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How Much Do We Know about American History?

How Much Do We Know about American History?

July 4, 2011, marks the 235th anniversary of the American colonies’ adoption of the Declaration of Independence. By breaking ties with the British, the colonies became “free and independent states,” and the business of establishing a new nation with a democratic government began in earnest.

The Fourth of July, known formally as Independence Day, did not become an official U.S. holiday until 1941. To celebrate this Independence Day, the Milestone editors invite you to test your knowledge of U.S. history. Online quiz results from Newsweek magazine and tend to indicate that Americans know less about history than they might think. In fact, Newsweek’s 2011 poll showed that nearly 40 percent of the 1,000 Americans in a randomly chosen sample group could not pass an abbreviated version of the U.S. citizenship test—that’s the same test given to immigrants seeking American citizenship. Commentary on the dismal statistics of our history knowledge in past years is available at the New York Times online.

The 2010 National Assessment of Educational Progress found that students in grades four, eight, and twelve have improved their scores in U.S. history and civics slowly but steadily since 1994, with a greater number of students possessing “basic” levels of knowledge; however, the percentage of students considered “proficient” or “advanced” in history remains low. The Washington Post offers a more detailed look at the results.

Our apparent lack of knowledge about history and government has sparked the publication of several unflatteringly titled books, including Just How Stupid Are We? Facing the Truth about the American Voter (New York: Basic Books, 2008), by Rick Shenkman, and The Complete Idiot’s Guide to U.S. Government and Politics (New York: Alpha, 2009), by Franco Scardino. But fear not: Experts say that reading more about history, government, and current events is the key to reversing our knowledge gap.

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