I have little to add to the video above, which is nearly self-explanatory. A student took a video camera to the halls of his Washington State high school to quiz class mates on basic U.S. history, geography and civics. I’m sure—I hope—that the answers shown on the video were atypical, but never mind: they are scary enough.
The blogger Kevin DuJan on Hillbuzz uses the video to attack teachers unions, writing,
As I watched the video above, two thoughts immediately popped into my head:
1. Why do teachers’ unions claim they deserve more pay and endless benefits when this is the result of their “hard work” in the classroom?
2. I honestly can’t remember anyone this dumb in my Catholic high school back in Ohio when I was going to school in the mid-90s.
I think that’s probably unfair, but maybe not; the answers Austin gets from his friends do show an education system that not only produces profoundly ignorant graduates, but also ignorant graduates who seem pretty gleeful about their knowledge deficits. And President Obama thinks that everyone should be able to go to college? Just what we need: more dolts with degrees.
It is not the teachers who are at fault for what Austin hears, but the nation and its culture as a whole. A democracy that is this incompetent at passing along the basic facts of its history and how its government operates is also failing to pass along its core principles and values. The thought of what kind of answers Austin would have received had he asked about, say, how a republic works, what the Fourth Amendment says and how a law gets made is too terrible to contemplate. After all, this is a school with at least one student who thinks the Vice-President is B…never mind, I don’t want to spoil it for you. Just wait.
It isn’t only the teachers who have failed their duties, though obviously more than one of them has missed something when their charges can’t “name the countries that border on the United States.” The media and popular culture shares the blame too. In the 1950’s, Johnny Horton made a hit song out of “The Battle of New Orleans,” telling the tale of Gen. Andrew Jackson’s improbable rout of the British in 1815. I knew about the battle before I knew that Andrew Jackson became President. Walt Disney used his TV show to tell kids about real life American figures like Davy Crocket and Elfago Baca; he made movies for families about the Revolutionary War. No more. Network TV fare, which used to figure historical events and figures routinely (heck, President Grant turned up regularly on “The Wild, Wild, West”) is virtually devoid of American history on any kind. Ignorance is not just presumed today, it is celebrated. On “American Idol” this week, a contestant whom the judges mistakenly thought had the last name of Gershwin, said, “But I do have an uncle named Ira!” It was clear that Jennifer Lopez, Stephen Tyler and Randy Jackson had any idea who Ira Gershwin was, and he is a major figure from their own industry’s history.
Mostly, however, it is ordinary citizens, parents and everyone else who are failing their obligation to make certain children learn the basics. My son is home schooled, and the process is hit-and-miss and inefficient. But when I gave him and his girlfriend a pop quiz on American presidential history with the question, “Who was elected President in 1880?” (the bill at the drive-through window at McDonalds was $18.80), he answered “Grover Cleveland.” Wrong, but not bad: he was only off by only one election. I told him that the right answer was Garfield, and Grant replied, “Right, now I remember: you said that all the Presidents elected in years ending with zeros from 1840 until Reagan died in office, and Reagan came close. I should have guessed it.” Well, I told him about that, and when he was about 10. If my son couldn’t tell me at 17 how many stars were on the flag , I’d be hiring someone to beat me up. It is a parent’s job, and the job of every American adult citizen, to make educating the next generation about the nation, its values and its traditions a priority. That is what cultures are supposed to do.
This video shows that we are not doing it.
That’s not just unethical…it’s suicidal.