According to the results of a study released on Tuesday, history is currently the worst subject for American students. Only 20 percent of 4th graders, 17 percent of 8th graders, and 12 percent of high school seniors demonstrated proficiency on the NAEP (the National Assessment of Educational Progress. These figures in and of themselves are shockingly low and are enough to realize that something isn’t right in our educational system’s treatment of the subject. However, the stories that many teachers would have about what students do and don’t know about American history is perhaps even more disillusioning than the cold, hard numbers themselves.
Diane Ravitch, a history teacher invited to review the results, explains that a miniscule 2 percent of high school seniors answered a question correctly about the monumental Brown v. Board of Education case, one which changed the face of our education and reversed decades of discriminatory practices in education (namely, the doctrine of “separate but equal”). The students were given the following passage, then asked what the social ill in play was:
“We conclude that in the field of public education, separate but equal has no place, separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.”
Ravitch expressed her shock at this monumental and widespread ignorance with respect to some of the seminal moments in American history, from the aforementioned to issues such as the enduring legacy of Abraham Lincoln, basic facts about the participants of the Korean War (i.e., whom was aligned with whom), American advantages in the Revolutionary War, and so on. While many will conjure up some perhaps reasonable objections regarding the true importances of humanities like history in terms of stable, gainful employment and a career, it is simply unacceptable for Americans to pass through the educational system and enter the world (whether entering one of our universities or the work force) with such a lack of understanding of the most important events in American history.
Some blame must certainly fall on the kids themselves, however there are some theories implicating external sources. For example, many argue that No Child Left Behind left history instruction behind, as it specifically pushed for improvement in math and reading scores but not history. Additionally, according to Professor Linda Salvucci, many teachers today are acquiring certification in the less specialized field of “social studies” rather than history, meaning that they are ostensibly capable of teaching a wider variety of subjects (including civics, government, etc.). However, this usually only leads to a distribution of focus that degrades the quality of history instruction. Salvucci states:
“History is very much being shortchanged.”
That is, at best, an understatement.
Contains information from The New York Times.