and the great expedition of Lewis and Clar

The belief that we need to pass on the lessons of our country’s history is what inspired me to create the Ellis the Elephant series, which now includes Sweet Land of Liberty, Land of the Pilgrims’ Pride, Yankee Doodle Dandy, and From Sea to Shining Sea.

It’s more important now than ever to pass on to the next generation an appreciation of the courage and determination our country has shown in the face of adversity throughout our history. The Corps of Discovery, as the Lewis and Clark expedition called itself, surmounted every conceivable challenge--travelling from St. Louis to the Pacific Ocean and back on a dangerous journey that lasted more than two years.

Approximately 40 explorers rowed up the Missouri River against the current for 14 months, climbed mountains with canoes on their backs, crossed the perilous Rockies, nearly starved to death, and were almost killed on several occasions. Yet through all of these hardships, only one member of the expedition died during the trip, from natural causes.

The Corps of Discovery’s story holds so many important lessons for young people to learn. Unfortunately, today we’re doing a poor job of teaching children about American history, including the great expedition of Lewis and Clark.

As a consequence, our nation is beginning to forget its past. The results of the Department of Education’s National Assessment of Educational Progress suggest a serious challenge. Today just 20 percent of fourth-graders, 17 percent of eighth-graders and 12 percent of twelfth-graders are at grade-level proficiency in American history.

In From Sea to Shining Sea, Ellis learns about the courageous pioneers who forged a growing nation and spread freedom from coast to coast. On his journey, Ellis discovers:

  • How the Louisiana Purchase transformed the United States from thirteen colonies into an entire continent from the Atlantic to the Pacific
  • How bold explorers headed into uncharted territory, crossing the Great Plains and the Rocky Mountains
  • How Native American tribes helped Lewis and Clark throughout their expedition, from Sacagawea, to the Mandans, to the Nez Perce
  • How inventors developed technologies like the steamboat to power America’s expansion
  • How pioneers bravely travelled into the frontier to create better lives for themselves and their families in the vast American West

and many other important moments!

Students often struggle with the very basics. According to Department of Education data, a majority of fourth graders don’t know the purpose of the Lewis and Clark expedition. Most fourth graders can’t say why the pioneers moved west. And two-thirds don’t understand that westward migration resulted in new states being added to the union.

We must do a better job of introducing young people to our American history. The explorers and pioneers who helped America grow into the nation it is today were a special group of people, with many traits that are good for all Americans to remember at this challenging point in our history.

I believe it’s incredibly important that young people feel proud of America and what earlier generations of Americans have accomplished. I encourage you to talk with the young people in your life about the heroes who helped America grow from a small collection of former British colonies into the greatest nation on earth. From Sea to Shining Sea is the perfect place to start!

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