The Chronicle of Higher Education published an article on the state of American history and Economics amongst many of America’s college students. According to it, students are getting dumber in history. The think tank that conducted the study found that seniors in college knew as much as, if not less than entering freshman. James Loewen, author of Lies My Teacher Told Me blames the decline of history on misguided teaching. For example, teachers and textbooks still teach that most people thought the world was indeed flat by 1492 – – which is clearly false. I have found such errors in the American Pageant textbook that I used last year. Moreover, the teaching of American history is “overly” glorified in that we (American teachers) must teach false romanticized history as part of citizenship, duty, and patriotism. Because of this, students lack the analytical skills necessary to think in a historical manner. Howard Zinn blames this on the growth of capitalism and nationalism. I am assuming that his arguments builds on the construction of national identity, thus without glorification a great nation struggles to showcase any identity during challenging times such as 9/11. I try to get my students to look at the historical process from various points of views. Americans must learn to place blame on the actions of “grand” historical figures. We often try too hard to protect the actions of many under the umbrella of “it was a different time.”
In relation to the blog piece above that I drafted earlier, Mark Elrod posted this piece on his blog about college students and history. Take this short quiz on American history and tell me if the result was good.
“According to a new report, American college students still struggle with civic literacy.It seems to me that, the general lack of social, historical and civic literacy among American adults just can’t be considered “news” anymore. The only really surprising finding in the Intercollegiate Studies Institute’s study is that most students don’t get their money’s worth by attending an “elite” college with respect to civic literacy. The difference between senior and freshman scores at those schools were only marginally better than students at randomly selected schools. On the other hand, knowing that the American Revolution ended at the Battle of Yorktown isn’t the kind of thing that automatically makes somebody a good citizen. But, it is something that every American should know, particularly if they attended college.”