Ignorance is not bliss

Jeff Kuhner

Are we rearing a nation of ignorant students? This is the question posed in the latest report, Still at Risk, by Fordham's sister organization, Common Core. Its answer: yes, and we better start doing something about it. Fewer than half of American teenagers who were asked history and literature questions in a phone survey knew when the Civil War was fought, one in four said Columbus sailed to the Americas some time after 1750, not in 1492, and-most shocking of all-nearly one in four did not know who Adolf Hitler was. It is an education tragedy that a quarter of U.S. teens have no clue about the most dangerous mass murderer of the 20th century, whose call for a new Aryan racial order resulted in 6 million Jews being thrown into gas ovens and nearly 50 million dead due to his plunging Europe and America into a destructive world war.

The survey results, released at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday, demonstrate what Common Core says is the "stunning ignorance" of many teenagers when it comes to history and literature. The organization rightly blames President Bush's education law, No Child Left Behind, for impoverishing public school curriculums by holding schools accountable for student scores on annual tests in reading and mathematics. This means that other vital subjects, such as history and literature (as well as art, music, geography and civics) are being downplayed-or simply ignored. This is unacceptable. A vibrant liberal arts curriculum is necessary to the professional development of students, fostering creativity, logic, rational and analytical thinking. More importantly, it provides them with a grounding in core knowledge and ideas that helps them become fully participatory democratic citizens. Our Founding Fathers were steeped in the study of history, languages, literature and political philosophy. They understood America's democratic republic depends upon an informed, educated and engaged citizenry-one that grasps just how precious and rare representative, constitutional government is in the annals of history. "Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it," said George Santayana. Sadly, this is the case with many of America's teens. Ignorance, contrary to the famous saying, is not bliss. It's time we as a nation realized this.

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