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American People Suffering Historical Amnesia With Many Citizens Knowing “Virtually Nothing” About Their History

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Many people regard the United States of America as the world’s foremost democratic police force, and as such, one would expect its citizens to be well-informed regarding their historical and political roots. A new study, however, shows that this expectation is far from reality.

National Knowledge Test Causes Concern

A functioning democratic republic operates on the flow and freedom of information which should in effect create an “informed” confidant populous. Contrary to this, according to the results of a recent government survey, which was conducted by Lincoln Park Strategies, a nationally recognized full-service analytic research firm, the majority of American people are greatly uneducated about even the most basic facts of the Nation’s history to the extent where the majority “couldn’t even pass a basic citizenship test” according to a report by the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation.

While passing the basic test required answering only 60 percent of the questions correctly,

“1 in 3 Americans can’t actually pass a U.S. citizenship test.” While the repercussions of this data are extraordinarily worrying, simple questions must be asked about how the governmental education system works. Arthur Levine, president of the Woodrow Wilson Fellowship Foundation, said “With voters heading to the polls next month, an informed and engaged citizenry is essential” and this test showed the very opposite is the case.

According to Levine, “it would be an error to view these findings as merely an embarrassment. Knowledge of the history of our country is fundamental to maintaining a democratic society, which is imperiled today.”

The United States Constitution

The United States Constitution (Daniel Thornberg / Fotolia)

“37 Percent Think Benjamin Franklin Invented the Lightbulb”

The survey published some of the shocking answers offered by participants in the test, and according to the US Advisory Lottery website, it could hardly be called challenging asking questions like; "What is the capital of the United States?, Where is the Statue of Liberty?”, and “Who lived in America before the colonists arrived?”

The level of concern was highlighted in the question “name one thing Benjamin Franklin was famous for?” The famous American polymath was, of course, one of the Founding Fathers of the United States and a renowned politician, political theorist, painter, author, inventor, printer, freemason, postmaster, scientist, humorist, civic activist, statesman, and diplomat. Worryingly, “Only 24 percent correctly identified “one thing” Benjamin Franklin was known for “with 37 percent believing he invented the lightbulb.”

While the results of this question were really quite shocking, it couldn’t compete with some of the answers to the “cause of the Cold War,” to which “2 percent believed the culprit was climate change.”

As for the American Revolutionary War, only 24 percent knew the correct answer as to why the colonists fought the British.

Benjamin Franklin on United States bank note

Benjamin Franklin on United States bank note (bartsadowski / Fotolia)

Historical Amnesia

Many cultures hold onto past grievances to the detriment of their future success and therefore historical memories can have negative results, rather than helping a nation advance and grow. As citizens of a democratic republic, having at least a basic understanding of past events is crucial and lacking such basic knowledge is “unhealthy for a free country, and even dangerous, given how bad political life can become” according to an article about the study published in the Western Journal.

The test results suggest a fundamental overhaul is required in the United States education system, and to all those journalists justifying the terrible results as being caused by a lack of resources, an article on proves that “education funding is not the problem.” This statement is based on the fact that the U.S. ranks among the world’s highest spenders on elementary and secondary education, yet Americans still seem be without a real understanding of the historic people and events that shaped their home.

A collage of American Revolutionary War public domain images. Clockwise from top left: Battle of Bunker Hill, Death of Montgomery at Quebec, Battle of Cowpens, "Moonlight Battle". (public domain)

Sowing the Seeds of a Trillion Dollar Problem

Although these results are cause for concern, it is not like this is new news. In 2017 Do published another round of alarming stats, for example, “30 years ago, America was the leader in quantity and quality of high school diplomas. Today, our nation is ranked 36th in the world.” It was claimed that “If the 1.3 million dropouts from the Class of 2010 had graduated, the nation would have seen $337 billion more in earnings over the course of the students’ lifetimes.” Exponentially, under education will cost America trillions of dollars with no end, if this situation is not addressed now.

Now, what would a story be without at least one culprit? Or at the very least a poisonous situation. Researching for this article, one particular statistic jumped out at me which I deem to be exceptionally worrying, bordering on sinister; “97% of low-income students rely on school for internet access, but 40 million students do not have high-speed Internet in school.”

This means the learning processes of 40 million students are being directly restricted by whirling colorful balls and loading bars. In a nation that can navigate pilotless drones with missiles capable of flying through assailants living room windows on the other side of the world, and that can land research rovers on Mars and feedback lovely HD footage, surely their children deserve proper internet connection speeds, at the very least matching their ability to download and ruminate information and data?

In an act of universal serendipity, hauntingly so, while writing this article I was listening to the radio and on came the 80’s British pop band The Stereo Mc’s with their song Connected; “If you make sure you're connected, the writing's on the wall, but if your mind's neglected, stumble you might fall…

Top image: United States constitution and flag ( justasc / Fotolia)

By Ashley Cowie



Confident populace

ashley cowie's picture


Ashley is a Scottish historian, author, and documentary filmmaker presenting original perspectives on historical problems in accessible and exciting ways.

He was raised in Wick, a small fishing village in the county of Caithness on the north east coast of... Read More

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