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Don’t Know Much About History

by @ 10:04 am on February 18, 2008. Filed under Education, History

Another President’s Day has arrived and another story about the ignorance of America’s youth:

Today is Presidents Day, so it’s an appropriate time to see who has a good handle on national history or government. If you think, however, the nation’s college students have the most knowledge on the subjects, think again.

College freshmen earned an average grade of F, or just 53.7 percent, when asked a series of questions about U.S. presidents and key historical events from their times in office. After four years of college, their knowledge didn’t improve much.

College seniors got just 55.4 percent on the 60-question quiz given to 14,000 students at 50 colleges and universities across the country as part of a study designed to test their knowledge of America’s history, government, international relations and market economy.

“In this election, we are focusing on the youth vote, and it’s great that more kids are coming out to vote. But we worry that it’s become a kind of cult of personality,” says Richard Brake, director of the Lehrman American Studies Center at the Intercollegiate Studies Institute in Wilmington, Del., which commissioned the civic learning study, conducted by researchers at the University of Connecticut’s Department of Public Policy.

“If these kids don’t know what has happened in the past, our history, then we fear they are going to be fodder for sweeping rhetoric,” said Mr. Brake, a former professor who taught American history and government for seven years.

One analyst lays the blame precisely where, I think it belongs, at the feet of the education system:

Winfield Myers, a former history professor who co-founded the nonprofit Democracy Project, a foundation designed to improve the nation’s civic responsibility and understanding, blames the problem of civic understanding on the way teachers are educated in colleges of education.

“Rather than being taught the meat of a discipline, be it history or political science, they are taught methodologies of how to teach,” said Mr. Myers, who now leads Campus Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum.

And the result is a rising young electorate who doesn’t even understand the principles their country is founded upon.

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