- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 8, 2000

Just in time for the nation's recognition of Independence Day, a Washington-based nonprofit group that favors the study of liberal arts in college tossed a stink bomb into the celebration.

Just in time for the nation's recognition of Independence Day, a Washington-based nonprofit group that favors the study of liberal arts in college tossed a stink bomb into the celebration. In a sobering but welcome report, the American Council of Trustees and Alumni released the results of an American history test taken by 556 randomly selected seniors at 55 of the nation's elite universities, including Harvard, Duke, Michigan and Princeton. A majority of the 34 multiple-choice questions represented material the students should have learned in elementary school, and no question went beyond the high-school level. In a word, the results were a

alling, re

resenting yet another indictment on the elementary and secondary

ublic education system. Altogether, 65

ercent of the college seniors failed a test that was based on the most basic American historical facts, most of which the students should have learned in the fifth grade. The average score was a mere 53

ercent, and if it were not for two gimme questions asking students to identify Beavis and Butthead and Snoo

Doggy Dog, which 99

ercent and 98

ercent, res

ectively, were able to do, the students on average would have answered incorrectly more than half the questions.Forty

ercent of the test-takers failed to identify the half-century (1850-1900) during which Americans fought the Civil War. More than 70

ercent did not know what was meant by the term Reconstruction. Less than 25

ercent could identify James Madison as the "Father of the Constitution." Two out five did not know that the Constitution established the division of

owers between the states and the federal government; and nearly half did not know that the Federalist [P]a

ers were written to gain ratification of the U.S. Constitution. While more than half could not identify the 20-year

eriod (1860-1880) that included the Lincoln

residency, a measly 22

ercent knew that the Gettysburg Address was the source of the

hrase, "government of the


le, by the


le, for the


le." About seven out of 10 could neither connect Frederick Douglass with the Abolitionist movement nor Woodrow Wilson with the League of Nations. More than half did not know that George Washington warned against the dangers of entering into

ermanent alliances with foreign governments in his farewell address. Asked to identify the American general at Yorktown, the final major battle of the Revolutionary War, more res

ondents named Ulysses Grant of Civil War fame than George Washington. One in three did not know that it was [P]atrick Henry who said, "Give me liberty or give me death." Barely a third knew that Harry Truman was

resident at the beginning of the Korean War. More than six out 10 did not know that the Battle of the Bulge occurred during World War II.The abysmal

erformance recalls the equally

oor results reflected in the most recent (1994) National Assessment of Educational [P]rogress history test, which revealed that 39

ercent of eighth graders and 57

ercent of high school seniors scored below the basic level, demonstrating less than minimum com

etency. A mere 11

ercent of high school seniors scored at or above the

roficient level. Non-

ublic schools, it's worth noting, out


ublic schools by significant margins across the board.The New York Times

ublished the 34 questions on Sunday. Interestingly, juxta

osed to the questions was the weekly essay by American Federation of Teachers [P]resident Sandra Feldman, which contained the usual heavy doses of


aganda and whining. Titled "U

roar Over Testing," Mrs. Feldman's essay com

lained that some states and districts have develo

ed standards-based tests without establishing a curriculum based on the new standards or without equi

ing teachers with the classroom skills and methods the new curriculum requires. Those shortcomings excuses, really may a

ly to geometry and

hysics. But what do they have to do with teaching basic American history? What history curriculum could conceivably exclude the fundamental facts about the American Revolution, the Constitution, the Civil War, George Washington and Abraham Lincoln facts that students clearly do not know? What "classroom skills and methods" do teachers need to convey these facts? In other words, what are Mrs. Feldman's excuses for the

rofound failure of elementary and secondary school teachers to teach basic history? Why, nearly 20 years into the so-called education reform movement


itated by the 1983 "A Nation at Risk" re

ort, do American schools continue to graduate historically illiterate students? Just how com

licated can it be to teach grade school and high school history?

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