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Study Shows Teenagers Don't Know History

New Study — Why Don't Kids Know Much About History?

According to a survey released yesterday by Common Core many of the 1,200 17-year-olds who were called in January and asked to answer 33 multiple-choice questions about history and literature, didn't fare so well. Common Core is an independent bi-partisan group including members from the American Federation of Teachers, and a former assistant education secretary under President George H.W. Bush. The group criticizes No Child Left Behind, saying that it has weakened public school curriculum by holding schools accountable for student scores in reading and mathematics, but in no other subjects.

Here are some of the results:

  • Fewer than half knew when the Civil War was fought.
  • 25 percent said Columbus sailed to the New World some time after 1750, not in 1492.
  • Only 75 percent were able to name Hitler as Germany's leader in World War II.
  • Good news! 97 percent were able to identify Martin Luther King, Jr. as the man who said, "I have a dream."
  • What do you attribute this historical near-sightedness?


Join The Conversation
Jude-C Jude-C 9 years
I knew indie would have great input on this subject :)
Yukino Yukino 9 years
I answered with the third option, but I guess I could relate to 'Other', as well. School never helped me to learn much Hist. and Lit., all I know I mostly know from my parents and my own studies. Somehow teachers were never able to pique my interest. As a side note, though, who the hell doesn't know who Hitler was?!
indielove indielove 9 years
I agree, lilkimbo! :D Great insight. The quote is fantastic also...really hits the mark.
lilkimbo lilkimbo 9 years
It's interesting that we are all complaining that American culture as a whole values the wrong things and has been "dumbed down," (I'm not saying I disagree) but we are doing so while engaging in intelligent and passionate discussion about the topic of education on a news-based site. I'm not saying that people like us are the norm, just that there may be hope for American culture after all. (I know we're not all originally from the U.S., but I think a lot of us are.) "Never doubt the power of a small group of committed citizens to change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has." -Margaret Mead
zboundy zboundy 9 years
Teens today just don't care (i know because i am one, but i do care). They are becoming ever more ignorant in a time where knowledge is vital, and seclusion once seen as a virtue cannot be called so anymore. America has become an utterly and helplessly ignorant country, this alas, is very sad and our lack of thirst for knowledge will be our demise.
indielove indielove 9 years
"Now, a lot parents are quick to automatically blame the teacher if their child isn't doing well/is acting up in class." It's true. My parents were never like that, they would always teach us to treat those in authority with the utmost respect. There were one or two occasions where I was treated unfairly by teachers when I was a kid for silly things like doing schoolwork incorrectly, not misbehavior(I was a model student, and even they knew that). THAT'S how strict those teachers were, mistakes with schoolwork were grounds for punishment which my mom, especially did not agree with. It was quite trivial, the way they acted sometimes.
lilkimbo lilkimbo 9 years
I definitely agree with what you're saying on that one, indielove. When I was in school, we were always polite to teachers and our parents, but my roommate (who teaches 8th grade) and I have often discussed a big shift in attitudes. Now, a lot parents are quick to automatically blame the teacher if their child isn't doing well/is acting up in class. That's definitely a shift from when I was a student. (I graduated high school in 2001, so it wasn't that long ago, but it was long enough ago that a lot has changed.)
indielove indielove 9 years
Well, I don't know if I'm from a former British colony if that is why I noticed vast differences between the school system there and here. There are small differences like the teachers come to don't go to them, their classrooms. I can't really name many similarities actually. When you're at school, the teachers are like your parents...they actually have more power than those here. I'm not saying that's a good thing at all though. They're really strict but it does help the student to stay on task and be disciplined, realize the importance of what they're learning. Also, you don't dare sass a teacher, definitely not a wise thing to do. There are no scare tactics involved, it's just the respect factor. It's like the way kids here talk to their parents here, kids where I'm from would never do the same and think they could get away with it. I'm sure other people can relate to that.
lilkimbo lilkimbo 9 years
I'm American, indielove. (Sorry I didn't explain very well.) I do feel very lucky that I had a good educational experience because I know a lot of people who didn't. Of course, I have nothing to directly compare it to, but in high school I did have a friend from Germany and one from Puerto Rico (which I know is kind of American, but I also know they run a lot of things differently there) who said our high school was pretty comparable to theirs.
indielove indielove 9 years
lilkimbo: Are you American and your school/educational experiences based on what you endured here? Or are you from elsewhere? Maybe I'm missing something but I couldn't tell from your response(forgive me if I'm being a tad dense at the moment). If these were your experiences in the US, man...weren't you the lucky girl! :D
lilkimbo lilkimbo 9 years
I feel bad for all of the people who had poor educational experiences. My education was excellent and I went to public school through high school. I had plenty of teachers who challenged and inspired me, and teachers who were truly passionate were the norm, not the exception. My parents worked hard to afford our home in a good school district (home prices there were much higher than in surrounding school districts, even those 5 miles away) and I appreciated their hard work. I don't think it's public school in general in the U.S. that's bad, just certain (maybe even most) schools. In high school (and in middle school), my teachers taught us how to look at things differently, taught us the "whys" of everything, and helped us learn different ways to think and view issues. My schooling definitely helped make me who I am today and I am proud of it. In addition, my schooling was very structured and we did take a lot of placement tests to determine what classes were best for us. Although, these tests were coupled with teacher recommendations, as my district recognized that a test of any kind (multiple choice or not) isn't always the best way to determine how someone learns best. (And indie, I wish I had gotten free food in school! It would have helped on the days when I forgot my lunch money!)
indielove indielove 9 years
I agree wholeheartedly with everything Jude has said. Being smart is not perceived as cool in America, for the most part. Education IS more like a business than anything else. There's so many factors that count into this and I can't cover them all but maybe I can give some of you insight into what it's like to be an immigrant, settling down in the US and seeing the state of affairs within the American school system. Admittedly, I do not know the ins and outs of it all, I can just give my perspective. I believe that the importance of education should be taught at home. I do not know if part of the problem is parents who work so hard to provide that they do not have the time to check up on their kids' schoolwork and teach them the value of learning, therefore the kids falling to the wayside. Maybe some parents feel that pushing their children too hard would make them seem uncool and would rather have the kids do their own thing than have them hate them(the parents). Could also be that some Americans, because they have so many resources and opportunities available to them, they become complacent and are just satisfied with the little they can have...barely enough to hold their heads above water, because they don't want to work hard so they just make do. Anyway, I digress. I, like Jude and Nya, had an extremely hard time convincing my parents that anything below an A, that a B or C grade wasn't a BAD thing. I was always expected to be at the very top of my class and producing nothing but straight As. Let me tell you, where I'm from, the education system is so very rigorous, even at a young age. I remember studying for MONTHS for an SAT type test at age 10 which determines what high school you get into. Yes, it was THAT serious. It's very much like the 'getting-into-college' process. The difference between those tests and the SAT was that testing went on for a week, covered about 10 subjects and 80% of the questions were not multiple choice. It was no joke, I stayed after school for an extra 2-3 hours everyday and had Saturday classes to prepare for this, all at age 10!!! It was no walk in the park but I did well and was accepted to one of the most prestigious(arguably the #2 top school) in the country. The standards for acquiring a proper education is vastly different to American standards. Kids in America are spoiled rotten and they don't even realize it. Do you think we got new books, free lunch and all that? No way! It was our parents who did it all, made sure we got everything we needed to succeed and we returned the favor by working hard and earning top marks, therefore making them proud. The discipline I acquired for those first 11 years of my life, I shall never forget. Now let me tell you about what happened when I moved to the US. My family and I left after my first year of high school which was equivalent to the 7th grade in America. Therefore, I was 11 years old set to enter the 8th grade. At first, my middle school refused to allow me to start 8th grade at my age but my mom insisted that that was where I needed to be, I should be held back 2 years. They agreed but I was put on a trial period where if I didn't do well, I would put in the 6th grade. Ok, no problem. What do I do? I got a 4.0 GPA that entire year and made the honor roll. It was all so easy, such a breeze. The point, I'm trying to make is that the American education I received held no real challenge for me, well..not in comparison to the system of my country. Everything was so oversimplified, not much effort was put into completing the assignments I was given. Now here's where it gets tricky. After finishing middle school and heading to high school, the lack of challenge really took its toll on me. I did well in 9th grade, 3.0 and above GPA but still...not as stellar as I once was. When it came to 10th grade, things really started slipping and even though I was growing up and dealing with being the youngest of everyone around me(I did have friends though), because I was lacking structure...I just didn't care anymore. It was too easy, I was too good for the work being thrown at me so I turned a blind eye to it. That was my least for a while. I should have never let that happen, it was my own fault. Also, with my parents working as hard as they were, I didn't have as much support from them as I used to. Oh, how the struggles of living in this fantastic country changes who we are, or once were. I believe I assimilated too much for my own good quite possibly and in the most important of ways, became complacent. Now, I see my mistakes and my life, in that aspect, has taken a turn for the better. It's all about what you want out of life and how willing you are to get it. I'm looking forward to the day when more people really realize the value of education and how important is to know about history and other subjects. Going off on a tangent here, one reason I love Barack Obama is his ability to inspire others and really, that's what people need in this country. We, the people, CAN change and improve on the mistakes that have be repeated so many times in the past. We need to have more faith in who we are, that our contribution is worth as much as the next person, even someone 1000x richer than we are. I seriously cannot sit here and come up with a name of one teacher in middle or high school that inspired me to learn and told me or my fellow classmates that they could be something great. I went to a very urban-type high school, I hated it, not for that reason BUT because it was lacking so much good, there was no structure and maybe it wasn't their fault specifically but the American school system in general. It's a sad state of affairs really, still need to hear how important schooling is from their parents/guardians. It makes a world of difference. They need to hear that someone believes in them. SORRY for the extremely long post! Thanks for reading, those of you who even attempted. Haha.
maybeimnot maybeimnot 9 years
Teaching at a Title 1 school, I can tell you, the kids just don't absorb it. (I personally blame home not reinforcing it for many kids) I spent the last three weeks teaching my 1st graders the who in the story is the "character". they repeated it, read it, wrote it, everything. This week, asked them what the special word for who was.. nothing. hinted it started with a C... they said "crow?" (who, granted, was a character in the new story, but still) Three weeks centered on 1 word... and they can't get it.
megnmac megnmac 9 years
Parents and values are everything... our culture as a whole just doesn't value this knowledge.
lickety-split lickety-split 9 years
no child left behind is causing teachers to "teach to the test". so we now have a group of children that do great on standardized tests and know dick about current events. it has to be changed.
Jude-C Jude-C 9 years
I completely agree with baila, and I also grew up with only books until quite late in childhood. In my opinion, reading is the foundation for all good education, and for sparking enough interest in any subject to motivate a good education, and people--not just kids--people really don't do enough of it. As a writer, I have to hear all the time about the constant, maddening erosion of the publishing industry, and it's really just disgusting. I do love movies (and I used to love TV, but I don't miss it at all after not having had it for a year), but books--whether fiction or nonfiction--will always be unparalleled for being not only entertaining, but also stimulating and educating. Does anyone here remember the RIF program (I don't know if it's still going on)? You'd get a totally free book once in a while at school--it was so great! :D
bailaoragaditana bailaoragaditana 9 years
Kids spend too much d*mn time in front of the television/computer/whatever. I realise I'm 19 and saying this (on the internet), but I feel I've earned a reprieve, what with having taken 13 AP exams and being an undergrad reading upwards of 1000 pages of history and literature a week in three languages. The problem is, really, that kids don't read enough. They don't read for their homework, they don't read for pleasure, and they certainly don't go out with the intention of learning things. I realise this is overly generalizing, but I think it applies - because if you don't have any interest in learning, any desire to learn and understand, well, video games and TV programs will be much more appealing. I didn't have a TV in my house until I was 11, but I could name all the presidents (and their wives) by the time I was 5, because I had only books (and parents who indulged me by researching such trivialities as the color of Woodrow Wilson's eyes, because two books said two different things). There has to be an interest there, and you've got to figure out how to appeal to that side of kids. (Taking away the TV really does the trick, I think... even now, I just can't stand to watch television. I'd much rather read.) I don't think that all history in schools is taught effectively - I'm fortunate to have had some amazing teachers - but I think that if it were made to seem more important in society and culture (ie, Thomas Jefferson needs to be seen as more important than Paris Hilton...) then perhaps there would be more interest. But really... who knows? I find it hard to understand people who don't love history and literature and learning...
mymellowman mymellowman 9 years
I'm a pretty intelligent, well read person. :)
Cassandra57 Cassandra57 9 years
Cine: I absolutely agree about the liberal control of education. Kids have a *very* liberal teacher who’s originally from Texas; we joke that he’s here in California because they threw him out of Texas! Thanks God they’re now old enough to put some perspective on the PC crap they’re fed. As for parents, I care, but my options are limited. Public schools hold your children hostage, and they *will* get even with you if you’re inconvenient. If not with this kid, then with the next one. I believe NCLB was written because the schools are not doing their job and refuse to be held accountable for their failure. Now, the districts are just learning how to play statistical games to avoid being “caught”.
pinkdragonfly pinkdragonfly 9 years
No Child Left Behind is the worst thing ever.
cine_lover cine_lover 9 years
Oooo my favorite color. My college teachers were my inspiration as well as my mother, who is the most intellegent, well read person I have ever met.
hausfrau hausfrau 9 years
Yea, I always felt like my teach slipped through the cracks somehow. Seriously the best guy ever. And he used to wear a purple shirt with a purple tie every once in a while... sliiicckk!
cine_lover cine_lover 9 years
My best history teacher was in Middle School. He was the best. Other then that they all were horrible.
cine_lover cine_lover 9 years
I wonder if the Private schools made up the tests, without influence from the federal government, how the results would be. Cabaker, I grew up on Long Island, and the high school I went to was supposed to be one of the best in the state, but I feel they still taught PC history. And :woohoo: on the model UN!
hausfrau hausfrau 9 years
But yes, I could totally see how public schools would lean more to teaching towards the test. Cine - I have to tell you, I had the BEST history teacher in HS. The most unbiased guy ever, it made for some really excellent discussions that I think about even now years later. One more anecdote that I think is weird, I had this teacher in 1999 and we were talking about Pearl Harbor and I asked him, Do you think there could ever be an attack of that magnitude or close to it on US soil ever again? And he paused.. and he said "I honestly don't know, but the ramifications of that would be like nothing we've ever dealt with." Isn't that crazy!?!?
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