Thursday, July 24, 2014
YOLO COUNTY NEWS
99 CENTS

Our historical literacy is waning

By Daniel Burnett

A quarter of Americans don’t know that D-Day occurred during World War II.

That punch in the gut is just one of the findings from a newly released survey about historical amnesia. On the 70th anniversary of one of the most important days in American history, it’s imperative that we as a nation reflect on the sacrifices of those who were at D-Day and take stock of whether we are honoring their legacy.

The findings suggest we’re not.

Just 40 percent of Americans know that June 6 is the anniversary of D-Day and not even half know that the president at the time was Franklin D. Roosevelt, according to the multiple choice survey. Among college graduates, the picture looks only slightly better: 55 percent know today is the anniversary and 57 percent know Roosevelt was president.

The American Council of Trustees and Alumni has been documenting this growing trend in historical illiteracy for years, and the culprit is our nation’s education system. Far too often, it fails to prepare students with the knowledge they’ll need for informed citizenship.

Even after college, many students don’t have a grasp on the basics. Another survey found that only 17 percent of college graduates knew the effects of the Emancipation Proclamation and only two in five knew the Battle of the Bulge occurred in World War II.

It’s not surprising, considering that only five of the top 50 public universities in the country require even one survey course on American history or government. Similarly, it’s not required at a single top liberal arts institution except for the military academies.

Is it any wonder why we are in this crisis when students can graduate from our most prestigious universities with the historical knowledge of a 12th-grader?

It wasn’t always like this; for most of our history it wasn’t a question whether a college student would study the past. More than 98 percent of college-educated senior citizens know D-Day occurred during World War II, but only 71 percent of recent college graduates said the same.

For years, colleges have loosened curricular requirements by allowing niche courses to take the place of American history courses.

American history courses at Michigan’s Oakland University can be swapped with “Foundations of Rock,” “Dance in American Culture” or “Human Sexuality.”

At UC Berkeley, it can be replaced with the “History of Avant-Garde Film” or “Dutch Culture and Society: Amsterdam and Berkeley in the Sixties.”

And at the University of Colorado, American history can be replaced with “America Through Baseball,” “Horror Films in American Culture” or the indelicately titled “Wops and Dons to Movers and Shakers: The Italian-American Experience.”

The story is the same nationwide — probably including your alma mater or that of your children. While these courses may have a lot to offer, they shouldn’t replace foundational knowledge that employers and the public demand. And during a time when almost one in 10 college graduates believe the D-Day invasion took place at Pearl Harbor, it’s time for some academic prioritization.

And, it’s not just American history that is being forgotten.

The “What Will They Learn?” study examines every public college in America — and hundreds of private institutions, too — to determine whether students take courses in seven key subjects: math, literature, composition, science, economics, foreign language and American history/government.

Only 22 institutions out of nearly 1,100 get an “A” rating for requiring at least six of the seven fundamental courses. That’s just 2 percent of institutions that are meeting even basic requirements.

American education must change, and for that to happen the American people must demand change. How can American students compete globally when they’re more familiar with Snapchat than the Fireside Chats? And how can they assume control of our nation when not even two in five know the term lengths of their senators and representatives?

In 1787, our fledgling nation had a new Constitution, out of which — against all odds — would rise one of the most successful political experiments that mankind had ever known. As Benjamin Franklin left Independence Hall, a woman asked him a question.

“Well, Doctor, what have we got — a republic or a monarchy?”

Following the months of contentious deliberation over the Constitution and the years before that of fighting for the right to be free, Franklin replied: “A republic, if you can keep it.”

Now we must ask ourselves. Can we?

— Daniel Burnett is press secretary of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, a higher education nonprofit dedicated to academic excellence. The survey’s full findings can be found at www.goacta.org/images/download/DDay_Knowledge_Survey.pdf

Special to The Enterprise

LEAVE A COMMENT

Discussion | 11 comments

The Davis Enterprise does not necessarily condone the comments here, nor does it review every post. Read our full policy

  • Just sayin...June 06, 2014 - 10:58 am

    The stupidification (I know that's not a word but I like it) of America is painfully obvious. I recently talked to a 32 year-old UCD grad student who didn't know who Joe Biden is. Young people get their political information from Daily Show. The country is turning into a bunch of strung out I-phone junkies who can't process a thought. If you want them to learn history, you could make it a currency for more playing time in Candy Crush!

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • Noreen MazelisJune 06, 2014 - 1:46 pm

    A quarter of Americans don’t know that D-Day occurred during World War II?! Heck, a quarter of Americans don't know that World War II occurred. AND . . . the number of ignoramuses will only grow if Common Core is allowed to infest our schools.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • Just sayin...June 06, 2014 - 1:53 pm

    Hear, hear. I also love the word "ignoramus". A word so rarely used at a time when there are so many of them around!

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • Rich RifkinJune 06, 2014 - 4:08 pm

    "A quarter of Americans don’t know that D-Day occurred during World War II." ............... I am sure even fewer Americans understand what the term "D-Day" or "H-Hour" means. As a result, most don't know that there were literally hundreds of "D-Days" during World War II and World War I and in various other wars our men fought in. ............. I am not sure exactly why, in the popular imagination, the only D-Day is June 6, 1944. I would guess it was due to the press which covered the invasion of Normandy and the obvious importance of that combat attack over all D-Days which had come before it. Yet July 9, 1943, when we invaded Sicily, was also a very important D-Day in WW2. That assault (and victory) pushed the Germans back and it gave the USA its first foothold on European soil, helping to reverse the tide of the war in the West of Europe.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • B. CarfreeJune 06, 2014 - 9:27 pm

    I'm not overly concerned with the fact that many Americans don't know historical facts. I am deeply troubled by the lack of science and math education required for both a high school diploma and a college degree. These are the foundation courses for learning to think critically and creatively. It breaks my heart to see sandwich boards for religious clubs on the UCD campus. Such open displays of ignorance were not present just a few decades ago. I didn't know whether to be relieved or cry when I saw members of the student atheist and agnostic club selling cookies.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • Rich RifkinJune 06, 2014 - 9:51 pm

    "It breaks my heart to see sandwich boards for religious clubs on the UCD campus. Such open displays of ignorance were not present just a few decades ago." ............ Are you really sure of that claim? There was a very large religious revival on all the UC campuses over the 1980s. I was told (by an acquaintance who is a fundamentalist minister) that membership in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes nationwide peaked in 1986 when we were seniors in college. I recall back in those days itinerant preachers showing up on every campus on a regular basis. I was not a student at UC Davis. But I tend to doubt that today's students are more involved with religious clubs than Aggies were 30 years ago. The big difference, I suspect, is just the actual ministries. Today's student body is more diverse. So now you would have substantial numbers of Muslims, Hindus and sects of Buddhists than was true in the past.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • Greg JohnsonJune 07, 2014 - 12:22 pm

    Agreed Rich. I was a student in the UC system (Davis) through much of the 80's and there was a lot of evangelism on campus. As a whole, I heard about it more then than I do now. As opposed to "Carefree", I don't have a problem with religion or see it as something that thrives due to weak minds and poor science education. In fact, many great scientists were religious. Arrogant pseudo-intellectuals like Bill Maher have tried to push the notion that religion equals ignorance. More on the topic of this article, there is a huge difference in the seriousness about education, the sense of entitlement, and intensity of study between now and the 80's. I also believe there is a lack of awareness of history and "the big picture" in general in this generation. Just my observations.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • June 07, 2014 - 9:28 pm

    Religious fanaticism started in the late 90's and got Bush elected president. We were just too stupid then to realize what was actually going on... check out a book called "The Family" We're in the middle of the third great awakening, it may have even hit its high water mark already, I seriously hope that's the case; a very small sample of people I know from davis have gotten super weird about god since 2008 though; I worried about what's going to happen if Warren Buffet warning of another bubble bursting actually happens, he's got a good track record of being right

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • Greg JohnsonJune 07, 2014 - 10:06 pm

    Religious fanaticism started in the late 90's and got Bush elected president. ..........This statement is pure craziness (no offense). I'm not sure I follow the rest, except Buffett's prediction. I had not heard that but I would put the odds of the worst "pop" yet extremely high.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • Rich RifkinJune 08, 2014 - 10:31 am

    "We're in the middle of the third great awakening, it may have even hit its high water mark already." ................. I don't think the evidence for this "awakening" you have seen is there at all. In fact, every scientific examination of religiosity in the United States which I have seen shows compelling evidence that we are experiencing a dramatic decline in religious belief. Here is a graph which helps show that: http://tobingrant.religionnews.com/2014/01/27/great-decline-religion-united-states-one-graph/

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • wdf1June 07, 2014 - 9:35 am

    This is the kind of discussion that has gone on for as long as I can remember (the latter half of the 20th century). I was just reading a column by Ronald Reagan written in 1975, using the fact that younger people couldn't recite the poem, "Evangeline" as evidence of deteriorating educational quality in his day. How many of you can recite Evangeline? Is there a generation that you can point to that was documented to have the appropriate amount of knowledge and education?

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • Recent Posts

  • Enter your email address to subscribe to this newspaper and receive notifications of new articles by email.

  • .

    News

     
    Ag officials predict bumper almond crop

    By Elizabeth Case | From Page: A1 | Gallery

     
    Teens lead the way in fight against cancer

    By Anne Ternus-Bellamy | From Page: A1 | Gallery

    Victim of fatal crash identified

    By Lauren Keene | From Page: A2

     
    Official: Air Algerie flight ‘probably crashed’

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

     
    New-home sales plummet in June

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

     
    CSU pumps brakes on enrollment growth

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

    Diplomas all around for professor and sons

    By Dave Jones | From Page: A3 | Gallery

     
    Consumption guidelines for Cache Creek fish updated

    By Elizabeth Case | From Page: A3

     
    Local singer/songwriter will perform Friday on KDRT

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4 | Gallery

    Davis Flea hosts night market Sunday

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

     
    Free technology help offered to seniors

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

    Contestants sought for Yolo County Fair Queen contest

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

     
    Parents can learn all about IEPs

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

    Museum sells market bags as fundraiser

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

     
    City of Davis recruits for its advisory commissions

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

    Colleges woo Native Americans with new programs

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A5 | Gallery

     
    Zip Book: Request it, read it, return it

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A8

    .

    Forum

    Battle lines are drawn

    By Creators Syndicate | From Page: B5

     
    Don’t tell me I can’t help him

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A6

    Water trains through Davis

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A6, 2 Comments

     
    Water storage must be a priority

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A6, 1 Comment

     
    Tom Meyer cartoon

    By Debbie Davis | From Page: A6

    Act now to support middle school students

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A6

     
    .

    Sports

    UCD coach has navigated a Maze of experiences

    By Bruce Gallaudet | From Page: B1 | Gallery

     
    Lethargic and roster-thin, Post 77 loses Area 1 opener

    By Bruce Gallaudet | From Page: B1

    Pence outscores Phillies

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B1 | Gallery

     
    Quincy Amarikwa: years in the making

    By Evan Ream | From Page: B1 | Gallery

    Area sports briefs: Nelson earns All-Academic honors

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B3

     
    Youth roundup: Aftershock finishes second in tournament

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B3

    Majka makes winning look easy

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B10 | Gallery

     
    .

    Features

    Name Droppers: Transportation fellowship goes to Aggie

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A8

     
    .

    Arts

     
    ‘South Pacific’ storyline still making waves

    By Bev Sykes | From Page: A7 | Gallery

    ‘The Miracle Worker’ auditions set for WOH

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A7

     
    .

    Business

    .

    Obituaries

    Death notice: James Thomas Feather

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A2

     
    .

    Comics

    Comics: Thursday, July 24, 2014

    By Creator | From Page: B8