Thirty five percent thought that "From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs" (the Marxist nostrum) was in the Constitution. Thirty-four percent didn't know. More than half thought Germany, Italy or Japan was a U.S. ally during World War II. Only 29 percent knew that Reconstruction referred to post-Civil War political arrangements. Thirty percent believe that the president may suspend the Bill of Rights in wartime. (They didn't ask how many knew what the Bill of Rights was.)
Only 29 percent could correctly place the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution in the context of the War in Vietnam. Forty percent could not place the Civil War in the correct half-century. (Ken Burns, call your office.) Only 42 percent knew to whom the words "first in war, first in peace, first in the hearts of his countrymen" referred (George Washington). Fewer than one quarter could identify James Madison as the "father of the Constitution," and only 22 percent recognized the words "Government of the people, by the people and for the people" as belonging to the Gettysburg Address. (Here's a question for buffs: Who was the keynote speaker at Gettysburg that day? Answer: Edward Everett.)
Cole hopes the NEH grant to improve the teaching of American history will spur colleges to reinstate history requirements. Among the 55 leading schools in the survey, none requires a course in American history. In grades K-12, history has been replaced by "social studies," which is like replacing beef stew with Gatorade.
Standards in many areas of education have declined. But as Cole stresses, this is unlike the slide in math or science (important as those are). If we lose our history, we could lose our nation.