Skip to main content

U.S. Teens Need Better History Education

Erik has been sick this week, so we are reprinting a column from 2001, which only seems like a few years ago.

Parents, educators, and humor writers across the country were shocked and amazed several years ago when we discovered that American high school students were seriously deficient in simple geography. That's when the now-famous statistic "one in four high school students can't identify Canada on a map" was bandied about like a ping-pong ball in a wind tunnel.

Now we're pretending to be shocked — but we're not really that surprised — by news out of Norfolk, Virginia that American teenagers are equally as bad at simple American history.

Colonial Williamsburg, a living history community dedicated to educating people about life in America in the 1700s, polled 1,020 US teenagers between the ages of 12 and 17 on basic fourth-grade level history questions.

What they found may shock you. But then again, if you have a teenager between the ages of 12 and 17, it probably won't

Answer this simple question: Who was the first president of the United States?

If you said George Washington, you were right, as were 90% of the teenagers surveyed. Sure, 90% is pretty good, but that also means that one out of 10 teenagers didn't know that George W. (no, the other George W.) was the father of our country.

How about this one? What country did America win its independence from?

Twenty-two percent didn't know it was England, fourteen percent of them thought it was France, and one percent thought it was Canada.

"When you look at these numbers, it means that more than five million U.S. teenagers don't understand the true meaning of Independence Day," Colin Campbell, president and chairman of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation said in an online press release. "In fact, one in eight teens thought Independence Day involves a large rabbit who hides colored eggs."

Okay, he really didn't say that. But you believed me for a second.

If you didn't know we won our independence from England either, don't feel too bad. To decorate for Independence Day, a church in my community has hung a picture of Abraham Lincoln, our 16th president. He was elected 84 years after we declared our independence.

Here's an easy one for you. Who fought in the Civil War? The North and South, the East and West, the US and Canada, or the US and Great Britain?

Believe it or not, 13 percent of the respondents thought it was the US and Great Britain, five percent thought it was the East and West, and two percent thought it was the US and Canada. (Hey, we had to win our independence from them somehow.)

So were you one of the nearly one in seven who guessed the US and Great Britain? Don't feel too bad. When I took the quiz on the Colonial Williamsburg website, I discovered they had inadvertently highlighted that answer as the correct one.

When I called and pointed the error out to Tim Andrews, the Director of Public Relations at Colonial Williamsburg, he said he appreciated the irony, but that the mistake was quickly caught and corrected. And since he's not around to disagree with me, I'm taking full credit for pointing it out.

Andrews, who works in the back office, doesn't get to wear any of the traditional costumes the rest of the CWF staff wears. Which I suppose is for the best, since Public Relations Directors were usually burned at the stake as witches in this country until 1987. When I, secretly posing as a serious journalist, asked him if the CWF had any recommendations to President George W. Bush for teaching history, he said the CWF encourages ". . . more hands-on history educating and continue strong funding for teachers and educators."

Speaking of President Bush, he actually fared pretty well in the quiz. 96% of the teens knew that he was president. Two percent thought it was Al Gore, two thought it was Bill Clinton.

So how did you do on the quiz? If you have more than a passing awareness of American history, you scored at least 90 percent. So hold your head high this holiday weekend, place your hand on your heart, and sing our national anthem, the "Star Spangled Banner," with pride because you know that Francis Scott Key wrote it, while 31 percent of the teenagers didn't.

They think it was Britney Spears.

The second edition of Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), and my other book, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide to Social Media Marketing are both available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.


Like this post? Leave a comment or Stumble it.


Popular posts from this blog

AYFKMWTS?! FBI Creates 88 Page Twitter Slang Guide


Did you get that? It's an acronym. Web slang. It's how all the teens and young people are texting with their tweeters and Facer-books on their cellular doodads.

It stands for "The FBI has created an eighty-eight page Twitter slang dictionary."

See, you would have known that if you had the FBI's 88 page Twitter slang dictionary.

Eighty-eight pages! Of slang! AYFKMWTS?! (Are you f***ing kidding me with this s***?! That's actually how they spell it in the guide, asterisks and everything. You know, in case the gun-toting agents who catch mobsters and international terrorists get offended by salty language.)

I didn't even know there were 88 Twitter acronyms, let alone enough acronyms to fill 88 pieces of paper.

The FBI needs to be good at Twitter because they're reading everyone's tweets to see if anyone is planning any illegal activities. Because that's what terrorists do — plan their terroristic activities publicly, as if they were…

Understanding 7 Different Types of Humor

One of my pet peeves is when people say they have a "dry" sense of humor, without actually understanding what it actually means.

"Dry" humor is not just any old type of humor. It's not violent, not off-color, not macabre or dark.

Basically, dry humor is that deadpan style of humor. It's the not-very-funny joke your uncle the cost analysis accountant tells. It's Bob Newhart, Steven Wright, or Jason Bateman in Arrested Development.

It is not, for the love of GOD, people, the Black Knight scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. I swear, if anyone says Monty Python is "dry humor" is going to get a smack.

Here are some other types of comedy you may have heard and are just tossing around, willy-nilly.

Farce: Exaggerated comedy. Characters in a farce get themselves in an unlikely or improbable situation that takes a lot of footwork and fast talking to get out of. The play "The Foreigner" is an example of a farce, as are many of the Jeeves &…

What Are They Thinking? The Beloit College Mindset List

Every year at this time, the staff at Beloit College send out their new student Mindset List as a way to make everyone clutch their chest and feel the cold hand of death.

This list was originally created and shared with their faculty each year, so the faculty would understand what some of their own cultural touchstones might mean, or not mean, to the incoming freshmen. They also wanted the freshmen to know it was not cool to refer to '80s music as "Oldies."

This year's incoming Beloit freshmen are typically 18 years old, born in 1999. John F. Kennedy Jr. died that year, as did Stanley Kubrick and Gene Siskel. And so did my hope for a society that sought artistic and intellectual pursuits for the betterment of all humanity. Although it may have actually died when I heard about this year's Emoji Movie.

Before I throw my hands up in despair, here are a few items from the Mindset list for the class of 2021.

They're the last class to be born in the 1900s, and are t…