Patrick Riccards, American History Initiative, Woodrow Wilson Foundation

What Do We Actually Know About History?

Ben Franklin invented the lightbulb. Thomas Jefferson wrote the Federalist Papers. FDR was president during World War I. Ike was a General during the Civil War. While historians may recognize all of these statements to be incorrect, the same can’t be said for the average American. Recent national surveys conducted by the Woodrow Wilson Foundation found only four in 10 Americans could pass a multiple-choice test of 20 basic American history questions. And when examined state by state, only one state had more than 50 percent of its residents score a D-minus or better.

What do these results say about how American history is taught and who is teaching it? More importantly, what can and should be done improve both the teaching and learning of history. This session explores these questions, looking at both the current state of American history knowledge and what cognitive science tells us we should do.

Patrick Riccards is Chief Communications and Strategy Officer of the Woodrow Wilson Foundation and co-director of its American History Initiative. Patrick began his career on Capitol Hill, where he served in senior communications positions for members of the U.S. Senate and U.S. House. The former executive director for communications and public affairs at American Institutes for Research, he has also served as executive director of the Pennsylvania STEM Initiative and de facto chief of staff for the National Reading Panel. Pat is widely known on social media for his blog and Twitter feed, @Eduflack, and he has won numerous national awards for his work in education communications and public engagement. Pat holds a B.A. in Government and in Rhetoric and Communications Studies from the University of Virginia.