Your kids are lousy at history

The latest study of ignorance among American schoolchildren concludes that, of all the things your kids suck at, they suck at history most of all:

American students are less proficient in their nation’s history than in any other subject, according to results of a nationwide test released on Tuesday, with most fourth graders unable to say why Abraham Lincoln was an important figure and few high school seniors able to identify China as the North Korean ally that fought American troops during the Korean War.

And why are kids so lousy at history?  Maybe the geniuses who determine what teachers can and can’t teach and have bled the history curriculum white have something to do with it:

History advocates contend that students’ poor showing on the tests underlines neglect shown to the subject by federal and state policy makers, especially since the 2002 No Child Left Behind act began requiring schools to raise scores in math and reading but in no other subject. The federal accountability law, the advocates say, has given schools and teachers an incentive to spend less time on history and other subjects.

“History is very much being shortchanged,” said Linda K. Salvucci, a history professor in San Antonio who is chairwoman-elect of the National Council for History Education.

Many teacher-education programs, Ms. Salvucci said, also contribute to the problem by encouraging aspiring teachers to seek certification in social studies, rather than in history. “They think they’ll be more versatile, that they can teach civics, government, whatever,” she said. “But they’re not prepared to teach history.”

Yet it’s probably going to be the teachers themselves, rather than the policymakers and administrators who actually control the curriculum, who will get dragged through the mud for this.  The armchair pundits who lambast teachers for not teaching this or that subject or concept don’t understand that teachers are beholden to guidelines handed down from above—you will cover such-and-such a theme with these attendant sub-themes, your students will be tested on such-and-such a content area, etc.

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