“A Prologue to a Tragedy”: History and Civics Scores Drop to Record Lows

This week, history and civics scores across the nation plummeted to record lows among eighth graders. Just 13% of students performed at or above the “proficient” level in U.S. history. It is the latest appalling report on our declining educational system — a matter that should be treated as a national crisis of literally historic proportions.  As discussed in prior columns, we are graduating students from high school who cannot proficiently read or do math.  School districts have responded by solving the problem by simply lowering standards and eliminating gifted programs.  Now we are producing citizens who know little about our history or our values.

The decline has been blamed on the pandemic, though these declines have long plagued our public schools. Nevertheless, the lockdowns had a profound impact on the psychological and intellectual development of our students. While other countries refused to shutdown their schools or go to virtual classrooms, the school districts and teacher unions pushed for closures. In Europe, countries cited ample scientific evidence refuting the need to close schools. However, experts in this country were banned from social media and attacked in the press for raising these studies. The National Education Association and teacher union leaders supported censorship during this period.

What is even more maddening is to hear those who opposed reopening schools, like Randi Weingarten, now insisting that they were really pushing for keeping schools open despite their public statements to the contrary. As the costs of this disastrous decision mount, suddenly no one in education or the media was opposed to in-person classes.

Putting those decisions aside, the drop in scores also reflects a deemphasis on civics and history over the last decade as other subjects have been given greater priority. I have watched with growing alarm the lessons given to my own children in public schools. History often seemed a vehicle for making political or social commentary.

I have been a huge supporter of public schools my whole life. While my parents could afford private schools, they helped form a group to keep white families in the public school system in Chicago in the 1960s and 1970s. They wanted their kids to be part of a diverse school environment. I also sent my kids to public schools for the same reason. I view our public schools as important parts of our society as we shape future citizens.

Now our educational system is dropping in history and civics scores as well as math and English. We are failing our children across the board and undermining a rising generation of citizens. Yet, we are likely to see just another shrug followed by some mumbling about the pandemic.  There will also likely be demands for more money despite the unbroken record of failure in many of our public school districts.

These scores once again show how educators and unions are killing public education in this country. They continue to treat families as virtual captives rather than respond to these demands for competence and accountability. Many are voting with their feet and leaving public schools in jurisdictions allowing vouchers or other options.

The drop in civics scores may be even more alarming than the declines in math and English. We can train people for jobs in this new economy. It is far more difficult to shape citizens who have never been taught about the underlying struggle and values that define this nation.

James Madison is often quoted for his statement that “a popular government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy; or, perhaps both.” What is not widely known is that Madison made that statement in response to a letter from William Taylor Barry, a Kentuckian who wrote him about the effort to create primary and secondary educational programs in his state. Information remains the paramount value in public education as well as the transparency needed to secure it.

In the same way, the farce that is our current educational system is producing a generation of historically illiterate citizens. That can only be a tragedy in the making.

166 thoughts on ““A Prologue to a Tragedy”: History and Civics Scores Drop to Record Lows”

    1. Ok.

      I suspect GK Chesterton’s perspective was informed by an internal balance. Madness exists at both extremes, then. Logic in ancient Greece was balanced against music, playwrights and poets.

  1. Anyone who sends their kids to a public school today is engaging in xhild abuse.

    1. I agree someone is designing this…..and they are… it’s the well paid administrators exchanging federal funding for this n that. Let me tell…our town had a less of mile of road connecting the state highways….but to get ‘matching Fed fund’s they put in bike lanes. There lanes to “no where” everyone knew….the ends were terminal….but to get federal money lies were told! And that’s what schools do too! Our middle school administrators …..allegedly over free lunch time….went to a five period day….where by civics and geography et al….got only half year….at 90 plus minutes half a year…..while gym class for all year at 90 minutes per day! Twice as much as civics And social studies etc. And they still don’t know the rules of the sports! This school just warehouses kiddies in gym class while leveraging the smarter kids ….to try to get ‘ stem ‘ funding. They just warehouses and wasted hours in “gym” class…..thing is we are Americans and like rules….had they just at least taught sports rules they may have created critical ‘ that’s not fair’s thinkers…..instead they warehoused. So long is education is warehousing our scores will never improve. But who using scores anymore so go cares really? We are screwed.

      1. Indeed All our powers to want….is kids to worship their authority! They don’t want to churn out the next generation with a healthy respect for their rights! If they wanted people to respect their rights they wouldn’t try to instill fear of authourity…..like if you don’t obey you’ll die in for in jail! Just like Diane lane…mr Jordan or mr stewart…..you’ll die in custody and no body will ever investigate the cpnditions! ….because no one cares your life is expendable….you deserved to die…..because the people staffing the jail don’t have to give you a drink. They are superior murderers who no one can hold in account!,,

  2. A friend of mine speculated that a prerequisite to being elected to the Seattle City Council was that one must first fail an I.Q. test. It would seem from articles such as this that the pool of “qualified” candidates is destined to grow.

  3. Just think how much easier it will be for young people to excel in the future’s world. All they will have to show is average ability according to yesteryear’s measures and they will surely climb above their contemporaries.

  4. Clearly the Federal Government should be ripped root and branch out of the education infrastructure of this nation. All education must be returned to the states. The Department of Education is a creation of another failed Democrat Administration, Jimmy Carter.

    1. Carter created the DOE in return for members of the Education Unions working so hard and contributed so much time and money to getting Carter elected.

  5. There has been a slow building movement to recover classical education. That type of education was dominant in the West until around 100 years ago. It teaches students the basics (grammar), how to think skillfully (logic), and how to communicate skillfully (rhetoric). This is known as the trivium, meaning three ways. In the early 20th century America started transitioning to progressive education, which focused on specific subjects instead of how to think and communicate. The beauty of classical is that with the skills it teaches you can learn any specific subject even better.


    1. Specific subject and classical education are not mutually exclusive. People needs lots of knowledge about the world to aid thinking and communication.

      1. Specific subject and classical education are not mutually exclusive.

        Agreed. Students learn Latin, history, literature, science, math, art, music, and on and on. As I mentioned, a classically trained mind is trained on how to think and learn, so it can learn specific subjects even better.

  6. Yet 20-40 years later….I’m a tragedy in the making! I didndn’t know….the Soviet union helped us win ww2! and save so many lives. And I didn’t know…the comminists….took their grain mills away. Thereby preventing self reliance to do many humans! I was never taught that in school! But it’s a really big part of history! It’s a shame schools can’t pass History… history….but they come by that honestly! It’s been neglected! The real shame is math! That needs rubric on rubric….because math is mature and builds! Yet our system chose the following! Able it without parental input.! It choose to when kid was 7th grade do advanced math to ready for 8th grade alegebra. In 8th grade it didn’t have an algebra teacher so warehouses kids. Then in ninth the state cjs,anged. More warehousing. Seriously this wars housed class ought to have been taught the rest by now! But they are warehouses more….and the school wonders despite their 25 % plus up they don’t meet scores? Hello? Bueller? And they want to blame it on the non tenured teacher….like all their admin block schedule didn’t count! Hello…the bock schedule counted…and he knows it and the reason he offers summer school npw. To the mere 35/..no summer school shall be on Line for all and for free! To all not just to the 30 who plus up the scores. 1.25 by weight. But everyone! Whether in town for the summer or not!

    1. I agree. I recall a scene from “Far From the Madding Crowd” when the sheepdog is herding the sheep off a cliff into the sea. Sort of like what’s happening in America with Biden (or whomever is pulling the strings) as the dog.

  7. As long as the 3rd grade students Have high grades in CRT and Queer Studies classes who needs good grades in math, science, History and English. One would think that they would understand that there aren’t enough McDonald’s to employ the end product that they have produced. What we get is “Would you like fries with your Big Mac. Won’t somebody please consider the children says Nancy Pelosi.

    1. CRT is a distraction. Putting boatloads of technology into schools, even with little kids, is a huge focus right now. Who needs to know history and the Great Works when you could “learn to code” at age 8! Ugh. No reason to know anything about self-governance and the world if other people are going to pull the strings and you’re just gonna code, code, code and work a desk job for some corporation.

  8. Democrats have had total control over the public education system in America for generations. The party needs to be held accountable for the consequences of its failed policies. Until that happens, there will be further decline in test scores. Already, it’s becoming increasingly common for high school graduates to not know what the Holocaust was, and virtually none of them have heard of the Holodomor.

    1. Karen, the leftist educators in our school system don’t want their students to know anything about the millions of people who starved to death in communist nations. They are afraid that such knowledge would tear their dreams of Utopia to shreds so they ban books that would teach the history of all the Communist nations on the planet. They are the ones who are effectively banning books that teach the true nature of totalitarian nations on the one hand while on the other hand they are apoplectic about schools in Florida not allowing pornography to be distributed to school children. For a while we were under the illusion that totalitarianism was in decline. We now know through the call of for more censorship in our nation that totalitarianism was only having a short nap and they have arisen from their slumber to dumb down the nations students about the history of their nation. Stalin sincerely believed that he was doing good things for his people when he culled from the herd those who might resist. He considered them to be in the basket of the deplorables.

    2. In Illinois, less than 40% of high school students can read or perform math at grade level. Yet, the statewide graduation rate is in excess of 87%.

      When you can’t read or understand basic math, you rely on what you are told. Even if you were curious about what you’re told, you lack the skills to learn actual facts.

      This is not accidental. It is the design. It is completely intentional.

      1. Question – what is the point of keeping illiterate students in class? I remember that in the third grade, we were no longer learning to read, but actually reading texts for meaning. It appears that the capacity for learning a language falls off sharply after the age of 10, which is about the 4th or 5th grade. https://news.mit.edu/2018/
        cognitive -scientists-define-critical-period-learning-language-0501 So, if you can’t read by then, what do you do in class.? This seems to be a simple and also profound question, but I’m not aware of any MSM outlet that bothers to ask this question.

        1. the MIT study is flawed. Read the study and not the news item heralding it.

          It is important to read published studies with a skeptical view, and concede little. Accomplished scientists welcome criticisms of their published papers that articulate their findings in their studies. Hypothesis are grand, but data can be anything! Analyzing the authors data, and verifying if their data proves their hypothesis, is the stuff of basic scientific rigor. This is exactly what the CDC, NIH and FDA rejected re: COVID and mitigating strategies, e.g. masks, lockdowns, etc. There are studies, and then there are studies.

          Additionally, when reading a study, search for the limitations in the study. More importantly, read what the authors state are the limitations of their study. Honest scientists will be the first to cast reasonable doubt on their results, knowing that one study proves nothing. In the Steven Pinker study you mentioned, the authors are grandstanding. The news piece you provided did not even make the study available, a red flag, only their “data”. I had to look for it on pubmed and I read it. It is full of holes

          While I am an N = 1, I did not learn proper English grammar until college. My first language is Spanish, I learned English in my teens, and we did not speak English at home. Although I graduated top in my Cuban Jesuit high school, the American Jesuit college I attended placed me in a remedial English class. I was mortified and angry at the time. They were right, however.

          Learning is not as mysterious as the authors argue. Learning occurs at the molecular level in the brain which should surprise no one. The Pinker study does not go anywhere near the nitty gritty science of brain neurophysiology and learning for good reason. They are not medical scientists, only “cognitive” (fake) scientists. Learning is built on electrical currents / potentials, long-term potentiation, cations/anions, gates, receptors, neurotransmitters and proteins, all involved in literally creating synaptic pathways in the brain. It is complex physiological language that goes beyond this legal forum.

          If you want to learn more what is entailed in learning at the brain physiolgy level, follow the link I provide below this text. Or search for Long-term potentiation and learning. It is a fascinating topic but really complex. It is time spent well.

          Nicoll RA. A Brief History of Long-Term Potentiation. Neuron. 2017 Jan 18;93(2):281-290. doi: 10.1016/j.neuron.2016.12.015.

          Anyone can learn at any age, even in their later years. A car mechanic in his late 40s went to medical school, excelled, and graduated from medical school at age 51. Black, poor, family on welfare, but a father who was a Christian minister who instilled with his wife strong family values, proved that anyone can do anything in America. He is now a noted physician.

          Cleveland auto mechanic becomes doctor at age 51, inspires others to pursue their dreams

          AAMC Profile on Dr Carl Allamby

    3. Karen,
      “Already, it’s becoming increasingly common for high school graduates to not know what the Holocaust was, and virtually none of them have heard of the Holodomor.”

      Yes, they know about the Holocaust, at least in PA because it’s required.

      I agree they have no idea what the Holodomor is. They apparently are not expected to know about the Soviet Union and Solzehnitsyn or Mao’s Cultural Revolution. I learned these things in HS, though not as much about Mao. Current history education seems to be rather spotty. Do they know Socrates and why he put on his tombstone “I fought at Marathon.”

      1. Pass it along people as any week you.we may not be able to. And it isn’t like I’ve sadly been being shown correct so far. Do you’re own DD! Look at how this all relates to the USA today with our corrupted leadership all over the place.

        Mike Adams is easier on the ears the Alex.


        RED ALERT – EMERGENCY podcast update – Bakhmut firebombed, Russia and USA playing dangerous game of nuclear escalation as US border MASS INVASION just days away

        May 6, 2023


      2. You would think we might want to know something about ideologies that have universally failed at great cost in blood and standard of living before we try them again.

  9. I will post this every single time education in America is discussed.


    The public education system is failing American children. One of the core problems is that it relies upon a debunked paradigm for teaching literacy. Universities train teachers to use debunked methods, such as blended learning or whole language. Administrators believe that low test scores are normal. They blame parents, socioeconomic status, the patriarchy, or whatever other villain they can find in order to deflect blame. However, the science of reading can improve literacy in neurotypical students of any socioeconomic class.

    On top of this shaky foundation of poor literacy, the public education system has placed the politicization of students to become future Democrat voters far above its mandate to provide a quality education in reading, writing, math, and science. Educators waste school hours pushing far Left ideology, and demotivate students by preaching that the meritocracy is racist. Punctuality, self responsibility, classic literature, and even math are all now decried in school as white supremacist. Perhaps this is to cover up their total inability to teach these subjects.

    Every single student in America deserves to have the best education possible. Where we especially fail children is in the area of dyslexia. I know of three parents who had to fight tooth and nail to get an evaluation, and one even had to hire a lawyer. Precious time was wasted while parents concerns were just blown off.

    Public schools, not content to simply be incompetent at educating, had to then ignite into a total dumpster fire by including books with sexual topics into school libraries that were inappropriate for children. Some of these books had illustrations of minors engaging in sexual activity, while others described adults having illegal sexual contact with children. Some of these could qualify as illegal child porn. Others promoted transgenderism to young children, portraying it as a wonderful thing to do, while not including any cautions about the devastating downsides. When parents across the country rebelled, the schools pretended that evaluating the age-appropriateness of books for school libraries was banning books. School libraries cannot contain every book in print. Every school library is supposed to be curated for appropriate age-appropriate content, quality, and popularity of literature. Most books in print are not included in school libraries, yet only these books are considered “banned.” Banned means barred from print or sale.

    Public schools fail at teaching the fundamentals of literacy, math, science, and critical reasoning. They teach children to memorize rather than reason, and then they push a sexual agenda on their captive audience. It’s a travesty.

    Parents, do not assume your local school is adequately teaching your child how to read. I taught my own child to read at a young age, so he wouldn’t have to unlearn bad habits such as 3-cueing.

  10. De-fund Parenting (Drop the Child Tax Credits & WIC) and You’ll quickly find out how important Schools are.
    The recovered Taxes from such a cut can be used to fund Schools (Facilities, Teachers, and Diet Programs).

    Stop the new Immigrants from sending money back to where they came from
    (e.g.: No Money sent to Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua, Venezuela, etc. via Western Union, Xoom, Remitly, etc. ).
    The Money will stay here, it will stop funding the Communist Dictators, and build Our economy.
    And Pay for School Clothes and Supplies for their Children.
    Oh, and spending time at the Library might become important again.

  11. We are learning now, per an interview of Joan Biskupic by Jeff Rosen, that Justice Ruth Ginsburg violated judicial ethics. She did so by calling Jeff Rosen to inform him of Justice Kennedy writing the per curiam opinion on Gore v. Bush, Dec 2020, that declared Bush the winner. The opinion was unsigned. Thus it appears there is a history of left wing SCOTUS Justices leaking confidential SCOTUS information to outside people. Yet, no one ever covered this in civics class.

    First, Rosen said that after Bush v. Gore was decided, Justice Ginsburg called him, and said that Justice Kennedy wrote the per curiam opinion (4:37). Rosen was not troubled about this leak at all. The identity of a PC opinion should remain anonymous, and the Court should not disclose confidential information. But RBG proactively volunteered this information.


    1. Thinkitthrough,
      I think that is rather unfair, especially considering teachers aren’t event the ones deciding the curriculum (the administration is). Also, I do communicate with my kids about their education. While I think it could be greatly improved (and am trying to discuss this with my district), they are learning, and, no, it is not activist propaganda.

      1. Prarie Rose. You make a good point. Many teachers are doing the best they can with what they’ve got. However, in the face of such miserable results why are more teachers not demanding a more a rigorous curriculum? Do they not have a voice? I mentioned the annual average salary because a poster on this blog intimated that teachers only make thirty five thousand dollars per year. He did say that it was first year teachers who make this amount but as usual he left out the rest of the story so I felt it necessary to set the record straight. I think you know who he is.

        1. Thinkitthrough:

          Universities train teachers in this failed curriculum, and are also hyper-politicized far Left. If you check out the link I posted above, as well as the original report upon which it is based, there were many teachers who participated in the report who agonized when they realized they’d been using debunked methods to teach literacy. They’ve been conditioned to expect low test scores as a result of poverty, systemic racism, the patriarchy, or whatever else the universities taught them to blame.

          When I learned about the current science of reading, I eagerly shared the information with the principal of my son’s school. She refused to read it, and was totally uninterested in making any changes to curriculum. His school had rather low test scores, which she blamed on being in a rural area. If she’d actually read the original report, she would have learned about a low-scoring elementary school bringing up its test scores astronomically fast once it changed curriculum. The level of pushback against improvement is at the level of brainwashing. I was so glad I’d already taught my son to read.

          1. Karen S, I very much appreciate your bravery. It must have been very scary to stand up to the status quo. Would that there were more of you. My son couldn’t read because the words moved on the page but His teachers at his Christian school would not give up on him and they helped my wife to find the resources to overcome his problem. He is now a project manager at a high tech company. Luckily he was in a place that concentrated on results rather than on excuses. It was a place where they really did care about the children.

        2. “However, in the face of such miserable results why are more teachers not demanding a more a rigorous curriculum? Do they not have a voice?”

          Some teachers just might not know any better because their own education is stilted or inadequate. (Thank you Departments of Ed at Colleges and low GPA requirements). They might have a voice, but do administrators heed them? They have agendas set on them. And there are things coming from state and Federal Departments of Education that may be backed by corporations or badly thought through (like NCLB)..

  12. Dear Mr. Turley, I read your blog posts quite often and often it occurs to me your continued association with and membership in the Democrat party contributes to the declining standards in education, the incivility of public discourse, and the very real decline in our leadership role on the World stage. Maybe if you had the fortitude to step out as Tulsi Gabbard has, and denounce the Democrat party as a party that wants to destroy America as we know it, your influence might be worth something because right now, your opinion means very little. Just sayin.

    1. Simon 77047, you belittle Professor Turley because he has been a member of the Democratic Party and others belittle the Professor because he is affiliated with Fox News. It’s very obvious that he has, like Tulsi Gabbard , turned away from what the Democratic Party has become. If you compare what Tulsi is saying to what Professor Turley is saying you won’t find a great deal of difference. I ask you, how much penitence will ever be enough. I offer my congratulations to the Professor and I say better late than never.

    2. This is harsh, and maybe a bit unfair. While Mr. Turley may be blinded by a traditional loyalty to the Democrat Party, he is a truth-teller and that counts for a lot in the age of universal deceit.

      But your assessment is correct in the basic facts.

  13. The problem with guns in schools stems from weapons illegally sourced by a confused woman, a boy under psychiatric care, another psychopath who first aborted his grandmother , urbane culture, and civil rights violations under DEI (i.e. racism, sexism, class-based bigotry) doctrine.

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