Back to School, Back to U.S. History Basics

By George Nethercutt – September 20, 2011

U.S. students have returned to school this year at a moment of crisis in American education. As the recently released National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) found, only 12 percent of high school seniors, 17 percent of eighth-graders and 20 percent of fourth-graders qualified as proficient in U.S. history. How can a country expect to survive when nearly nine out of 10 seniors don’t know their basic history?

Answer: It can’t. When only 35 percent of fourth-graders know the purpose of the Declaration of Independence, then something is fundamentally wrong with not only our educational system, but also the future of our country. As Thomas Jefferson said, “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.”

Given the seriousness of the problem, one might expect that politicians are rushing before the cameras with solutions. Well, they are, but not the solutions American schoolchildren need right now. Instead, state governments are too busy legislating political correctness rather than confronting the dangerous ignorance pervading our public schools.

For instance, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation this summer requiring students to learn about gay history. The law met with universal acclaim from gay rights groups, which applauded Brown’s action as “historic.” While it might certainly be historic — in that no other state has gone to such lengths to legislate political correctness — the law does nothing to help students learn essential American history; it places an undeserved premium on teaching a nonessential curriculum.

Sadly, what California has done is swiftly becoming a trend. Earlier this year, Maryland adopted a policy that students must exhibit “environmental literacy” to graduate from high school. Students interested in environmental studies can pursue it to their heart’s content, but such studies shouldn’t be at the expense of understanding the fundamental story of how modern America came to be.

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