Ask a young person to describe the Fourth of July and you will get answers filled with bbq’s and fireworks. Ask that same youngster to explain why we celebrate the holiday and it gets a little messy.
In a nationwide survey conducted by the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, over 1,000 teen-agers, ages 12 to 17, were asked basic fourth-grade level history questions. The results? Not very pretty.
For 14 percent of U.S. teens, the Fourth of July marks that historic day we declared independence … from France.
Another 5 percent think July 4, 1776 is the day we rose up against our neighbor to the north, Canada.
A whopping one in five American teen-agers doesn’t know from whom their country declared independence during the Revolutionary War!
And it gets worse.
Students also messed up on more general history facts. One in 10 teens didn’t know George Washington was the first president of the United States. Nearly a quarter didn’t know who fought in the Civil War, and nearly a third didn’t know who wrote the “Star Spangled Banner.”
“When you look at these numbers, it means that more than 5 million U.S. teenagers don’t understand the true meaning of Independence Day,” said Colin Campbell, head of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. “As our nation is taking a hard look at our education system, these statistics indicate American history is one area we can’t afford to ignore.”
Here are other significant findings from the survey:
* 17 percent didn’t know there were 13 original colonies.
* 15 percent didn’t know the Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776.
* 19 percent couldn’t identify the three branches of government.
We, as a nation, have focused our efforts on improving science and math literacy among our young. Perhaps it is time to give equal time to the humanities.
Let’s start with American history.
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net