American Elephants

Kids Really Don’t Know Much About History! by The Elephant's Child

Only 35 percent of American fourth-graders know the purpose of the Declaration of Independence, according to national history test-scores released on Tuesday.  The National Assessment of Educational Progress indicated that there hasn’t been much progress. Kids don’t understand the basic principles of democracy and America’s role in the world.

Only 20% of U.S. fourth-graders and 17% of eighth-graders who took the 2010 history exam were “proficient” or “advanced.” This has not changed since the test was last given in 2006.  In high school, it was even worse.  More than half of all seniors scored at the lowest achievement level — “below basic.” Only 9% of fourth-graders knew why Abraham Lincoln was important.

The test was given to a representative sample of public and private schools and included 7,000 fourth-graders, 11,800 eighth-graders and 12,400 high-school seniors. The test is scored on a 0-500 point scale, and those scores are broken into “below basic,” “basic,” “proficient” and “advanced.” Fourth and eighth-graders have seen a slight upgrade since the exam was first administered in 1994.  High school seniors have not.

African-American and Hispanic students in fourth and eighth grades average scores were a bright spot. Hispanic fourth-graders jumped from 175 in 1994 to 198 last y ear. In eighth grade, black students improved to 250 points in 2010 from 238 in 1994.

Expect more debate about whether history and science are being neglected because of No Child Left Behind’s emphasis on math and reading — and the need to “teach to the test.” So teaching kids to read and do math means that you have to skip history?  Don’t be absurd.

Parents must simply not take it for granted that our schools are doing a good job. Be sure they know your family history. It’s easy to add some historical novels to their reading that will make history seem more real and compensate for inadequate history in the classroom. History, after all, is simply stories about what we think happened in the past and why. Historians tell history based on what  the evidence tells them really happened.  Storytellers try to make it come alive:

Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes, about Boston in revolt in 1773

My Brother Sam is Dead by James Lincoln Collier & Christopher Collier,
The Revolution.

Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink, The frontier in Wisconsin

Across Five Aprils by Irene Hunt, The Civil War divides border state families

Rifles for Watie by Harold Keith, a 16 year-old fights in the Civil War

No Promises in the Wind, by Irene Hunt, A story of the Great Depression

Carry On, Mr. Bowditch by Jean Lee Latham, The story of the author of
The American Practical Navigator.

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