Do today’s students even learn American history and civics anymore?
It’s a fair question given all the attention on DEI training and gender pronouns in the schools. In fact, I’d wager that more students could name the latest diversity buzzwords if you stopped and asked them on the street than could name one of the first 10 amendments of the U.S. Constitution.
To put it simply, our schools and public officials just don’t seem to think knowledge of history and civics is all that important.
Consider, for instance, that the Minnesota Legislature just repealed the state law requiring students to correctly answer 30 questions from the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services Naturalization Test, a fact Catrin Wigfall, a policy fellow at the Center of the American Experiment recently noted. New social studies standards are currently in consideration, she explains, but these promise to focus on anything but the history and democratic processes we’ve long understood to be important to the success of the American republic.
To understand just what American schools of old taught about civics and history, take a look at the following test from 1905. Used as the entrance exam for Minnesota 8th-graders seeking to enter high school, the test asks students to answer five of the following questions in an essay format–no multiple choice for the guessers among us!
This image is admittedly faint and hard to read, as it comes from an old text, so the questions are reprinted below:
- Write the names of the thirteen original colonies in the order of their settlement, and name the place where each was first settled.
- Give an outline for an account of the French and Indian war.
- Give three principal causes of the Revolutionary war. What were the boundaries of the United States at the close of the war?
- Name any five presidents in order and give one important event in the administration of each.
- What was a “carpet bagger?” What was a “free soiler?” What was the Monitor? What is meant by the “Reconstruction Period?” What was an “abolitionist?”
- What was the cause of the war with Spain, in 1898? What territory did the United States gain by the treaty which closed this war?
How many of these questions could you answer? How many can the students in your home answer?
Sadly, most of us would be put to shame if put up against the average 8th-grade student from 1905 in our knowledge of history and civics.
That’s unacceptable. It’s time our public schools got back to teaching these core subjects in a comprehensive and challenging way … and if public schools can’t offer that level of education, then parents should be able to take their tax dollars and send their children to schools that can.
Image Credit: Flickr-City of Boston Archives, CC BY 2.0