The dating game

The news last week was enough to make a colonial scholar weep: Some of America's top students don't know much about US history. "Give me liberty or give me death" didn't resonate with more than two-thirds of the seniors from 55 top colleges surveyed. Only one-third connected John Marshall with Marbury v. Madison. The Constitution was a mystery to a majority.

Chagrined, some congressmen want a resolution calling for more required US history. This could be instructive, especially for students who do not know what a resolution is, or what Congress does. If texts keep emphasizing visual appeal over substance and a date or two, that may not change soon.

One solution could be to assign, say, "The Patriot." Students were knowledgeable about video- and TV-based facts, something that has encouraged many teachers to use these media liberally.

Recommended: Could you pass a US citizenship test?

American distaste for dates and their own and others' history is nothing new. Art Garfunkel sang about it. A Boston Globe columnist recently asked skeptically if requiring a history graduation test would yield a graduate a job. My high school told me two decades ago that "concepts" were the thing.

E.D. Hirsch, author of "Cultural Literacy," has made a name protesting these viewpoints. But despite higher standards, his is a tough battle. Mindful of my own deficiencies, I asked my daughter dates this year as I quizzed her before tests. My teacher doesn't want those, she sniffed. Our disagreement on this point rivaled Gettysburg in drama. So I guess we're going to the movies.


(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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