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.
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.
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