U.S. students know less about their country's history than any other subject, according to the results of a nationwide test released Tuesday.
A shockingly low twenty percent of fourth graders, seventeen percent of eighth graders, and twelve percent of high-school seniors demonstrated proficiency on the exam, the National Assessment of Educational Progress, known a little more directly as the Nation's Report Card.
One of the lowest points of the report is the revelation that only two percent of high-school seniors were able to identify a passage that referred to Brown v. Board of Education, a case that one prominent historian referred to as "very likely the most important decision" of the United States Supreme Court in the past seven decades.
Of course, the first fingers are pointed at No Child Left Behind, which, since 2002, has been pushing schools to increase scores in math and reading, but not any other subject. But, while it would be easy (and fun!) to blame this tidbit solely on No Child Left Behind, I think there are other explanations.
I once watched Forrest Gump while casually day-drinking at a friend's house (who hasn't?) and was blindsided when a mutual acquaintance asked "Which war is this?" during the film's Vietnam sequence. Heads slowly turned, tongues were bit, and someone with more tact than I will ever have patiently explained that this was the '60s, they were in a jungle, "Fortunate Son" was playing, etc. The girl's explanation for her ignorance: "Whatever. If it happened before 1987, I don't need to know about it."
I think that's the problem, right there. Our current culture has been moving towards legitimized narcissism for a while now — there are a couple of surveys out there in which, asked what they want to be, the youth of various nations pick "famous" over other career choices or vocations. Then there's the fact that our current political discourse favors talkin' folksy over talking smart: I'm not saying you have to be a genius to enter politics, but it seems that lately, there's a whole strain of anti-academic thought that masquerades as populism. Between these factors and social media's doctrine that nothing tops the infinite glory of "me," the problem is that we've conditioned our students to not want to learn about anything other than themselves: nothing else is relevant.