Earlier this month, a national report card was issued on the performances of students in American schools in the area of history. The results weren't the kind of statistics that provides inspiration as we head into next Monday's national birthday celebration.
The proficiency tests were given to 4th, 8th and 12th graders by the National Assessment of Educational Progress board and the history scores were the lowest among the subjects tested, which included math, reading, science, writing, civics, geography and economics.
Sadly, the 12th grade performances were worst, with only 12 percent of last year's seniors showing a proficiency in history upon graduation in the Class of 2010. More than half the graduating seniors had the lowest "below basic" achievement level. It was more disheartening to learn that the 12th grade results were unchanged from the last test which was given in 2006.
As for the test questions, less than a quarter of the graduates were able to identify China as North Korea's ally in the Korean War and nearly three-quarters failed to link Germany and Hitler with World War 2.
Regarding United States history, only a third of fourth-graders knew the purpose of the Declaration of Independence, and most of them could not say why Abraham Lincoln was an important figure in our history.
Memorizing names and dates made history a bore to many of us in school, no thanks to the instructors who failed to bring the subject alive. Thankfully, there were a few in my day who were able to deliver the goods, and not just on the state, national and world level, but in local history as well. By going beyond the pages in a text book, they were able to give us the tools to explore who we were in the context of our local history.
There are several local instructors that quickly come to mind when it comes to local history. Last fall, Chris Holub's Civil War class at Jim Thorpe High School presented a Civil War Weekend at the school that included everything from an encampment of reenactors to artifacts and period fashion to a Civil War Harvest Ball.
And earlier this year, on a Saturday morning, Lehighton Middle School Social Studies teacher Ron Rabenold shared his love of local history by taking about 30 students and their family members on a tour of the former Switchback Railroad, this nation's first gravity railroad of any significance.
The instructors who perform beyond the call of duty are the ones that are most successful.
Regarding those dismal history results in the national assessment tests, the Christian Science Monitor made a strong statement when it pointed out that the seniors who did so poorly in the testing a year ago will be able to vote in the 2012 elections.
If we don't understand the basics of our history we put ourselves at the mercy of the political spin-masters who will be churning out all kinds of phony facts and slogans to make their candidate look good to voters.
By Jim Zbick