Don't know much about history. Nope, we really don't.

  • Article by: Robert Holland and Don Soifer
  • Updated: July 3, 2013 - 6:39 PM

It’s not too late to become a country of good citizens. You and yours can start with this test.

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cstoney48Jul. 3, 13 6:51 PM

I used to administer several variations of the American citizenship test to my American History students--the type that all the super-patriots want all applicants to pass. Rarely, did more than 40% of these native born pass the initial test. Later, I would ask them to identify 25 of randomly selected American States--average score was 17 of 25. (Is it Colorado or Wyoming? And is New Mexico really a state?) If the average American was evaluated for citizenship based on his/her knowledge of the United States --we would have very few Americans. Not only do most Americans know little about their history--they can't even find Kansas. Most of the students did better at the conclusion of the class, but still...Listen to the TeaBaggers as they spout their misinformation.

pumiceJul. 3, 13 6:58 PM

Which is more responsible for the abysmal results you cite, Robert Holland and Don Soifer--the education establishment or multiculturalism? How do you define "education establishment"? (Do you consider your Lexington Institute part of the education establishment?) Does every state have a Department of Education which sets curriculum? What qualifications do members of state Departments of Education have for making these decisions? What courses have Departments of Education substituted for the history courses all of us oldsters took?

hermajestyJul. 3, 1310:15 PM

American popular culture is the culprit here. In American popular culture, especially the right-wing version, the only purpose of school is to prepare you for a job. Any subject or activity (except sports) that does not lead directly to a job a "frill" that has to be eliminated or self-financed.

Furthermore, people steeped in American popular culture tend to be intellectually lazy. Anything that takes a bit of effort to learn or that is unfamiliar is automatically "boring."

History is boring, geography is boring, literature that isn't sold in drugstores is boring, jazz and classical music are boring, science is boring, movies without car chases or explosions or gross-out jokes are boring. In other words, pop culture teaches the masses to love only pop culture.

History certainly can be taught in boring ways, but it's the story of how we got to be where we are, and it needs more attention in our schools, although there's little room for it in a curriculum devoted to teaching to the achievement tests.

I only have to look at people's posts on Facebook to see how little the average American knows about history.

owatonnabillJul. 3, 1310:25 PM

Heh. Not sure if that was a "test" or not...owatonnabill missed one: two years off on when the Constitution was written. Then again, he would have gotten 19 out of those 20 cream puffs back in 4th grade. The reason our kids' knowledge of history is so abysmal is because our expectations of what they should know are equally abysmal. How can we expect them to appreciate what their citizenship means if they have no clue as to how it came about?

comment229Jul. 4, 13 4:54 AM

Just some random thoughts here: First, not all Americans are products of the history deprived way of thinking. I know there are a ton of kids who do the pop culture thing, but I also know a ton who are right with the world too. I know more families that are turning off the TV. Fine, but I have no idea why people do not want to watch some TV; especially a quality news broadcast (PS.. sorry but that it NOT fox!)A friend of mine calls this phenomenon, "the dumbing down of America." And finally, you should be somewhat realistic in your expectations when it comes to learning history. Do you realize how much history is added to the USA and world stage every single year? Somewhere along the line, priorities have to kick in and some history has to be left out. You can't learn it all.

pukfanJul. 4, 13 6:39 AM

Well i got 19/20 so guess i can remain a US Citizen. Phew! But i question all the excitement about current citizens not being able to pass it. I learned this in grade school and have never needed this info since then (except for these quizzes). I did know this at one time, and passed when required - so i would expect new citizens to do the same. Though i think citizenship tests should be more on how current government works versus history or geography - not sure how knowing when the constitution was signed or where the statue of liberty is located reflects your potential to be a good citizen.

Kathy_BrandtJul. 4, 13 7:31 AM

Back in 1990, my husband and I were in Gettysburg. In the diorama building, in a special vault, they had an original copy of Lincoln's Gettysburg Address on display. While we were looking at it, this family of 4 came into the room...the parents, a teen-age girl and a 12 year old boy. As mom and dad and the son were looking st the display and quietly talking about the importance of the document and the history of the entire place, the daughter piped up and said loud enough for everyone in the room to hear "I don't know what we are wasting time here was BORING in school and it is BORING now." I see way too much of that attitude felt and passed down (presumably she had kids now) by too many parents.

polaricecapJul. 4, 13 7:47 AM

Really? "right wing culture", "super patriots"? Go to the source: our schools and the curriculum are the issue. This has nothing to do with teachers; it is about the emphasis, focus, content and time given to the subjects of American history and civics.

John E.Jul. 4, 13 7:59 AM

There is much to be learned from history - not just the history of our country's founding. We could start with the failure of austerity to take us out of the great depression. We could continue with the fact that the huge national debt incurred by WWII did not inhibit the economic boom that occurred in the 50's and 60's, and that boom was largely responsible for the creation of the American middle class, and was funded by federal government spending on education and housing through the GI bill.

ljw15222Jul. 4, 13 8:00 AM

"The laws we live by, the freedoms we enjoy, the institutions that we take for granted – as we should never take for granted – are all the work of other people who went before us. And to be indifferent to that isn’t just to be ignorant, it’s to be rude. And ingratitude is a shabby failing. How can we not want to know about the people who have made it possible for us to live as we live, to have the freedoms we have, to be citizens of this greatest of countries in all time? It’s not just a birthright, it is something that others struggled for, strived for, often suffered for, often were defeated for and died for, for us, for the next generation." ~ David McCullough


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