Monday, November 24, 2003
One study of university students found that 40% could not place the Civil War in the correct half-century. Only 37% knew that the Battle of the Bulge took place during World War II. A national test of high school seniors found that 57% performed "below basic" level in American history. What does that mean? Well, over half of those tested couldn't say whom we fought in World War II. Eighteen percent believed that the Germans were our allies!Yet at SCSU, rather than support NEH's We the People initiative, our collective "braintrust" (I question both words) chooses to align with the New York Times' American Democracy Project. We support "civic action" rather than "civics knowledge".
Such collective amnesia is dangerous. Citizens kept ignorant of their history are robbed of the riches of their heritage, and handicapped in their ability to understand and appreciate other cultures.
If Americans cannot recall whom we fought, and whom we fought alongside, during World War II, it should not be assumed that they will long remember what happened on September 11 or why we must be prepared and vigilant today. And a nation that does not know why it exists, or what it stands for, cannot be expected to long endure. As columnist George Will wrote, "We cannot defend what we cannot define."