America's Students: Where? What? When?

September 16, 2008
Gregory J. Kelly, Editor-in-Chief

Physician's Money Digest, March31 2003, Volume 10, Issue 6

I was recently quizzing my 9-year-old son, Kyle, on thenames of the 50 capital cities ofthe United States. He got them allright. My 7-year-old daughter,Lauren, also wanted to participate,and she did pretty well too.

All parents think their kids arespecial, but in a sense, mine seem tobe even more so. My children likehistory and geography. My wife andI encourage these things in our kidsand they respond with great enthusiasm.We plan to continue the effort.If only America's institutionsof learning had a similar regard forthese important disciplines.

TROUBLING REPORTS

Two recent surveys of youngadults expose a massive deficiency inthe understanding of basic historyand geography. And I'm not referringto the nuances of the Missouri Compromiseor the geographic location ofBangladesh. I mean, today's kidscan't find New Jersey on a map ortell you who won the Civil War.

Survivor

According to a recent NationalGeographic Society survey, the averageyoung American (age 18 to 24)earned a D grade on 56 fundamentalgeography questions. Only 13% wereable to find Iraq on a map. Incredibly,30% couldn't locate the PacificOcean. And while 34% could successfullyidentify the island for the hitCBS-TV show , just 30%could find New Jersey on a map.Nearly 50% couldn't find New York.

Another survey from the AmericanCouncil of Trustees and Alumni(www.goacta.org) found that noneof the nation's top 50 colleges anduniversities require a US historycourse for graduation. Less than10% of the schools require any historycourse as part of its curriculum.The survey showed that more than80% of seniors would receive a D orF grade on a high school–level historytest. Most of the students couldn'tidentify Valley Forge, words from theGettysburg Address, or basic USConstitution principles.

MAKING A DIFFERENCE

Thankfully, some are alarmed bythis appalling lack of knowledgeabout our heritage. "Defending ourdemocracy demands more than successfulmilitary campaigns. It alsorequires an understanding of theideals, ideas, and institutions thathave shaped our country," said Dr.Bruce Cole, National Endowmentfor the Humanities chairman.

The reason why I wrote about my2 young kids earlier isn't because Ithink they're prodigies. I wrote aboutthem because I believe that historicaland geographic illiteracy doesn'thappen overnight. Yes, the schoolsare failing to properly educate children,but we parents must assumesome responsibility here as well.

If we don't, the negative ramificationswill be enormous. To me, theworld's current troubles have muchto do with our feeble understandingof history and geography.