Thursday, February 28, 2008

I'll Take History for $500, Alex

We all laughed when Animal House's John Belushi accused the Germans of bombing Pearl Harbor ("Forget it. He's rolling.") But a new poll out about high school students' knowledge of history and literature suggests Bluto is alive and well.

According to a new study, "Still at Risk: What Students Don't Know, Even Now," today's high school students lack basic historical and literary facts and references. The research was compiled by Common Core, a non-partisan research group dedicated to "strengthening liberal learning in K-12 education."

Overall, the 1,200 high school students surveyed earned a "D." Among the findings:
  • Nearly a quarter cannot identify Adolf Hitler, with ten percent thinking Hitler was a munitions manufacturer.
  • More than a quarter think Christopher Columbus sailed after 1750.
  • Fewer than half can place the Civil War in the correct half-century.
  • A third do not know that the Bill of Rights guarantees the freedom of speech and religion.
  • Half have no idea what the Renaissance was.
  • Nearly half think that The Scarlet Letter was either about a witch trial or a piece of correspondence.
Thankfully, the survey did have a few bright spots. Of those surveyed, 97 percent knew the "I have a dream" speech was given by Martin Luther King Jr. And, 88 percent knew the bombing of Pearl Harbor led the USA into World War II.

(Take that, Bluto.)

On the serious: Is a study like this fair -- to students, to the K-12 system, to teachers? Or should we expect all students to have a common familiarity with this knowledge?

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