American students learn how World War II affected Japanese-Americans, blacks and women, but not much about the actual war, writes Jay Mathews in the Washington Post. Students tend to learn social history but not military history.
Tiffany Charles got a B in history last year at her Montgomery County high school, but she is not sure what year World War II ended. She cannot name a single general or battle, or the man who was president during the most dramatic hours of the 20th century.
Yet the 16-year-old does remember in some detail that many Japanese American families on the West Coast were sent to internment camps. “We talked a lot about those concentration camps,” she said.
. . . Among 76 teenagers interviewed near their high schools this week in Maryland, Virginia and the District, recognition of the internment camps, a standard part of every area history curriculum, was high — two-thirds gave the right answer when asked what happened to Japanese Americans during the war. But only one-third could name even one World War II general, and about half could name a World War II battle.
Rosie the Riveter has trumped Patton.
When I was in school, there was a lot less history, of course. Vietnam was current events. After we “did” World War I, we’d have three days for the Depression, World War II and reviewing for the final. I think once we devoted five minutes to the McCarthy Era.
Update: Betsy describes how she teaches history and gives valuable advice on how to ace the AP U.S. history exam.