By Diana Diamond
Q: In what country is Venice, Italy located? A: Paris. Q: What is the biggest city in the world? A: Asia?Uploaded: Jul 6, 2021
A segment of one of Jay Leno’s TVs shows had a man-on-the-street interview, this time with some older teens and young adults in their early twenties. The questions focused primarily on geography, with a few science topics included. It’s a very funny segment -- and extremely upsetting.
Sure, this could be simply a spoof, but from much of what I have read, American students are getting hardly any civics or geography courses, a bit of history and some “social studies,” which is “an amalgam of disciplines largely dominated by history, but depending on the curriculum adopted by a district or school, it also may incorporate geography, political science, economics, religious studies, psychology, sociology, and archaeology.”
So from that definition, I guess many courses, like archaeology(?), can be labeled social studies. Most colleges require the equivalent of two years of social studies (or civics or history); Stanford wants three.
Why this dramatic change from two decades ago? Because in 2002, the government started the “No-child-left-behind program, which ended in 2015. High school curricula adjusted in accordance with this law. More important, several years ago our education leaders decided the U.S. needed more techy people to adapt to this country’s needs, so the STEM program started – and continues (courses in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics were considered most important and most necessary). In order to accommodate, many other courses such as art, music, civics, geography, world history, etc., fell by the wayside.
Some of that STEM philosophy carries over into college and university course offerings. I have a grandson who went to Stevens Institute of Technology in New Jersey (akin to a MIT-like school), with a technology curriculum. As usual, he came over for a Thanksgiving dinner during his third year at school, and when I asked what he was taking, he listed off a bunch of engineering courses. “And humanities courses,” I asked? “We can take one a year,” he replied. Obviously, I was aghast, but he told me he will be able to get a great job. And he did.
I’ve seen some other surveys that show a remarkable lack of knowledge about our government, geography, American and world history. A NYT article the other day said that American students could answer one out of three of all the questions that are asked on a U.S. citizenship test given to immigrants who want to become citizens. The immigrants’ score: 91 percent, according to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
Try taking a portion of the test yourself:
What about our civics courses in high school?
They are nonexistent in some states and required in several. Only nine states and the District of Columbia require one year of U.S. government or civics, while 30 states require a half year and the other 11 states have no civics requirement. While federal education policy has focused on improving academic achievement in reading and math, this dearth of civics and geography courses has come at the expense of a broader curriculum.
One “official” definition of civics is: “…the study of the great theoretical and practical aspects of citizenship, its rights and duties; the duties of citizens to each other as members of a political body and to the government.”
In simpler terms, it’s knowing about the Constitution, how the government works, and voting. The fact that civics isn’t taught much is appalling.
Nationwide, students score very low on the AP U.S. government exam. The national average AP U.S. government exam score is 2.64 out of 5.0. And when these no-civics students grow up, they don’t learn about civics in their adult years. A 2016 survey by the Annenberg Public Policy Center found that only 26 percent of Americans can name all three branches of government (executive, legislative, judicial), which was a significant decline from previous years.
And what about our geography studies? “A Grosvenor Center survey found that 17 states require a stand-alone geography course at the middle school level (five states have a combined geography and history course), 11 states do not have a required geography course at the middle school level, and 23 states are local control states, therefore, local school districts mandate course requirements.”
Not an outstanding example of teaching American students about geography. Just where in Europe is Brazil?
Social studies fares a bit better. Nearly all selective colleges want to see at least two years of social studies, and many want to see three years.
I am upset about the lack of knowledge about civics, geography, history and social studies that our kids are not getting today. I thought we wanted an educated society—one of the values of a democracy and our country. But instead, the focus has been on STEM courses.
That’s fine for some, but only taking engineering or tech courses is not, in my mind, a real education. It’s a technical education, yes, but we should know about literature, the arts, biology, zoology, history, philosophy, psychology, music, economics, etc., not just exclusively engineering or computer-oriented courses.
So what can we do about this, if anything? Well, if we have young adults give such inane answers to questions they were asked on the Jay Leno show, we should all realize we are in deep trouble. Other nations are academically outdistancing themselves from us.
It’s up to parents to make a big fuss, for colleges to be really concerned, for elementary and high schools to change their curricula. Our kids’ minds are at stake, and if we care about them so much their minds must be included. We shouldn’t want to raise stupid kids.