Americans have almost entirely forgotten their history

By Jarrett Stepman | The Daily Signal

In America, we celebrate democracy and are justifiably proud that this nation was founded on the idea that the people should rule.

That’s why it is so important that Americans be informed about their government. They are partakers in it. In fact, they control it.

Under tyrannical systems, it matters little if the people are informed about political life. Autocrats make decisions for the people whether they like it or not. But in our republic, we rely on the informed decision-making of citizens to judge policies and the leaders who will implement them.

Public domain

Artist Emanuel Leutze’s 1849 painting of George Washington’s surprise attack on the Hessians at Trenton on the morning of Dec. 26, 1776.

Unfortunately, we are not very well-informed.

According to a recently released survey, Americans are woefully uneducated about the most basic facts of our history, to the point where most couldn’t even pass a basic citizenship test.

A study by the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation found that only 1 in 3 Americans can actually pass the U.S. citizenship test, which asks the most basic questions about our history and how our system of government works.

Passing the test requires answering 60 percent of questions correctly, but a majority of those participating in the survey couldn’t even do that.

“With voters heading to the polls next month, an informed and engaged citizenry is essential,” Arthur Levine, president of the Woodrow Wilson Fellowship Foundation, said.

“Unfortunately, this study found the average American to be woefully uninformed regarding America’s history and incapable of passing the U.S. citizenship test. It would be an error to view these findings as merely an embarrassment. Knowledge of the history of our country is fundamental to maintaining a democratic society, which is imperiled today.”

The survey listed some of the embarrassing answers given on the test.

-Seventy-two percent of respondents either incorrectly identified or were unsure which states comprised the original 13 colonies;

-Only 24 percent could correctly identify one thing Benjamin Franklin was famous for, with 37 percent believing he invented the lightbulb;

-Only 24 percent knew the correct answer as to why the colonists fought the British;

-Twelve percent incorrectly thought WWII General Dwight Eisenhower led troops in the Civil War, while 6 percent thought he was a Vietnam War general;

-While most knew the cause of the Cold War, 2 percent said it was climate change.

Young people performed worst on the test. Out of all test-takers under the age of 45, only 19 percent passed.

Given these numbers, it’s no wonder why so many young Americans say they would rather live under socialism than capitalism, and have little understanding of what that would mean in reality.

On the one hand, there is a case for forgetting history. Many cultures cling to historical grievances to the point where history becomes a major impediment to future success. Treated wrongly, historical memory can be toxic rather than helpful.

We don’t want to become trapped by the past, but we do want to learn from it in order to avoid repeating past mistakes and build a better future. As citizens, knowledge of the past and of civics is crucial. Lacking such knowledge is unhealthy for a free country, and even dangerous, given how bad political life can become.

One of our biggest problems today is that we often focus on tearing down our history rather than learning from it. That needs to change.

If these sobering test results tell us anything, it’s that we need to consider a fundamental change in how we approach education in the United States. And despite what some voices say, education funding is not the problem.

The U.S. ranks, globally, near the top in spending on elementary and secondary education, yet we don’t appear to be getting much bang for the buck. Perhaps it’s time we take a harder look at the public school monopoly that’s failing students and leaving generations of Americans without a basic understanding of our past.

More generally, we’ve failed to uphold Ronald Reagan’s call for an informed patriotism and more civic ritual—necessary qualities for the maintenance of a free country—in favor of negative and ideologically narrow accounts of America’s past now en vogue in our schools.

This is a recipe for a dark future and needs to change.

Image courtesy of Public domain

10 thoughts on “Americans have almost entirely forgotten their history

  1. It all starts in school. If the curriculum includes these basic facts about our Republic, it would be a wonderful place to start. Unfortunately, the political correctors run the institutions.

  2. I hope that the “Agripublicans” that running for VT office reads this article
    VT-A dozen 2020 ‘agripublican’ candidates announce campaigns for Vermont seats

    along with:
    VT-The state of our little state

    These writings outline the problems (not all for sure). Correct the Socialists boondoggles and set VT in a direction of prosperity.

    Very timely articles.

  3. Instead of the hr’s spent teaching racism, gender baloney, climate scareism and protesting what leftist tell them to lets have 2hr per day mandatory History Channel viewing.
    The mush minds should absorb some of the reality of our country without
    leftist teachers bending the history to their view.. We could even save a little
    by paying a little less for less teacher time… would only need chaperones for TV

  4. American History the good the bad and the ugly of it, is almost totaled forgotten and what
    remains the Liberal left thinks if they remove it from there sight it will be gone……….Idiots.

    What’s good about history, one-day people will see just how stupid Liberals really were and
    all the foolish policies.

    Compare any highschool or college student, to an immigrant trying to get “citizenship ” and
    see who knows ” American History “………….. you’ll be surprised.

    US History should be a mandatory subject matter, it won’t as long as you have Liberals trying
    to brainwash our children against our history……….. pretty sad !!

    • Trying to “brainwash”? it is happening now everyday, if you don’t believe it just talk to some of the young people. I enjoy your post.

  5. “Give me four years to teach the children and the seed I have sown will never be uprooted.”
    Vladimir Lenin

    For those who don’t know who Lenin was, in 1917 he was founder of the Russian Communist Party, leader of the Bolshevik Revolution, and architect and first head of the Soviet state.

    And this:

    President Barack Obama wrote in his memoirs that the most significant education he received was not from Columbia University or from the Harvard Law School, but was from his training under Saul Alinsky’s system as a community organizer. Alinsky’s worldview was that the United States is an oppressive and racist society where most people are victims of economic injustice with a future of despair. Alinsky used the Communist tactic of class war to divide people into three groups: the Haves, the Have Nots, and the Have-a-Little Want More. He boasted that he “contemptuously rejected” the values of the middle class, but he taught his trainees how to use language and words popular with the middle class, while deceiving the people about what he really meant by those words. He taught that the end justifies the means, but that immoral actions should always be clothed with moral or religious arguments.

    • Post Script: The culprit in Vermont is its public school monopoly. If the monopoly is allowed to flourish, the history our children learn will continue to be corrupted. School Choice is their only saving grace.

      • A majority of our high school graduates now can barely read (only if it’s printed – cursive may as well be ancient Greek), can’t do basic math and don’t know our history. What they do understand is the word ‘FREE’, and are apparently willing to give up their liberty for that. Hope the chains rest lightly upon their limbs.

    • Nikita Khrushchev said that they would win without firing a shot, it seems that he was right.

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