Trustees | General Education

The danger ignorance of history poses to the future of a free society

COMMUNITIES DIGITAL NEWS   |  April 22, 2018 by Allan C. Brownfeld

WASHINGTON: An April study reveals that 41 percent of those asked could not identify Auschwitz as a Nazi concentration or extermination camp. The ignorance of history in high schools, colleges and universities is dangerous to the future of a free society.

The purpose of the camps was the extermination of Jews, Poles, homosexuals, and gypsies.

That education is ignoring history is to ignore that during the Holocaust millions were murdered by the Nazi regime. Including:

  • Jews: up to 6 million
  • Soviet civilians: around 7 million (including 1.3 Soviet Jewish civilians, who are included in the 6 million figure for Jews)
  • Soviet prisoners of war: around 3 million (including about 50,000 Jewish soldiers)
  • Non-Jewish Polish civilians: around 1.8 million (including between 50,000 and 100,000 members of the Polish elites)
  • Serb civilians (on the territory of Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina): 312,000
  • People with disabilities living in institutions: up to 250,000
  • Roma (Gypsies): 196,000–220,000
  • Jehovah’s Witnesses: around 1,900
  • Repeat criminal offenders and so-called asocials: at least 70,000
  • German political opponents and resistance activists in Axis-occupied territory: undetermined
  • Homosexuals: hundreds, possibly thousands (possibly also counted in part under the 70,000 repeat criminal offenders and so-called asocials noted above)

Millenials are dangerously ignorant of history

Among millennials, it was even worse:  66 percent could not identify Auschwitz.  The survey found that 11 percent of American adults had not heard of the Holocaust.  Furthermore, 22 percent of millennials are ignorant of the event.

It is not only the history of World War ll which Americans understand only vaguely.  The knowledge of all American history has become a wasteland.  The reason is that we are no longer teaching it.

‘Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.’ – writer and philosopher George Santayana

The failure of a history curriculum in schools

A recent survey attempting to gauge knowledge of U.S. history produced some discouraging results:

*More Americans could identify Michael Jackson as the composer of “Beat It” and “Billie Jean” than could identify the Bill of Rights as a body of amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

More than 50% of respondents attributed the quote, “From each according to his ability to each according to his needs,” to either Thomas Paine, George Washington or Barack Obama.  The quote is from Karl Marx, author of “The Communist Manifesto.”

More than a third did not know the century in which the American Revolution took place. Half of the respondents believed the Civil War, the Emancipation Proclamation or the War of 1812 were before the American Revolution.

More than half misidentify the system of government established in the Constitution as a direct democracy, rather than a republic. However, this is a question that immigrants qualifying for U.S. citizenship must correctly answer.

A 2014 report by the National Assessment of Educational Progress showed that an abysmal 18 percent of American high school kids were proficient in US history. When colleges such as Stanford decline to require Western Civilization classes or high schools propose changing their curriculum so that history is taught only from 1877 onward (this happened in North Carolina), it’s merely a blip in our news cycle.

The American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) found that only 23 undergraduate history programs at the U.S. News and World Report’s top 25 national universities, top 25 public institutions and top 25 liberal arts colleges, require a single U.S. history class.  Even students who major in history take not one single course of U.S. history or government at the overwhelming majority of America’s most prestigious institutions.

College graduates lacking a basic US and World history education

In 2012, 2014 and 2015 ACTA commissioned the research firm GfK to survey college graduates’ knowledge of American history.  It found the same dispiriting results each time:

  • *Less than 20% could accurately identify—in a multiple choice survey—the effect of the Emancipation Proclamation. *
  • Only 42% placed the Battle of the Bulge in the history of World War ll.
  • *One-third of college graduates were unaware that FDR introduced the New Deal.
  • *Nearly half did not know that Teddy Roosevelt played a major role in the construction of the Panama Canal.
  • *Over one-third could not place the American Civil War in the correct 20-year time-frame.
  • *Nearly half could not identify correctly the term lengths of U.S. senators and representatives.

When ACTA commissioned a Roper survey of seniors at the “Top 50” colleges in the U.S. in the U.S. News and World Report rankings:

  • Only 29% could identify, in a multiple choice survey, the definition of “Reconstruction.”
  • Little more than half could identify the purpose of The Federalist Papers.
  • Only 23% could name James Madison as the Father of the Constitution.
  • Only 22% could match the phrase “government of the people, by the people, for the people” with the Gettysburg Address.

The cost of forgetting history education is at the cost of our individual freedoms

The lack of knowledge of our history, and of the philosophy of individual freedom is apparent. Just look at the troubling way that today’s students view fundamental aspects of our nation’s structure of law and government.

A 2016 Gallup poll shows that:

  • 27% of college students supported “restricting the expression of political views that upset or offend certain groups.”
  • Another 49% believed it’s right to prevent reporters from covering protests held on college campuses if they believe the reporters will be “unfair.”

Clearly, those who do not know our history are much more likely to view our constitutionally guaranteed freedoms with indifference.  It is for this reason that free speech is under attack at so many of our colleges and universities.

Forgetting history is forgetting those that fought for America’s freedom and liberty

The distinguished American historian David McCullough, author of such award-winning books as “Truman,” “John Adams,” and “1776,” laments the decline in the teaching of our history:

“We are all part of a larger stream of events, past, present, and future.  We are the beneficiaries of those who went before us, who built the cathedrals, who braved the unknown, who gave us their time and service, and who kept faith in the possibilities of the mind and the human spirit.”

McCullough, now in his mid-eighties, notes:

“I know how much these young people, even at the most esteemed institutions of higher learning, don’t know.  History is often taught in categories, women’s history, African-American history, environmental history, so that many of the students have no sense of chronology. They have no idea of what followed what. Many contemporary textbooks are so politically correct to be comic.  Very minor characters that are currently fashionable are given considerable space, whereas people of major consequence farther back are given very little space or none at all. History gives us a sense of proportion.  It is an antidote to a lot of unfortunately human trends, like self-importance and self-pity. I think that in some ways I knew more American history when I finished grade school than many college students know today.  And that’s not their fault, that’s our fault.”

American high schools, colleges, and universities big fail

American high schools, colleges, and universities do our students, and our country, a disservice by not transmitting our history, culture and values to the next generation.  Unless those who understand the very fragile nature of our civilization and the uniqueness of the tradition upon which free institutions are based, the rise in defense of that culture, it may well be swept away.

If this takes place, all of us will be the losers.  Not least the various groups in whose name such an assault on our culture has been launched.


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