I Flunked History
by Danielle Wood
Which came first, Sputnik, or the Cuban Missile Crisis? Which battle brought the American Revolution to a close? Where does the phrase "We hold these truths to be self-evident..." come from?
If you're an American college student, even at one of US News and World Report's most selective colleges, chances are you don't know. A non-profit called the Intercollegiate Studies Institute gave a pop quiz on history and civics to over 14,000 freshman and seniors at 50 colleges across the country and even at Harvard, the school that performed the best, the average grade was a D+. As a parent who's been socking away a good chunk of my paycheck each year to send my five-year-old off to university some day, those are some pretty sobering numbers.
So, I got a little cocky. And a little curious. I'm a rabid NPR junkie and I tune in nightly to The Daily Show. I've got an Ivy League education. Surely I could do better. I clicked my way over to www.americancivicliteracy.org and took the test myself, confident that I could outshine those slackers.
I started out strong-- clicking away with a satisfied smile. But my the fourth or fifth question, I was sweating. I was a little more hazy on the War of 1812 than I realized. And the Gulf of Tonkin-- what was that again? Sure, I squeaked out an answer on The New Deal, Roe vs. Wade, and a few other events, but by the time I made it through the last of the sixty questions, I have to say, I was none to confident. And for good reason. I scored a measly 65%. Yikes! How can a brain get so mushy so quickly?