Twenty-five per cent of Americans don’t know that the United States won its independence from Great Britain according to a poll conducted by Marist University this last Independence Day weekend.
The Marist poll asked just one question: “On July 4th we celebrate Independence Day. From which country did the United States win its independence?”
And though 74 per cent of Americans were able to give the correct answer, a disappointing 26 per cent didn’t know with the majority of them saying they were “unsure” of the correct answer.
And those who guessed incorrectly? From whom did they believe Americans liberated themselves?
China. Spain. France. Japan. Mexico.
It gets a bit worse.
Those folks who knew the correct answer were mainly white, earning over $50,000 a year and male. People in the northeast knew their American history better than those in the south (no surprise as they have always been revisionists), and people under 29 would probably benefit from a Wii version of the American Revolution because they were most likely to not know that the United States fought against Great Britain in the epic revolution that led to the holiday we so love to celebrate every July.
Another public education failure?
I don’t really buy into the idea that America was ever a nation of Rhodes Scholars who’ve been dumbed down over recent decades thanks to a fiendish conspiracy of elementary school teachers and a steady diet of insipid television programming.
We were all quite dumb to begin with.
Over the last decade, the study of civics and history of any kind has taken a back seat to those subject areas that are most heavily tested like math and reading. Because only a few subject areas count in the standardized testing game, those that aren’t get shorted. Civics and American history aren’t make or break tests in determining whether a school is a success or failure. When your school’s reading or math scores can push you into a turnaround, that’s where the time and effort goes.
It could also be a byproduct of our television and movies that “re-imagine” historical events with more attention to the entertainment aspect than the facts, and the sad reality that we are a culture of now. If it happened yesterday or last week, it’s old news. In a world were everything is tweeted and updated within seconds, how can anything that happened over 230 years ago matter?
Our public school system came to be not just as a way to warehouse children once they were no longer put to hard labor the moment they could fetch and carry. It existed with the intent of producing a literate citizenry able to participate as members of a democracy. Our nation’s history and the rights and duties of its population were as important to the curriculum as the 3 R’s.
When I was in middle school, I learned some of my American history watching cartoons on Saturday morning. Schoolhouse Rock cartoons ran in between shows and regaled me and my peers with ditties designed to teach us about the American Revolution, The Constitution and how bills became laws. Simple? Yes. Effective? Very. Over thirty years later, I can still sing along with most of the tunes.
Schoolhouse Rock should remind us that it takes a village to teach our children well, but the first step towards ensuring that future generations are less ignorant about America’s roots might be the unshackling of public education from mindless testing and allowing teachers to get back to all the basics.