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.