Suzanne Fields
First, the good news: The nation's eighth-graders are doing better in history class. Now, the bad news: They're not doing much better. Gains in test scores are small, made by the lowest performers, and only 17 percent of those tested are "proficient," or competent.

It gets worse. Only 12 percent of high-school seniors, who are getting ready to vote for the first time, have a proficient knowledge of history. If you're looking for a tinsel lining, you could point to 20 percent of fourth-graders who are described as proficient, but that means eight of 10 haven't learned very much during their tender years in the classroom

The standardized test results known as the "nation's report card," issued by the National Assessment of Educational Progress, are based on tests taken by thousands of schoolchildren in both private and public schools. Such dismal percentages once sounded alarms for parents and teachers, but now mostly get a bored yawn. What else is new?

"We're raising young people who are, by and large, historically illiterate," says historian David McCullough in The Wall Street Journal. "I know how much these young people -- even at the most esteemed institutions of higher learning -- don't know. It's shocking." McCullough, who has lectured on more than a hundred college campuses, tells of a young women who came up to him after a lecture at a renowned university in the Midwest. "Until I heard your talk this morning, I never realized the original 13 colonies were all on the East Coast."

McCullough has learned first-hand how formidable the obstacles have become. Emotional appeals in politically correct courses -- women's history, African history, environmental history -- take the place of chronological and conceptual study across the educational arc from tiny tots to graduate students.

From the early grades, our children learn how horrible slavery was, but spend little time studying the how, why and when we righted that wrong and the wrongs that followed. Who we are comes from what we reject as much as from what we embrace.

The problems with our schools run deep, not only affecting how the next generation is learning to make reasoned choices in determining public policy, but how ignorance undercuts pride and patriotism, the sense of America's core identity. It's not merely academic. When seniors were asked about Brown v. Board of Education and what social problem it was supposed to correct, only 2 percent knew it was the Supreme Court decision that declared laws compelling segregation in the public schools as unconstitutional.


Suzanne Fields

Suzanne Fields is currently working on a book that will revisit John Milton's 'Paradise Lost.'

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