Know your revolution

Americans say it’s important to know about the American Revolution, but 83 percent failed a basic test by the American Revolution Center with multiple-choice questions such as: What battle ended the Revolutionary War? The average score was 44 percent.

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  1. I remember the first year of our charter school. New 9th graders. Q: “Who fought the Revolutionary War?” Top Response: “English versus the British.”

  2. One of the major issues here: Most states, following national standards, have moved high school U.S. history to a post-1877 model, only briefly reviewing the “foundations” of the history. It’s claimed that it is necessary in order to cover everything rather than just starting at 1492 (or earlier) every time you start a U.S. History class.

    The problem, of course, lies in one’s ability to understand the deeper issues and themes of the history as one gets older, and that is something that is getting lost. Then again, looking at the questions, the deemphasis of facts at the benefit of “themes” is also another likely culprit.

  3. Cardinal Fang says:

    Maybe I’m just a crusty old tech type who can’t see the value of of memorizing history facts, but *why* is it important to know the name of the battle that ended the Revolutionary War? How does that help understanding the broad themes of the war?

    Knowing what is in the Bill of Rights is one thing. We (at least some of us) still cherish those rights. But the name of a battle? Give me a break.

  4. Cardinal – As I hope you realize at some level, no, that single fact is not important in isolation – it’s simply a testing point. The assumption is that if you can distinguish the importance of Bunker Hill from Yorktown, you probably know something about the war. Sure, it’s better to know the themes of the war rather than dates and places, but how you can truly learn and understand the themes without at least some of the “history facts” seeping through is beyond me. Reminds me of the attempts to teach kids how to “understand” math without them being able to actually solve problems.
    There is a 10 question multiple choice quiz at the linked web site, and I would hope that most people could get most of the answers by elimination even if they didn’t remember a specific “fact”. On the other hand, several of the questions do focus on what could be called “trivia”.
    OK, so I’m a geek and got 9/10 – I think there’s a bug in the web site that caused me to miss the first question.

  5. Neither the SAT US History Subject test nor the AP US History test consider Yorktown an important or notable battle. Also of no interest is Appomattox. (sp?)

    Both tests regularly ask students about the significance of the Battle(s) of Saratoga, just as they also ask about Antietam. In both cases, their role in gaining (or losing) the possibility of foreign intervention are the issue at hand.

  6. I was a Latin teacher for a number of years, and I’m surprised that the level right is even this high.


  7. It is the broader pattern, rather than wrong answers on individual questions, that is alarming. Large numbers of American adults don’t know what century their nation was founded in, and don’t know if the American Revolution occurred before or after the Civil War. These were multiple choice questions that most people should be able to figure out by the process of elimination.

  8. GoogleMaster says:

    There’s a link to the survey, with the questions, the multiple choice answers, and the percentage of people giving each answer, at the ARC website (follow the link above). The results are broken down across geographic regions, age, sex, salary range, and political affiliation (Dem/Rep/Ind).

    I can understand missing questions about the consequences of the Stamp Act, or Shay’s Rebellion, which we were taught in school as things to memorize, but some of the questions that should be really obvious have responses that are, frankly, depressing.

    Fifteen to twenty percent of the young, the non-college educated, the lower income bracket, and the Southerners believe that Abraham Lincoln was the Father of the Constitution, despite his not having even been born yet at the time of the Constitutional Convention. Thirty to forty percent of nearly demographic category believes the Declaration of Independence occurred after the Civil War and/or the Emancipation Proclamation. Thirty-five percent could not identify when the American Revolution began, given these choices: 1770s, 1640s, 1490s, 1800s.

    I can only hope that 35% of the survey respondents were born, reared, and educated in some faraway country where American history isn’t taught in as much detail as it is in the U.S.

    The results on the “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs” question are particularly troubling. No wonder we’re headed farther and farther down the “soak the rich” path.

  9. What I find most mortifying is that many Europeans and Canadians I’ve met seem to have a much better grasp of American history than my fellow Americans.


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