We have Always been mediocre at history

Or as the article puts it, “Our amnesia of past ignorance”:

And yet it may be that, while kids aren’t getting better, they’re not getting worse. The history of history-education evaluation is littered with voguish pedagogy, statistical funny business, ideological arm wrestling, a disproportionate emphasis on trivia, and a protocol that insures that each generation of kids looks dim to its elders. “We haven’t ever known our past,” Sam Wineburg, a professor of education and history at Stanford, said last week. “Your kids are no stupider than their grandparents.” He pointed out that the first large-scale proficiency study—of Texas students, in 1915-16—demonstrated that many couldn’t tell Thomas Jefferson from Jefferson Davis or 1492 from 1776. A 1943 survey of seven thousand college freshmen found that, among other things, only six per cent of them could name the original thirteen colonies. “Appallingly ignorant,” the Times harrumphed, as it would again in the face of another dismal showing, in 1976. (And it’s not just Americans: an infamous 2004 survey revealed that a small percentage of Britons aged sixteen to twenty-four believed that the Spanish Armada was vanquished by Gandalf.)

I’m not surprised; Gandalf is a goddamn wizard.

It’s a hard intuition to fight, but there’s no reason for kids to know what you think they should know. The world they grow up in isn’t the same as the world that you (and I) have.

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