American students don’t know history

It’s one reason why we can’t rationally discuss things

Devin Foley | December 11, 2015

It’s one reason why we can’t rationally discuss things

As we and many others have pointed out, many policy debates these days devolve quickly into emotionalism. Should we be surprised when too many American students lack the tools with which to engage in public discourse?

According to the Nation’s Report Card, produced by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) which is considered the gold-standard for evaluating the job schools are doing educating students, only a paltry percentage of high school seniors know their history.

Yes, only a meager 12% of high school seniors are considered “proficient” in U.S. history. If you’d like to examine the test, you can do so here. We’ll probably do some separate posts on it.

These statistics show how videos like the one below are possible. In the video, Rhonda Fink-Whitman who is a daughter of a Holocaust survivor “interviews Pennsylvania public school graduates currently enrolled at four different Pennsylvania universities to see what they know about the Holocaust, World War II, and genocide in general.”

Here’s one question:

Rhonda Fink-Whitman: Which country was Adolf Hitler the leader of?
Student: I think it’s Amsterdam.

Watch and weep. 

If you have no baseline for history or civics, how can you rationally engage in discussions? You can’t. It’s that simple.

Sure, you can have an opinion and you can vote, but you have no real understanding of the lessons of the past, both good and bad. Indeed, if you don’t know your history, you have no idea where we have come from and how it formed the present. The future is not yours to shape, but merely to stumble blindly into. 

Time for a new education system?