Our Opinion: Assuring that kids, adults know their history


On July 4, we celebrate America's proud history, but there are indications that we don't know enough about it, or world history as well. Changing that begins, as so much does, with America's children.

The European Union has many flaws, but abandoning it, as Great Britain did in a regrettable vote, suggests voters did not know that the EU was created in part to unite a fractious continent prone to bloody wars. Much of America's dalliance with a presidential candidate who is a European-style demagogue given to scapegoating minorities tells us too many don't know where this type of politician takes a nation — to its ruin.

As such, education of history and its consequences is of critical importance, but recent studies reveal that U.S. students in middle and high school are deficient in their knowledge of geography, civics and U.S. history. According to Jamie Gass, the Pioneer Institute's director of the Center for School Reform, and Thomas Birmingham, a former state Senate president and one of the architects of the 1993 Education Reform Act, MCAS testing for history will assure that it is taught and learned.

The Eagle finds MCAS problematic — as it does PARCC and a PARCC-MCAS hybrid — for many reasons, among them they lead to teaching to the test. However, standardized testing isn't going away soon, if ever, and the saying that "what isn't tested isn't taught" has merit unfortunately. This has left history, said Mr. Gass, who along with Mr. Birmingham, met with The Eagle last week, in an "education no-man's land."

According to Mr. Gass, surveys indicate that roughly 60 percent of teachers and parents support testing history on the MCAS. This includes teachers and parents who oppose MCAS but are pragmatic about the need to test history as long as standardized testing carries so much weight. US students do well compared to their peers around the world in English, math, which are tested through MCAS, but trail them in history and civics.

Massachusetts developed such a test in 2009 but it was abandoned when the Patrick administration decided it couldn't be financed during the recession. It is time to take it off the shelf and implement it. "A liberal arts education containing history is a cornerstone of what it means to be an educated student who can participate as a citizen," said Birmingham. The U.S. needs those educated citizens.


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