If you have seen Jay Leno’s television segment titled Jaywalking, you know the purpose is to ask random people on the street basic questions. You have probably noticed that this segment tends to poke fun at people’s ignorance. On a recent episode, individuals were asked simple history questions such as, “What ship carried the Pilgrims to America?”. Sadly, there were far too many individuals who didn’t know the answers. Members of the audience find this lack of knowledge hysterical, leaving many to wonder if it’s comical because they also don’t know the correct answer.
Readers of Education Week also appear to be concerned about Americans’ lack of history awareness. An article that was written about the lack of students’ history knowledge was ranked as the second most popular article by readers in 2013. The author of the article, Vicky Schippers, states that history is being taught incorrectly. She claims that history is being taught as a list of meaningless dates, names, and events that merely need to be memorized for an exam. She asserts that history should be taught in a way that makes it more meaningful: by teaching history with the struggles and victories that were encountered. Rather than simply rehearsing facts from a US history textbook, it must be accompanied by digital resources, re-enactments or role playing and egaging activities..
Schippers article continues by giving an example of a young man whom she tutors. The young man, named Tony, initially began their study session knowing very little about the world around him. He had no knowledge of U.S. presidents, the wars in which the United States has participated in, and a myriad of other basic historical issues concerning the United States government.
In the article, Schippers wonders whether Tony had been taught these basic facts in his previous history classes. She then asserts that Tony was most likely taught these lessons in history, but that he failed to make any type of personal connection with the events. She wonders if maybe Tony would have benefited from asking more questions in history class. By asking questions and clarifying events and facts, students tend to make more clear and solid connections. She mentions that Tony asks several questions in their tutoring sessions and he seems to be making connections to his own life.
In addition to the poor way in which history is likely taught, Schippers wonders if history is just being taught too little in schools. She provides a report from the 2012 National Survey of Science and Mathematics Education which states that, on average, students in elementary grades spend two hours or less studying Social Studies during the school week. In contrast, the same survey showed that students spend an average of more than seven hours a week on reading and language arts. Schippers states that the lack of history instruction in elementary may leave students with poor historical knowledge and vocabulary upon which to build once they enter secondary education.
The article by Schippers in Education Week certainly seems to indicate that history is either being taught poorly or just not enough. The national survey mentioned also indicates that very little time is spent teaching history to children.