Study: Only One Out Of Five Children Are Proficient in U.S. History

If George Santayana was correct that “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” there are a lot of surprises in store for the raising generation of Americans. A new study shows a shocking lack of knowledge about U.S. history among our school children, including the fact that only 35% of fourth-graders knew the purpose of the Declaration of Independence. The results of the study are part of the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

According to the report, “[o]nly 20% of U.S. fourth-graders and 17% of eighth-graders who took the 2010 history exam were ‘proficient’ or ‘advanced,’ unchanged since the test was last administered in 2006.”

We are not alone in such dismal understanding of history, as recent studies in England have shown. This included the shocking disclosure that one in four people in England did not believe Winston Churchill existed.

The results of this study should be viewed as a national crisis. A lack of understanding of history denies a collective sense of identity and meaning in being a citizen. It reflects a dangerous disconnect between our rights and understanding of the foundation for such rights. A people that is ignorant of their history is not just at risk of repeating history but the loss of rights secured in that history. Ignorance may be bliss in one’s personal life but it is a threat to a free republic. For those who cite other essential guarantees of our Republic, a well-informed public is every bit as important as a well-armed militia to the preservation of our liberties. We are raising a generation of citizens with little understanding of our national struggle for freedom beyond soundbite phrases and cartoon imagery.

I have been working for years to reintroduce more civics training and classes in our public schools. This report shows how urgent such efforts have become.

Source: WSJ

Jonathan Turley

33 thoughts on “Study: Only One Out Of Five Children Are Proficient in U.S. History

  1. Our local school systems do not teach civics at all. I thought one of the best classes I ever had in secondary school was 8th grade civics. I never understood why civics was dropped from the curriculum unless somebody did not want people to be informed about the role and function of government.

    Of course, everything I learned in that civics class has been turned on its head in the past dozen years.

    No wonder people are so clueless about issues like keeping religion out of official government functions, and all too many cannot find the USA on a globe.

  2. “…only 35% of fourth-graders knew the purpose of the Declaration of Independence…”

    Fourth graders are 9-10 years old. Many of those who took the test may not have had an in-depth course in American history yet.

    Before I make a judgment about our children’s proficiency in U.S. history, I’d like to know which children took the test and where they go to school and what the questions on the test were. I’d also like to know how the grading categories are determined.

    Please note that both public and private school students were tested.

    From the WSJ article:

    “Only 20% of U.S. fourth-graders and 17% of eighth-graders who took the 2010 history exam were “proficient” or “advanced,” unchanged since the test was last administered in 2006. Proficient means students have a solid understanding of the material.”


    “In fourth grade, students who scored at or above basic are likely to know how to interpret a map about the Colonial economy. Fourth-grade students who scored proficient are likely to know that canals increased trade among states, and students scoring advanced probably would be able to explain how factories changed American work.”


    “Ms. Blanchette said her group wants the history test administered every two years, like the national math and reading exams, instead of every four years. ‘What gets measured, gets taught,’ she said.”

    (Blanchette is president-elect of the National Council of Social Studies– a national association of K-12 and college social-studies teachers.)


    There you go. Another reason for teaching to the test.



    “Our local school systems do not teach civics at all. I thought one of the best classes I ever had in secondary school was 8th grade civics.”

    Some school systems around these parts dropped civics courses because the course material covered wasn’t being tested on state-mandated tests. The cart is driving the horse these days. It’s become all about the tests–not about truly educating children.

  3. “We are raising a generation of citizens with little understanding of our national struggle for freedom beyond soundbite phrases and cartoon imagery. ”


    I give you the target audience of that bulbous demagogue Roger Ailes.

  4. They are teaching a lot more world history in the lower grades. Some teach civics in the 7th grade but in Texas they are required to teach Texas history along with civics. It is in 8th grade that they do a comprehensive US history course.

  5. Many states, as Elaine suggested, do not teach history because it is not on the test. This dumbing down is intentional and it seems to be working. Sarah Palin is a prime example of a 4th grader who doesn’t know her American HIstory.

  6. Well, you know, once you get the kids down pat on creationism, and take the time to dispel all that climate change mumbo-jumbo, there just isn’t a lot of time for the old stuff – like Paul Revere, Thomas Jefferson, the Civil War, blah, blah, blah.

    Oh, and we still have to cut those fat education budgets!

  7. I used to think Jay Leno’s “Jaywalking” segments were high entertainment. He stands out on the street and asks a half-dozen people simple questions. But one day he had an exchange with a 30-year-old professional woman. He asked if she’d seen the movie, “Pearl Harbor.”

    The woman said no, but hoped to see it soon. Then Leno asked if she knew what the movie was all about. She said something like this:

    “Yeah, that was the day the Hawaiians bombed California”

    I can no longer watch “Jaywalking” because it truly hurts my head.

  8. What does “proficient in history” mean? Able to recognize parallels and draw inferences about likely future outcomes based on analogies to past events? Able to suggest theories to explain societal behaviors and posit comparisons to prove or disprove those theories?

    Alas, I fear not. It seems to be code for “be able to regurgitate the big wad o’ facts that the local powers that run the Texas text adoption racket deem worthy on command in a standardized testing format.”

    Based on how it is taught, the purpose of history class seems to be persuading young people that Henry Ford was absolutely correct and that history is just one damn thing after another, a list of “facts” (often misremembered or distorted enough to be essentially myths) having no implications for the present at all.

  9. Patric P., don’t forget the big hooraw by Bill O’Reilly about “American war crimes at Malmedy.” You know the one, where Billo accused American troops of murdering German prisoners. Gaaahhhh…

    No wonder Fox viewers are the least informed if they get their “news” from the likes of Fox.

  10. “The GOP Agenda is succeeding….”

    AY is succinctly correct. This has been a worry of mine since in reading my 11 year old’s history textbook, more than 30 years ago, I found that WWII was dealt with in 2 and
    1/2 pages. This is the result of those like the Koch, Welch and Mars Family using money to fund a vast conspiracy to dumb down America and therefore be able to convince people to work against their own best interests. This is why for years they have put a lot of time, money and effort into capturing local schoolboards.

  11. One of the best American history texts I’ve encountered as an adult is “Lies My Teacher Told Me.”

  12. Swarthmore mom,

    I read a Salon article on the same subject yesterday.

    Indoctrinate your children at Tea Party summer camp!
    It’s a real thing!

    Tea party group offers summer camp
    By Marlene Sokol

    TAMPA — Here’s another option now that the kids are out of school: a weeklong seminar about our nation’s founding principles, courtesy of the Tampa 912 Project.

    The organization, which falls under the tea party umbrella, hopes to introduce kids ages 8 to 12 to principles that include “America is good,” “I believe in God,” and “I work hard for what I have and I will share it with who I want to. Government cannot force me to be charitable.”

    Organized by conservative writer Jeff Lukens and staffed by volunteers from the 912 Project, Tampa Liberty School will meet every morning July 11-15 in borrowed space at the Paideia Christian school in Temple Terrace.

    “We want to impart to our children what our nation is about, and what they may or may not be told,” Lukens said.

    He said he was not familiar with public school curriculum, but, “I do know they have a lot of political correctness. We are a faithful people, and when you talk about natural law, you have to talk about God. When you take that out of the discussion, you miss the whole thing.”

    Tampa Liberty is modeled after vacation Bible schools, which use fun, hands-on activities to deliver Christian messages.

  13. I agree with John Gear.

    Kids are exactly the same as adults, in that they remember the history that interests them and forget the rest. This is no great sin. Our government and the intellectuals who have supported its worst actions over the years have clearly demonstrated that knowing history has no effect on the ability to know the difference between right and wrong. And I say this as a person who loves history.

  14. and all along I thought it was the libs dumbing down everything since most in the academy tend toward the left.

  15. @Swarthmore Mom, if your child attends Strath Haven Middle School, he or she is being indoctrinated on the Living Constitution theory of constitutional construction. And indoctrination in the public school is on a whole different level than a voluntary camp.

  16. [quote]I used to think Jay Leno’s “Jaywalking” segments were high entertainment. He stands out on the street and asks a half-dozen people simple questions. But one day he had an exchange with a 30-year-old professional woman. He asked if she’d seen the movie, “Pearl Harbor.”

    The woman said no, but hoped to see it soon. Then Leno asked if she knew what the movie was all about. She said something like this:

    “Yeah, that was the day the Hawaiians bombed California”

    I can no longer watch “Jaywalking” because it truly hurts my head.[/quote]

    He doesn’t “stand out on the street and asks a half-dozen people simple questions”. He stands out on the street and asks dozens of people until he gets the answer he wants. Most times from people who know what sort of answers it will take to get on television.

    You ask enough people you’ll eventually get an idiot who really is ignorant or you’ll get a person who wants in on the joke and plays along.

  17. Some imbeciles blame the GOP or right-wingers for this?

    Clearly these are victims of leftist tampering of a once wholly adequate education tradition that spent thousands of years (since Greece) educating the mind.

    The GOP is not to blame for the shipwreck of American education. Not one bit. They have tried for decades to reform this mess Democrats and leftists created. And in utter frustration they ended up settling for vouchers because leftists, Democrats, and liberals (aka Progressives) are too damn stupid to see the light. It is the left that runs these schools, not the right.

    This problem is a direct result of the disreputable leftist fools in the Progressive ( i.e. REGRESSIVE) Education Movement which began about 100 years ago by the Progressive Educator John Dewey and other radical morons. The movement itself got SO ridiculous even Dewey had to disassociate himself with it. But the theory moved forward anyway.

    The gist of the program was to toss classical education out the door and focus of “child centered” education and “process”. Whatever that garbage means. People joked that the new progressive methods taught Johnny how to button his pants and other such ridiculous things one does not have to be “educator” to teach. (Ravitch)

    It was the Ivy league types at the bottom of this. Harvard and Columbia to be exact.

    Ravitch writes

    “The publication of the Cardinal Participles of Secondary Eduction in 1918 launched pedagogical progressivism into the mainstream of the organized education profession. This report, which represented the best thinking of the leaders of the profession, launched ‘a pedagogical revolution’ and ushered in ‘a whole new age in American secondary education’ by redefining the role of the high school. …The Cardinal Principles pamphlet, which was circulated by the US. Bureau of Education and sold in the tens of thousands, was written by the NEA’s Commission on the Reorganization of Secondary Education (CRSE). In contrast to the academically oriented Committee of Ten, the CRSE was chaired by Clarence D. Kingsley, State Supervisor of High Schools in Massachusetts, and consisted of professor of education, secondary principals, eduction bureaucrats, and a college president who had been a professor of education…

    …The cardinal principles of secondary education, by which educational offerings were to be judged, were ‘1.Health, 2. Command of fundamental processes. 3. Worthy home-membership. 4. Vocation. 5. Citizenship. 6. Worthy use of leisure. 7. Ethical character.’ The objectives of secondary education should be determined, said the report, ‘by the needs of the society [i.e. collectivism] to be served, the character of the individuals to be educated, and the knowledge of education theory and practice available.’ So little did the commission think of traditional, school-bound knowledge that the original draft of the report failed to include ‘command of the fundamental processes,’ its only reference to intellectual development, as a main objective of secondary education.” {page 47 and 48 Troubled Crusade}

    What were the OLD subjects children were supposed to learn before the asinine Cardinal Principle virus was spread throughout the public education system? 25 years before the Cardinal Principles were released in 1918, the NEA Committee of Ten said that every child, college bound or not should study “English, foreign languages, mathematics, history, and science” [pg46 ].

    All that (classical theory and subject matter) was jettisoned by the LEFTISTS (Progressives) and their imbecilic Cardinal Principles. And that is where we are today.

    GOPers have fought for nearly 40 years to get it back. Not just for the privileged, but for all children.

    Bush 41 started a new history standards project and Bill Clinton gave it life through the Goals 2000: Educate America Act. 2.2 million bucks to fund it was run through the National Endowment for the Humanities to write new history standards. (Walter McDougall, Commentary Magazine, Whose History? Whose Standards? May 1995).

    You are not going to like it that I’m going to the quote Lynn Cheney about how bad the new history standards were. But she is relevant because she was a former head of the NEH AND she assigned the group which would go on to produce the new standards which are still taught widely. I reckon she lived to regret having assigned the project to UCLA’s National Center for History in Schools. (Ibid)

    McDougall quotes Lynn Cheney (at the time the standards were written) in the Wall Street Journal saying “an outline of history that pays more attention to the founding of the Sierra Club than to George Washington. Or that invites students to celebrate the ‘grandeur’ of Mansa Musa’s West African kingdom while focusing its discussion of Europe on persecution; imperialism, and the slave trade. Or that makes seventeen references to the Ku Klux Lkan but only one to Ulysses S. Grant, the man who saved the Union, and none to Thomas Edison, who changed the fundamental relationship between man and nature. ”

    A whole slew of right-wingers complained at the time. And McDougall writes [t]hey adduced more examples: the Standards invite students to appreciate Aztec ‘architecture, skills, labor system, and agriculture,’ but ignore the Aztec religion of human sacrifice; depict Genghis Kan through the eyes of a papal legate whose cultural biases pupils are told to discern; ask students to indict John D. Rockefeller; assess Ronald Regan as ‘an agent of selfishness’; and contrast the ecological virtue of Native American culture with our rapacious industrialism.” Did I mentioned 15 million jobs were created when he was president? No? Apologies.

    The evil leftists “denied ‘anti-Western’ bias”.

    The children would be stealthy taught forgone conclusions AGAINST the western world and civilization which they were beneficiaries of. What a bunch of filthy punks. At least right-wingers are open and up front about teaching children to value their civilization despite its failings.

    Children were to be steered by the selected “facts” to absorb the biases the history committee held and those biases would be hatred of self (country/traditions/western history). They were not so interested in presenting the facts honestly or fairly and letting the kids think about what it had to do with the privileged lives most of them inherited. Through the organization and selection of facts, an anti-western viewpoint was next to impossible to ignore. And seeing the kids we have today and knowing what they think, I guess the “standards” have been wildly “successful”.

    McDougall also writes that “In practice, this curriculum would overtax the capabilities of most teachers, not to mention pupils, with the result that 90 percent of the students would flunk, or else (more likely) 100 percent would pass, under the ‘Wizard of Oz” syndrome. (You’re just as smart as anyone else….)’. In other words, the blizzard of information would produce little real knowledge. This is typical of those trying to pull something over on someone: bombard them with information so they cannot process anything substantive.

    McDougall writes that the new standards de-emphasized the history of ideas–a key feature of the 20th century which lead to the slaughter of nearly 100 million persons (because of ideology).

    He writes “What is more, a student restricted to Core standards might well escape high school without ever being exposed to the ideas of Mill, Marx (he appears once, so do not play hooky that day), Darwin, Nietzsche, Freud, and Einstein. Nor do any of the study plans appear to explain the origins and nature of ideology. How then can students comprehend the relativism and totalitarianism that are defining features of ‘modern times’?

    The standards were so obviously biased, they were revised to address the truths put forth by the critics. About a year later McDougall writes: “On balance, the new U.S. Standards are fairer and more objective than the originals. But do they restore the quest for individual freedoms and fulfillment to the center of the American experience, while making due reference to the freedom denied certain citizens in the past? That is a matter of judgment. Lynne Cheney and John P. Diggins are undeniably correct in stressing that the authors still approach their task with an ideological chip on their shoulders and a partisan interpretation of the American experience. But with the removal of the offending study lessons, less now depends on the language of the Standards themselves than on the quality of and predisposition of teachers and the textbooks and teaching aids they employ.” Which we know is low seeing that U.S. school teachers are among the dumbest graduates from college themselves.

    Diane Ravitch and Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. are also right to prefer the standards to having none at all.” (McDougall, Commentary, July 1996, What Johnny Still Won’t Know About History.)

    But even those stupid standards have clearly failed. They have utterly failed. And what with the tens of millions of immigrants with on average a lower IQs than immigrants of the past, we are really in deep doo doo.

    Just what the seditious, subversive, and treasonous Democrats want!

    My kid scored in the upper level on the SAT History test taken before college. But being mostly home schooled, I didn’t provide a formal history curriculum that spanned the many years. Instead we read biographies, watched the History Channel, The Learning Channel, and The Discovery Channel. This was when they were real good too. Sadly TLC and the Discovery Channel are bunk. Though the Discovery Channel is getting better these days.

    They have expanded the History Channel to military and international versions. Good stuff most of the time.

    Sit your kids in front of history programming when they are very young. I mean starting in the Sesame Street years. In fact, sit them there instead of Sesame Street. Let them play with their toys while you run the programming. They automatically absorb it. Monitor viewing for violence, etc.

  18. Some of the topics to be taught at the TeaParty Summer Camp:

    How Jesus wrote the Constitution

    Moses handed down the Bill of Rights to the Republicans wandering in the Wilderness

    Immigration is the Anti-Christs’ plan to destroy the U.S.

    Civics 301: It is better to take than to recieve.

    Why Taxes and Gun Control are destroying the American Christian Family

    Happy Time Play: Liberals burning in Hell

    Sara Palin, Our National BVM

  19. tootie, your seemingly racist bs that immigrants of today (mostly from Mexico) are less intelligence than the immigrants of a former generation (mostly Europeans) hurts your efforts to make people listen to your point. Lets ignore the fact that the idea of an IQ score being an accurate measure of intelligence is silly and ignorant. Even if we do assume that, where is your proof?

    Teachers are the dumbest graduates? Really? Again, any proof of that?

    Also to suggest that you can get an outstanding education by watching the entertainment network called “history channel” is laughable.

    You seem like a very intelligent person, but your bias hurts you – but evidently it does help Planned Parenthood.

  20. I love history, but the History Channel has fallen way down in recent years in presenting history. Even when they rarely present a topic I’m interested in, the presentation is superficial and offers no interesting new facts.

  21. All this blame the republicans shit would be funny if the sobering reality of our future generations being wholly unprepared to be functional adults in the real world wasnt staring you in the face.

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