Thursday, September 27, 2007

Why Teach History?

"If a nation expects to be both ignorant and free . . . it expects what never was and never will be."
Thomas Jefferson

One of the things I've noticed among homeschoolers is that people tend to be either "science" people or "history" people. The reason I noticed this difference in the first place is because on different occasions, I've had "science" mothers from our homeschool co-op come to me wondering why I assign so much history in my classes. This always seemed odd to me, especially when compared to the science classes, which easily assigned as much or more work than what I had assigned. To be fair, it's not that they don't think history is important; it just doesn't seem to be as important or as necessary as other studies. Yesterday, one mom explained to me, "These kids have to be ready for the SAT, which is mainly science and math and writing. They need that to get into a good school."

It's an interesting comment in light of a recent study done by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute entitled, "Failing Our Students, Failing America" which asks the question, "Is American higher education doing its duty to prepare the next generation to maintain our legacy of liberty?" Suzanne Fields commented on the report in a recent column:
"Civic literacy" is found to be declining at some of our finest (and most expensive) colleges and universities. Many graduates leave college with less knowledge of American history, government, foreign affairs and economics than when they entered as freshmen...

"Though a university education can cost upwards of $200,000 and college students on average leave campus $19,300 in debt," the report concludes, "they are no better off than when they arrived in terms of acquiring the knowledge necessary for informed engagement in a democratic republic and global economy." (italics mine)

USA Today picked up the story and noted,

"The study from the non-profit Intercollegiate Studies Institute shows that less than half of college seniors knew that Yorktown was the battle that ended the American Revolution or that NATO was formed to resist Soviet expansion. Overall, freshmen averaged 50.4% on a wide-ranging civic literacy test; seniors averaged 54.2%, both failing scores if translated to grades.

"In general, the better a college's U.S. News & World Report ranking, the less its civic literacy gain."

Apparently, Harvard seniors had the highest scores at 69%, but the study points out that this is still only a D+. Our best schools may be turning out educated scientists and entrepreneurs, but it seems that they are not turning out educated citizens.

Fields' column concludes,

"The study ... was aptly titled, "Failing Our Students, Failing America." Thomas Jefferson knew that education was essential for the republic to remain strong. He wrote that the purpose of education was to "enable every man to judge for himself what will secure or endanger his freedom." That was crucial in his 18th century, and it's crucial in our own 21st. We forget at our peril."

And that's why I teach history. My kids may not learn it anywhere else.

Want to take the quiz that stumped the best and the brightest from Yale and Princeton? You can find it here.

Hat tip to Why Homeschool and Right on the Left Coast


Karen said...

Amazingly enough, I got a 73.33%. I don't guess it's too bad, considering I've never studied history past WWII, and that was over 20 years ago! I had no kind of economics or civics classes in college, either.

janjanmom said...

History is not the same as "liberty" and government.
Lots of people are hitting the history hard and neglecting all the things that make a good, loyal citizen. A good understanding of our government and how it works is a rare thing in most adults and their children, regardless of where they are educated. Without it, we become a nation whose government is made up of crooks and thieves.

Sandy said...

Civics is so closely tied to history that a person cannot possibly have a complete understanding of why and how our government works without understanding the people, the events and the philosophies that formed it- i.e.- history. The history that built our country- our government- began a few thousand years BC, when events such as God telling Abraham to leave Mesopotamia and Hammurabi codifying the first set of laws occurred. America did not form in a vacuum; the history of our country and government is woven into the tapestry of world history from the very beginning. It's fascinating stuff.

And you are right, most people have only a vague understanding of how and why our government works, which leads them to make very important decisions without the facts they need to make educated decisions. Very scary.