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A failing grade in history

“A generation which ignores history,” American author Robert Heinlein once warned, “has no past and no future.” We hope that warning is understood by our state’s education establishment.

Pennsylvania received a failing grade in a recent study on American history standards and curriculum. The study, conducted by Sheldon Stern, former chief historian at the John F. Kennedy Memorial Library in Boston, rated states on comprehensive historical content, sequential development and balance, and found Pennsylvania sorely lacking.

Our state had plenty of company in its historical failings. The study measured 48 states and the District of Columbia, and handed out 23 failing grades. Accompanying the study was a troubling quote from Stern, who accused the authors of Pennsylvania’s standards of draining the excitement from the study of history and creating “a peculiarly ineffectual version of ‘Trivial Pursuit.'”

If that’s true, our students are being severely short-changed. History doesn’t have to be a lifeless repetitive study of names and places. American history in particular is filled with more drama and colorful characters than any prime time television show or teen movie.

If presented properly, history can capture the imagination of our young people. Don’t just teach them the names and dates significant to the founding of the New World or the American Revolution or the Civil War or the New Deal. Tell them the whole story — the motivations of the people involved, the struggles they had to succeed and how their actions still affect our nation today.

America has a rich and vibrant history, and Pennsylvania has played had a key role. If we don’t teach our children about it now, then how will their children ever know?


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