Teach the American dream

“As Congress moves towards opening new paths for immigrants, it should find a way to restore the foundation of American citizenship — the self-confident teaching of American history in our nation’s schools, writes Christina Hoff Sommers in The American.

The immigration bill will reaffirm “quintessential American values” and restore “the American dream,” writes Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet.
But “few of our students — foreign or native born — know much about the provenance of those values,” writes Sommers. “Our schools no longer teach the American dream.”

Once, immigrant and native-born children learned about America in school, “and came to view themselves as part of an extraordinary culture of liberty,” she writes. That civic mission has been neglected.

The latest Department of Education national history assessment (2010) shows that only 12 percent of American high school seniors have a firm grasp of U.S. history. More than half (55 percent) scored below the “Basic” achievement level. A 2012 Roper survey of college graduates found widespread ignorance about U.S. history and basic functions of government: only 17 percent of those polled, for example, could identify famous words from the Gettysburg Address or knew the effects of the Emancipation Proclamation.

Noting a 2009 study that found that 39 percent of Americans could not name a single right protected by the First Amendment, civil libertarian Greg Lukianoff has described us as a nation in the process of “unlearning liberty.”

We are perilously close to testing Thomas Jefferson’s famous admonition: “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.”

The National Assessment of Educational Progress exams in civics, U.S. history, and geography have been indefinitely postponed for fourth and twelfth graders, reports Heartland. The Obama administration blames a $6.8 million sequestration budget cut. The three exams will be replaced by a new test on Technology and Engineering Literacy.

“Without these tests, advocates for a richer civic education will not have any kind of test to use as leverage to get more civic education in the classrooms,” said John Hale, associate director at the Center for Civic Education.

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  1. The American Dream has been dead since the mid-1970’s. At this point, it’s so dead that even talking about it is like making a bad joke. Just ask the Generation X’ers and Y’ers – they know the hand they’ve been dealt.

  2. The thing about “subject-specific” hand-wringing (kids don’t know history, or basic finance, or science, or the free market, or Shakespeare, or the current vice-president of the USA)…is that these discussions are always de-contextualized.

    I’d guess that only 17% of high school seniors have a “firm grasp” of ANYTHING.

    • Do you think this is because of who’s having all the babies vs. who isn’t? (hint: college graduates tend to delay having babies, or even decide against it altogether because they calculate they can’t afford it)

      • Richard Aubrey says:

        Over the years, talking with teachers and others about the American dream, values, exceptionalism, and so forth, the majority of responses have been scorn and sneering contempt.
        Two teachers even referred to me as a “patriot”. Didn’t mean it in a good way.

  3. In my public school and in my DH’s Catholic school, the message was the same; the American Dream was explicitly attached to the virtues (hard work, self-discipline, responsibility, duty) of the Puritan work ethic, even though the term was rarely used.

  4. Let’s not blame the testing. The rant about “these young whippersnappers being ignorant” has been going on at least since Hammurabbi had his code chiseled in stone.

    If we’re going to have testing, we could at least test things relative to American History; make them read The Federalist Papers and write about it. Heck, they could even read passages from the Constitution.

    Of course – if we’re teaching the “American Dream”, it’ll imply that we’re not giving equal treatment to some other culture somewhere in the world. We’d be saying that America, and by extension, Western Culture is pretty cool. Sorry, that’s pretty much verboten for the last couple decades.

  5. Mark Roulo says:

    “What I see about students not knowing US History is the fault of all the testing in this country and little or now focus on social studies.”


    In 1943 the New York Times ran an article titled “Ignorance of U.S. History Shown by College Freshmen”. It started off with “College freshmen throughout the nation reveal a striking ignorance of even the most elementary aspects of United States history, and know almost nothing about many important phases of this country’s growth and development, a survey just completed by THE NEW YORK TIMES has shown.”


    Complaining that the kids don’t know much history is nothing new.

  6. I think the biggest difference is that what (little) history most of today’s kids know is the leftist view; all white/Western culture is bad, all non-American cultures are good, capitalism is evil, socialism is good, social justice is the proper aim, racism and poverty are the cause of all failures etc. The narrative popular in the ed world of the last 30-40 years is very anti-American in many ways; all the dark aspects of history magnified, none of the bright spots mentioned and little to nothing about the values and behaviors that created the American Dream for so many people. Little is said about all of the reasons people want to come to America. There have been a number of recent comparisons between the proposed fence/enforcement of our southern border and the Berlin Wall; an extremely false one, since the Berlin Wall existed to keep East Berliners from leaving – and ditto for all of the other Eastern Bloc border enforcement. Kids today are likely not to know the difference.