The disturbing absence of historical knowledge

Patrick Riccards writes for the Washington Examiner about a disturbing deficit in historical knowledge among younger Americans.

In our post-Parkland, current-Greta Thunberg world, many are quick to throw around the quote, “and a little child shall lead them.” Heading into presidential primary season, pundits are quick to talk about the number of millennials and Generation Z members (combined, anyone under the age of 35) who will be eligible to cast votes in 2020, believing they will seize the mantle of political power from both the boomers and Gen Xers simultaneously.

With great power comes great responsibility, or so Spider-Man’s Uncle Ben would tell us. Such power and responsibility at the ballot box should require strong knowledge of and appreciation for our nation’s history. But by most accounts, while the youngest generation of voters is more aware, more engaged, and more “woke” than any generation before it, such enthusiasm doesn’t necessarily mean it is more knowledgeable or more informed.

In late 2019, the Woodrow Wilson Foundation followed up its survey on history knowledge to better understand current high school student perceptions about history and American history instruction. The findings were disappointing but expected.

Less than one-third of today’s high school students said social studies would be important to them after graduation, with only the arts being seen as holding less value.

Only half of those students surveyed believe that American history knowledge is very important in helping understand current events and being a responsible citizen.

Only a quarter of students say learning history is exciting, while female students are more likely to say it is not. A quarter of students also found learning American history to be “bad” or “boring.”

Mitch Kokai / Senior Political Analyst

Mitch Kokai is senior political analyst for the John Locke Foundation. He joined JLF in December 2005 as director of communications. That followed more than four years as chie...

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