Opinion | Paul Olson: Don’t know much about history

A 2018 survey by the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation found that only 1 in 3 Americans could pass the exam that immigrants must pass to become a U.S. citizen. On those surveyed, 60% did not know who the U.S. fought in WWII. Just 24% gave the correct answer as to why the colonists fought the British. Only 19% of test-takers age 45 and younger passed. These are the voters who are supposed to understand our civil rights and make wise decisions when choosing our representatives.

This oral citizenship test consists of 20 questions, taken randomly from a list of 128. 12 correct answers are needed to pass (60%). Let’s see how you do:

  • Who is your U.S. Congressperson?
  • Which branch of the federal government writes the laws?
  • How many amendments to the Constitution are there?
  • What document says, “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”?

My hope as a parent and citizen is that graduates from Summit High School appreciate their rights as Americans and have a good grasp of our nation’s history. I was pleased to see that the school district is very transparent about finances and curriculum, with both easily accessible on the website. The Colorado State Board of Education has academic standards which school districts must meet for history, social studies, math, language skills and science so parents can have confidence in the rigor of the curriculum.

Summit High School’s courses for history, civics and social studies focus less on facts such as dates and names and more on understanding broad concepts. The Colorado state requirements for high school civics ask students to be able to discuss various inquiry questions. For example:

  • How has American federalism evolved and changed over time?
  • What are the various levels and roles of the U.S. system of government.

There has been a wave of book banning in U.S. schools in recent years, often dealing with topics in American history. Also troubling is when some state and local boards of education try to sugarcoat the history that is taught. This indoctrination only leads to ignorant students who are out of touch with the diversity of people and opinions that make us a great nation.

America’s history has been a journey of progress with setbacks and improvements along the way. Students will be more inspired to see the wisdom and the weaknesses of our nation’s founders rather than portraying them as demigods. We do a disservice to students to not give them the skills to analyze history and apply it to the present day.

A 2019 study of civics education by political scientist David Campbell found that offering courses in civics tends to improve understanding of how our government works and leads to increased voter registration. There also appears to be a “trickle-up effect” where students improve the civic knowledge and community participation of parents and relatives. I am hopeful that Summit High School graduates will receive the education in history and civics that allows them to appreciate our system of government and inspire them to participate in the civic life of their community.

Parents certainly want Summit Public Schools to set high standards for essential subjects such as math, science and English that will prepare graduates for jobs and college. I hope our schools will also continue to give our future voters and leaders a good knowledge and appreciation for our Constitution and American history.

In other education news, be sure to visit the newly remodeled Main Branch Library in Frisco. What a bright and beautiful community center! Check their website for the children’s reading program, special events and downloadable books.

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