Students & Parents | General Education

Don’t Know Much About History…

THE WEEKLY STANDARD   |  December 21, 2009

Being patriotic, THE SCRAPBOOK is glad but not surprised to learn that nine out of ten Americans want schools to teach the founding principles of the country and the story of the American Revolution. Being worldly-wise, however, THE SCRAPBOOK is sad but not surprised to learn that the schools do so shabby a job of it that when it came to a simple test of knowledge about the founding, nearly 83 percent of those same Americans failed.

The news comes to us from a survey commissioned by the American Revolution Center, a nonpartisan nonprofit whose website is a font of information valuable for teachers, students, and the general public. Headed by the art historian Bruce Cole, former chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, the center is working to create the first Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia.

What would it take for the center’s findings to register with school systems? Colleges aren’t listening either. Go to the fascinating website, run by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, and see which top colleges and universities require a course in American history or government for graduation. Quick preview: 18 do, 119 don’t.

With our formal institutions of learning so uninterested in passing on the founding heritage, it’s left to private efforts to satisfy Americans’ appetite for our history. The success, to take just one example, of the splendid 2008 HBO miniseries about the life of John Adams is—encouraging. And there is some consolation in knowing that, even when detailed knowledge is lacking, the big ideas seem to be getting through.

The American Revolution Center’s study found as much. When asked the most important values upon which America was founded, most of the 1,001 adults surveyed answered: freedom and liberty, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the Declaration of Independence, and freedom from tyranny.


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