Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Student's Don't Know Much About History

This is really depressing. From MSNBC News:

U.S. students don't know much about American history, according to results of a national test released Tuesday.

Just 13 percent of high school seniors who took the 2010 National Assessment of Educational Progress — called the Nation's Report Card — showed solid academic performance in American history. The two other grade levels tested didn't perform much better, which just 22 percent of fourth-grade students and 18 percent of eighth-graders scoring proficient or better.

The test quizzed students on such topics as colonization, the American Revolution, the Civil War and the contemporary United States. For example, one question asks fourth-graders why it was important for the United States to build canals in the 1800s.

"The history scores released today show that student performance is still too low," said Education Secretary Arne Duncan in a prepared statement. "These results tell us that, as a country, we are failing to provide children with a high-quality, well-rounded education."

Education experts say a heavy focus on reading and math under the federal No Child Left Behind law in the last decade has led to lagging performance in other subjects such as history and science.

"We need to make sure other subject like history, science and the arts are not forgotten in our pursuit of the basic skills," said Diane Ravitch, a research professor at New York University and former U.S. assistant education secretary.

I love history. My interest is mainly recent U.S. history, from the Second World War to today. One of the advantages of learning history is that it teaches you critical thinking skills. Why was it important for the U.S. to build canals in the 1800s? In that test, only 44 percent knew that it was increased trade among states. That was for the fourth graders. You've got to wonder how the high school seniors would have answered questions on the reasons the United States to have entered into the Civil War, or the Second World War. Or even to look at the issues and events that defined the Cold War, the Civil Rights struggle in the 1950s and 60s, or even how Watergate may have shaped the political arena to this day. Unfortunately, our public schools seem to spend more time cramming facts into students' heads, in preparation for standardized tests. I can never remember all the facts, or dates, or who said what in history--I can look that stuff up on the internet. But I can look at the issues, causes, results of historical events and determine their relevancy or why they occurred, or even if history will end up repeating itself.

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