Thursday, September 28, 2006

Freshmen Outscore Seniors in U.S. History

Okay, I'm not really too surprised by this. After all, most of the freshmen, especially at the elite colleges, probably took AP U.S. History. Once they were done, that's it. They didn't have to remember any of it any more. Over the course of four (or five or six) years, the details of U.S. History became buried under the flotsam and jetsam of other courses.

I admit that I took two semesters of U.S. History and one semester of California History only because it was required at my community college and (back then) at Cal. I mean, if you're going to a state-tax-supported school, you should know something of the history of your state.

I'm also not really surprised that Cal is 49 out of 50 (Stanford is 31). Disappointed, but not surprised. I can't wait to hear how the Chancellor is going to spin these results.

In defense of some of those students, though, I'd like more detail about how the different colleges within the University did. Math, Engineering, and hard science majors have extremely rigorous class loads. I can remember complaining about having to take those history classes, especially since my science classes all had labs as well as several prerequisite classes that I had to take first, but that didn't count toward my major.

It's the battle of the technical education versus the classical liberal education and speaks to the heart of why one goes to college. Do you learn for learning's sake or do you learn to increase your earning potential? Historically, Americans have been pragmatic people and our educational system seems to have emphasized skills that can be used. If those skills can be immediately applicable, so much the better.

I don't see that changing. So I don't see a huge, sustainable outcry for more U.S. History or Political Science classes in the near future. Us college grads will have to rely on our younger siblings, colleagues, or even our children to understand the foundations of our country.