Americans’ ignorance of history is a national scandalRoundup
tags: history, public engagement
Max Boot is a Washington Post columnist and historian.
Is the study of history becoming, well, history?
According to Benjamin Schmidt of Northeastern University, the number of bachelor’s degrees granted in history declined from 34,642 in 2008 to 24,266 in 2017 even as other majors, such as computer science and engineering, have seen rising enrollments. Today, fewer than 2 percent of male undergraduates and fewer than 1 percent of females major in history, compared with more than 6 percent and nearly 5 percent, respectively, in the late 1960s. History departments are cutting courses and curtailing hires because of falling enrollments. The University of Wisconsin at Stevens Point may even abolish its entire history department. History education in schools is so poor that students often enter college ignorant of the past — and leave just as unenlightened.
A survey by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni found that “more Americans could identify Michael Jackson as the composer of ‘Beat It’ and ‘Billie Jean’ than could identify the Bill of Rights as a body of amendments to the U.S. Constitution,” “more than a third did not know the century in which the American Revolution took place,” and “half of the respondents believed the Civil War, the Emancipation Proclamation or the War of 1812 were before the American Revolution.” Oh, and “more than 50 percent of respondents attributed the quote, ‘From each according to his ability to each according to his needs’ to either Thomas Paine, George Washington or Barack Obama.” It used to go without saying that this was one of Bernie Sanders’s most famous lines. (Wait. I may be confused.)
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