History Surveys Stumps U.S. Teens [Free registration may be required]
The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy
Bill Moyers Journal: Interview with Susan Jacoby
19th Century Textbooks
Debates over what young people should be taught in schools have raged on since the time of ancient Greece. From the rise of compulsory elementary education to the creation of the elective system at Harvard in the 19th century, some critics have maintained that such changes have had a rather deleterious effect on young minds. A recently released survey from the Common Core organization adds fire to the already raging conflagration surrounding such matters. The survey asked 1,200 17-year olds to answer 33 multiple-choice questions about history and literature. The results were not terribly promising, as about a quarter of the teenagers surveyed could not correctly identify Adolf Hitler as Germany's chancellor during World War II. Other findings noted that one-quarter of the respondents thought that Christopher Columbus sailed to the New World sometime after 1750. Leaders of the Common Core group also argue that the No Child Left Behind law has effectively created a desolate landscape throughout America's public school curriculum, and they suggest that young people would benefit from a more comprehensive liberal arts and science education. In the introduction to their final report on the survey, the authors noted, "The nation's education system has become obsessed with testing and basic skills because of the requirements of federal law, and that is not healthy."
The first link will lead users to a piece by Greg Toppo of USA Today that offers a bit of background on this thorny issue, complete with an interesting quiz and a section for comments. The second link will take readers to a news article from this Tuesday's New York Times which discusses the findings of this survey conducted by the Common Core organization. Moving on, the third link leads to the online version of The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy which includes 6,900 entries. As the site notes, this work "forms the touchstone of what it means to be not only just a literate American but an active citizen in our multicultural democracy." The fourth link will whisk users away to an interesting interview with Susan Jacoby, who has recently written a book that examines the current "overarching crisis of memory and knowledge." The fifth link leads to the very fine Digital History site, which contains hundreds of resources for history teachers and students that are both well developed and engaging. Those persons looking for a bit of the "old-time" education will appreciate the sixth and final site. Here, visitors can look over 140 19th century schoolbooks digitized by the staff at the University of Pittsburgh's Digital Research Library.