The Dumbing Down Of America

With our government run schools churning out morons like this I really lose hope for the future.

( – More Americans know about television’s Gosselin family (“Jon & Kate Plus Eight”) than know who the first chief justice of the United States was. Likewise, knowledge about pop culture trivia trumps knowledge about “Father of the Constitution.”

The findings are part of a new report issued by the Libertarian Lexington Institute that says teaching U.S. history in schools has been de-emphasized — with “appalling results.”

The report, called “The Teaching of American History: Promise and Performance,” points to data from a December survey conducted by the nonprofit American Revolution Center (ARC), which showed a full 60 percent of Americans know how many children reality TV stars Jon and Kate Gosselin have — eight — but only 11 percent could identify John Jay as the first chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Given the choices of Jay, John Marshall, Charles Evans Hughes, and Alexander Hamilton, more people chose Hamilton than any other choice, yet he was the only one who never served on the nation’s highest court.

More also knew about the Gosselins, whose public divorce has generated countless inches of tabloid coverage, than could identify James Madison as the “Father of the Constitution.” Only 54 percent were able to do that, despite the aid of a list of other disparate historical figures like Abraham Lincoln and Winston Churchill.

“The appalling results of de-emphasizing the study of U.S. history in elementary and secondary schools have become painfully obvious in recent years,” said Robert Holland, the report’s author. “(S)chool reformers need to do much more to restore history as a vital subject in American education.”

Other findings:

— Asked to place the Declaration of Independence in a basic chronology of major events in U.S. history, fewer than half were able to do it.

— Just 49 percent knew that the founding of Jamestown, Va., widely considered the first permanent English settlement on these shores, actually predated the Declaration of Independence.

— Only 7 percent admitted they did not know which choice came before the Declaration, while the other 44 percent wrongly thought The Civil War, The Emancipation Proclamation or the War of 1812 came first.

— More than half of Americans — 55 percent –attributed a famous Karl Marx quote, one of the philosophical cornerstones of Communism, to Barack Obama, George Washington or Thomas Paine.

Marx said, “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.” While 19 percent knew it was Marx who said it, another 19 percent thought it was George Washington, 15 percent thought it was Obama, and 21 percent identified Paine as the source.

— Just 3 percent of respondents to the 27-question survey said their knowledge of American history would earn a grade of “F” before beginning, but 83 percent went on to fail by correctly answering less than 16 of the questions.

While ARC surveyed Americans of all ages, the 2006 National Assessment of Educational Progress highlighted that the knowledge gap is beginning early. The results of that survey show that only one-quarter of American 4th, 8th and 12th graders were deemed “proficient” in U.S. history at their grade level.

“The consequences of such lapses are far more grave than doing poorly on the historical portion of a ‘Trivial Pursuit’ game,” Holland said. “The success of our democratic republic depends upon citizens who believe in a common set of ideals as originally expressed in the Founding documents.”

Multi-Culturalism and the Legacy of the ‘60s and ‘70s

Holland identified the ’60’s and ’70s as the era when studying “traditional American history” began to decline, as focus shifted from the Founders and stewards of government and other institutions to previously ignored groups like “women, racial/ethnic minorities, and immigrants.”

“Whatever might be said for or against a broadening of the study of history, there is no doubt that the sharp switch led to declines in knowledge of the founding of the American republic, its enduring principles, and its accomplishments,” he wrote.

Don Soifer, executive vice president at Lexington and coordinator of its education department, said the emphasis on “radical multiculturalism” is one that “has become increasingly prevalent in many education schools in the country.”

The National Association for Multicultural Education, for example, provides seminars around the countries for teachers of all grade levels to help them, according to their Web site, “prepare students for their responsibilities in an interdependent world.”

Soifer told the issue could be fixed by getting teachers to put the emphasis back on specific subject matter central to understanding America’s founding and history; information that the teachers themselves may be foggy on.

“There’s a diagram in the middle of the paper,” he said, “that gives some examples of just how extreme it is, of teachers who are teaching American history that have very little, subject-matter competence and experience in American history themselves and…have logged very little class time teaching American history themselves.”

The report points out several examples where decisions made by the school district or the quality of teachers have been problematic. In Sacramento, Calif., only 12 minutes per day of instructional time are spent on the subject of American history. In Madison, Wis., schools, only 4 percent of elementary teachers and 15 percent of middle-school teachers of the subject actually majored in history when they went to college.

To begin improving Americans’ historical knowledge, Holland wrote that policymakers “need to attack the problem at its source” by reforming the process by which states certify teachers as competent to teach history to America’s children.

“If teacher candidates lack access to a history major in a particular region for whatever reason, the alternative of winning a history teaching job through (another) route, such as passing a comprehensive examination of content knowledge might be an acceptable option,” Holland said.

“However, a state should not follow (for example) Illinois’ poor example and deliberately water down such a test, simply to qualify more candidates for jobs. High standards are necessary both for teachers and for students if the quality of education is ever to rise to an optimal level.”

Soifer said raising standards for proficiency in the subject matter in each state would be effective because teachers are “responsive” to changes in certification exams.

“(O)ne thing we’ve seen across the (board) is that teachers are responsive to teacher certification requirements,” he said, “and if those requirements emphasize other areas of professional development and not subject-matter competence, then the teachers are going to go in that direction. (I)t’s not that the teachers aren’t getting any professional development, it’s just that they’re getting professional development in areas that largely exclude subject matter competence, and in History, that’s a real problem.”

The American Revolution Center pointed out that there is some measure of hope, however, because more than 90 percent of those surveyed said knowing the history and principles of the American founding was at least somewhat important.

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