They are at it again. Teens are all going to hell in a hand-basket. According to today’s New York Times, a “Survey Finds Teenagers Ignorant on Basic History and Literature Questions.”
Fewer than half of American teenagers who were asked basic history and literature questions in a phone survey knew when the Civil War was fought, and one in four said Columbus sailed to the New World some time after 1750, not in 1492.
But guess what? According to historian Sam Wineburg in his sensible article, “Crazy for History” (Journal of American History, March 2004) there were comparable results when Texan students were tested in 1915-1916:
Across the board, results disappointed. Students recognized 1492 but not 1776; they identified Thomas Jefferson but often confused him with Jefferson Davis; they uprooted the Articles of Confederation from the eighteenth century and plunked them down in the Confederacy; and they stared quizzically at 1846, the beginning of the U.S.-Mexico war, unaware of its place in Texas history. Nearly all students recognized Sam Houston as the father of the Texas republic but had him marching triumphantly into Mexico City , not vanquishing Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna at San Jacinto.
Please read Wineberg’s article, Gary Nash, Charlotte Crabtree, and Ross Dunn’s History on Trial:Culture Wars and the Teaching of the Past, Roy Rozenweig and David Thelen’s The Presence of the Past for more about this perennial issue.
And, please, those who are worried — calm down. It was ever thus.