The Widening Knowledge Gap

Do you know which freedoms are guaranteed in the Bill of Rights? Can you explain why the Renaissance was important? How about the time period in which the Civil War was fought? Though these questions may seem like general knowledge, a new report from Common Core found that a third of the 17-year-olds tested couldn’t answer them correctly. The test, given to a group of 1,200 students, consisted of 33 questions that covered common history and literature topics. With an overall score of 67% (a D grade on the standard 10-point scale), it seems clear that the public education system is missing something.

The increasing emphasis on teaching math and reading skills (“reading” here meaning the ability to regurgitate blocks of text without absorbing any information) ties back to the pressure teachers are under to get good scores on standardized tests. These mandated tests only measure students’ progress in the most basic ways, leaving an all-inclusive education that includes history, literature and art in the dust.

Teaching students how to read for comprehension and solve basic math equations may seem important to administrators who need passing grades to keep their schools funded by the government, but without the supplemental knowledge of science, history, music and art, these skills have no context in the real world. Instead of churning out students who can find the area of a circle but think that Orwell’s 1984 was about time travel, schools should focus on providing a balanced education that tells students not just the how, but the why.

Those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it. Cliché as it might be, the truth is that without a proper framework, all of our skill in passing a standardized test means nothing. Did taking a standardized test ever help me out in the real world? Not really. Did reading books like The Scarlet Letter and 1984 give me a better appreciation for how people operate? Absolutely.

The bottom line is this: reading and math skills are definitely necessary and helpful for a basic secondary education, but without teaching history, literature and science, we’re sending robots out into the world rather than responsible citizens.

Take the test yourself to see how you compare and let us know what you think below:

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