College Students Struggle with History

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.”


16 thoughts on “College Students Struggle with History

  1. I got a 93% as well. I struggled on a few economic questions which is sad seeing that I taught AP Macroeconomics. I did not like the war of 1812 answer. There was a conclusion beyond a stalemate. I really had to think (or guess) on the Socrates, Plato question (#29) as well as the “man cannot know things” question.

    Here are the ones I missed:

    Question #43 – A. A state that seeks to expand its power generates resistance by other states.
    Question #55 – E. increased for the lower and middle classes and increased most for the upper class.
    Question #58 – B. An increase in the volume of commercial bank loans.
    Question #60 – B. social security.

  2. I’ve only taken American History up until the the depression/new deal… so I’m not too surprised by my 60%
    Ok I am, but still; the history questions I got all right but the questions about markets and specific law cases were just unfair!

    Shot to my pride…

  3. 60% is very good. I am still waiting for a few of my students from last year to try it. I too had a few problems with the economic questions — which surprises me.

    I am impress!!! Did you get #43 right — the balance of power question? Can you believe I missed that question after discussing the concept in our Euro. history class. I cannot believe I missed 60 as well. Social security is only on the brink of going broke.

  4. I got 3 of the 4 right that you got wrong.
    I also missed 55… probably I just don’t care about other classes

    A few of those questions were just impossible! As an American am I really expected to be familiar with each of the authors and works listed?

    I knew 60 had to be social security because of the unjust thievery that is it…

  5. Again, I would love to have you again next year for APUSH. There were some difficult questions; but if you got 60% and have not yet completed a US history course, you are in good shape. You do need to know some of the names — like Burke & Paine. I cannot remember the others.

  6. So I am two years removed from your APUSH class and a year removed from AP Government with Mrs. Phenicie. Nonetheless I scored 70%. Which I feel is not too bad. But I made a couple careless mistakes.

  7. Chase,

    70% is a good score. It is god to hear from you. I hope that you will tell me how life at Baylor is these days. Maybe you will major in history. Did you find the Eco questions to be tough?

  8. Just trying to remember all the terms and trying not to get them switched up in your head. Baylor is going very well. I am rooming with three others. Two, well I have no comment. The other my actual roommate is awesome. I really enjoy it. Classes are well so far. I am taking Business Calculus, which is even easier than Doxtater’s class. Even though I managed only a 2 on the AP Exam. By the way I made a 2 on AP Gov as well. I am taking 3 Courses this semester with the Baylor Interdisciplinary Core, a part of the honors college which encourages a lot of discussion and stresses primary source reading. My World Cultures class we have read the Epic of Gilgamesh, Ramayana, Parts of Gen/Exod, and now are reading the Illiad. I thought your test were difficulut, my first test was this past monday. 30 Multiple Choice and a 2 pg essay in 50 minutes. Just gotta really know my stuff. I am pretty sure I pulled off a B though. The second honors course, is World of Rhetoric (combines Reading, Speeches, Writing). Tons of writing, and finding that to be a challenge because it is all about persisting through. I am most challenged by that class. The final of BIC Honors courses is Examined Life I, which is quite interesting b/c it looks at the individual through intellectual, emotional, spiritual, physical, and social dimension. Just today we were talking about depression. My final class is MIS 1305: Integration of Microsoft Office 2007 into the Business World. So far a complete joke, the students know more about the subject than the Professor. We have spent a month just covering Microsoft Word.

  9. Joe,

    You were one of my best and brightest history students. I am not surprised this is your score. Give me some warning when you come looking to take my job. Your name seems to always pop up in my AP history courses. I have been meaning to send you an e-mail. Look for it; however, do not let them at West Point read it. I would hate to see you get kicked out for being one of my former students.

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