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?
Devin is the co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of Charlemagne Institute, which operates Intellectual Takeout, Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture, and the Alcuin Internship. He is a graduate of Hillsdale College where he studied history and political science. Prior to co-founding Charlemagne Institute, he served as the Director of Development at the Center of the American Experiment, a state-based think tank in Minnesota.
Devin is a contributor to local and national newspapers, a frequent guest on a variety of talk shows, such as Minneapolis' KTLK and NPR's Talk of the Nation, and regularly shares culture and education insights presenting to civic groups, schools, and other organizations. In 2011, he was named a Young Leader by the American Swiss Foundation.
Devin and his wife have been married for eighteen years and have six children. When he's not working, Devin enjoys time with family while also relaxing through reading, horticulture, home projects, and skiing and snowboarding.