4 July ????

A new Marist poll provides some stunning figures. Presumably, every American knows that 4 July is Independence Day, but only 58% of Americans know which year America declared its Independence. Among American adults younger than 30 years old, that figure drops to 31%. Overall, about a quarter of Americans don’t know from which country America declared its Independence.

What have public schools been doing for the last 40 or 50 years? In 1971, the year I graduated from high school, nearly any high school graduate could associate events for numerous years. Just naming the year was sufficient: 323 BCE, 44 BCE, 476, 1066, 1492, 1588, 1776, 1812, 1815, 1854, 1860, 1876, 1914, 1929, 1939, 1941, just to name a few.

In 1971, an average high school student would have been able to associate significant historical events with at least a dozen of those years, if not all of them. In 2011, I doubt that public high school graduates from the last ten years could, on average, associate significant events with a quarter of those years, if that many.

It would be interesting to do a simple comparison using such a metric between public high school students and homeschooled students. I’d predict that the homeschool students would kick ass.

13 thoughts on “4 July ????”

  1. You had a pretty good history teacher. Most of the people I know in that age group wouldn’t remember all of those dates. I’m a fan of history and I had to Google 1588 and 1876 to get the significance of those dates. Not that I wasn’t aware of the Spanish Armada or Little Big Horn, I just didn’t bother remembering the dates those events occurred.

    Your speculation concerning home schooled vs. schooled would likely provide you with the results you desire. Certainly home schooled kids regularly beat schooled kids in math, geography and spelling, extrapolating that they would also be better at history seems like easy money.

    My own (home schooled) kids are very good on events about history, but not so good with the dates of those events. My fault. I don’t attach much significance to exact dates, finding the event is much more important than the calendar date. They would suck at quizzes based on dates, but would excel if the question was actually about the historical event.

  2. Yeah, but that means 13 of 15 dates were significant for you. 1876 was actually a gimme. Custer’s Last Stand wasn’t the only famous event that year, nor remotely the most important. If you’re stuck, give me a call.

    As to the significance of dates, I believe rote memorization of dates/events is important for the same reason that rote memorization of the times tables is important. It allows one to put things into context without even thinking about it. Thinking “what else was going on around then?” lets one see history as a continuous canvas rather than as a series of isolated events.

    For example, thinking about “in 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue” recalls other events that occurred near that time. The man who would become Henry VIII of England was a babe in arms, which reminds me that he was crowned King just short of his majority. So, from that, and without looking it up, I can calculate that Henry’s coronation occurred in 1509. Which reminds me about what was going on in France at that time, and so on.

  3. So, not Little Big Horn, huh? Lots of stuff happened that year, but what would you consider more significant than Custer’s last stand? Let’s see, both the telephone or the mimeograph were “invented” that year. Both Rutherford B Hayes (R) and Samuel L. Tilden (D) declared victory during the Presidential Election. I believe that was the first time the Electoral College trumped the popular vote, but US history isn’t my strongest point. Um, the US forced the indigenous people’s onto reservations that year, and Baseball’s National League was formed. First boxing fight between female opponents? Gee, I give up!

    One of the best tools I’ve ever found for teaching history is Asimov’s Chronology of the World. It certainly isn’t the most complete history, but it touches on all the points, and does so in chronological order. So you get the history of France from 1700-1750, as well as everyone else’s. Oddly enough, it was this book that gave me the conclusion that the actual dates weren’t that important.

    Rote memorization is great for math and stuff like remembering if red touches yellow, you’re a dead fellow, but I remain unconvinced about dates. Certainly, some are seared into my mind: 1776, 1812, 1914, 1939, 1945, and yes 1492 as well. In fact, it is difficult for me to hear “1492” without completing the rhyme. But the date has no other significance to the event. Certainly Columbus didn’t sail the world because it was 1492, and had he found a backer sooner, we could have memorized “In 1485, Columbus discovered America and that’s no jive” (Hey, I never claimed to be a poet, let OFD have a go at it). I’m afraid you lost me in the connection between 1492, and Henry VIII’s coronation date, but whatever blows your hair back.

  4. What have public schools been doing for the last 40 or 50 years?

    Increasing the cost taxed per pupil by 5% per year? Increasing teacher pay to the point that teachers are better paid than most in the community? Doubling the number of employees per pupil? Transferring so little knowledge that standardized tests have to be renormed every decade?

    Let me know when I hit the one you were looking for.

  5. Sigh. My memory is abominable. I’m sure I know most, if not all, of the famous events you mentioned, but I can hardly associate any with their year.

  6. I have a fabulous memory for trivia but I find it hard to remember stuff I really want and need to remember. Whereas most of my family can remember that as a child such-and-such happened I can pin down the date to within a year, sometimes even the month and day, and recount all sides of trivial conversations.

    I also remember stuff that was drilled in to me by my Year 12 chemistry teacher. Iā€™m not really interested in chemistry but Peter Badcock made me remember stuff, just by repetition. He was one of the great chemistry teachers.

  7. Bob clearly meant the establishment of the National League.

    Seriously, did you mean Hayes/Tilden?

  8. No. I think most would agree that the most significant and long-reaching event of 1876 was the telephone being patented.

  9. Ah! The telephone!! (forehead smack)

    It certainly has had an impact on our lives. I should have lead with that, but Custer was such a bad example of what the best can fuck up that I thought for sure that was it.

    Now, who really invented the telephone first? Bell, or Gray? Bell was certainly the first with a patent, but seemingly only because of lawyer tricks and some dirt between the patent examiner and Bell’s lawyer.

  10. Okay, okay. Here are the events I was thinking of, although obviously each year may have several or many significant events:

    323 BCE – Alexander the Pretty Good dies young

    44 BCE – Gaius Julius Caesar retires from public life, and all life

    476 – The Fall of the Roman Empire (Western Edition)

    1066 – William the Bastard trips and falls and thereby claims Britain

    1492 – Columbus sails the ocean blue

    1588 – Shipwrecked Spanish sailors contribute their genes to the Black Irish

    1776 – We tell the Brits to get stuffed

    1812 – The Brits don’t give up easily

    1815 – Napoleon finds out that the Brits don’t give up easily

    1854 – Balaclava finds out that the Brits don’t give up easily

    1860 – The CSA tells the USA to get stuffed

    1876 – Sitting Bull invents the telephone

    1914 – The Germans find out the Brits don’t give up easily

    1929 – The stock market crashes, but the Brits don’t give up

    1939 – The Germans find out again that the Brits don’t give up easily

    1941 – The Japanese make the biggest mistake they ever made.

    1941 – Hitler makes the biggest mistake he ever made, and it was in December, not June.

  11. Well, with that list, I’m surprised 1903, 1961 and 1969 (even 1947, if you like) don’t make the list.

    Another year that always stuck in my memory was 1789. My history teachers emphasized that one as much as 1776.

    Also, I looked up 1876 and, along with the telephone, Otto’s internal combustion engine was patented that year. Putting the National League alongside, it was a good year.

  12. Sure, but as I said I was just naming a few years, pretty much at random.

    In my opinion, if a small group of people who are truly well-educated sit down, they should among them be able to name an event of world-class significance for any year in the last, say, 200 or 250. Earlier than that, they should be able to come up with at least one or two very significant events per decade from, say 1800 back to 1500, and several significant events per century from 1500 back to 1000.

    For well-documented ancient times, such as the late Roman republic through, say, the Flavian dynasty, they should be able to come up with at least one or two events per decade, and some of the people I regularly interact with could probably manage one a year or close to it.

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