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College students really "don't know much" about American history

October 7, 2003

By its recent action of awarding the state of Tennessee $1.7 million in grants to train more and better American history teachers, the U.S. Department of Education is taking action on a significant problemyoung people simply do not know the history of their own country.
October 7, 2003

By its recent action of awarding the state of Tennessee $1.7 million in grants to train more and better American history teachers, the U.S. Department of Education is taking action on a significant problemyoung people simply do not know the history of their own country.

According to Dr. Dewey Browder, professor of history at Austin Peay, there is a renewed awareness that many high school and college students are poorly prepared when it comes to American history. Political leaders, such as President Bush and Senators Robert Byrd and Lamar Alexander, have called public attention to the problem.

The National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) “Report Cards” indicate that 75 percent of our high school students perform at or below a basic level of achievement. More than 50 percent of those who took the most recent NAEP history test thought that either Italy, Germany or Japan was a U.S. ally in World War II.

College students around the country do little better. According to the National Endowment for the Humanities, a survey of college students at 55 elite colleges and universities found that more than a third were unable to identify the U.S. Constitution as establishing the division of power in our government, and 40 percent could not place the Civil War in the correct half century.

Browder points out, however, that a closer look at those ‘elite schools' shows that none of them requires American history.

He says, “I have to say we are doing better at APSU, because we require all our students to pass at least six semester hours of American history. Students who do not study American history are poorly prepared to take on the responsibilities of citizenship in this free society.”

Browder believes such initiatives as that of the U.S. Department of Education's recent grant will prepare high school teachers to cultivate a more mature attitude toward the study of history by their students and, Browder says, “in the long run, the students, state and country will all be better off.”
Dennie Burke