By Kenny Nickens, JMI Intern and University of Pennsylvania Junior in Economics
“The history scores released today show that student performance is still too low. These results tell us that, as a country, we are failing to provide children with a high-quality, well-rounded education,” stated U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.A recently released nationwide test of fourth-graders, sixth-graders, and twelfth-graders revealed that the majority of students do not have a basic knowledge of US history. Only 35% of fourth-graders knew the purpose of the Declaration of Independence, and the news does not get better; only 12% of twelfth-graders were considered proficient in US history. Many blame the poor performance on the shift in educational focus to subjects tested by No Child Left Behind, namely mathematics and reading. No one will argue that those are vital subjects, but it is imperative that other equally vital areas of education are not sacrificed.Studying US history is not just the memorization of facts and dates–it is an integral part of developing well-informed citizens. The twelfth-grade students tested above will soon be able to vote, if they cannot already do so, and how can these students know the direction they want this country to move in if they do not understand where it has been?Beyond ones civic duty, learning about history forces people to think critically. Not all answers are as black and white as in a math test, and proficiency in history allows a person to develop theories and defend them with facts. The ability to form a coherent and persuasive argument is an important skill regardless of a person’s line of work. Let us all hope these disappointing results are a catalyst for change–going forward, let the educators of America spend more time showing students their past.