What kids learn in school tends to change with the times, and some curricular regulations that are either antiquated or simply embedded in beliefs have raised eyebrows across the country as of late.
Yet regulation aside, in a layer of education that reaches students firsthand, is the textbook: the student's omniscient manual in any given subject. Because these books dictate student knowledge and can shape perspective, their contents are sometimes the source of controversy. In Louisiana, for example, one commonly used textbook teaches students "the accumulated wisdom of the past from a biblical worldview."
And while September 11 is a recent memory that many still live with, the attacks are a distant reference to schoolchildren today. As the event and its subsequent war have become "recent history," The Atlantic's Conor Friedersdorf took to examine how high schoolers are learning about 9/11 and the years following.
His general findings: the threat of terrorism can be eliminated, the Patriot Act was not controversial and Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.
Friedersdorf's analysis is decidedly unscientific, looking only at one history textbook: a 2003 edition of The American Vision by Professors Joyce Appleby, Alan Brinkley, Albert Broussard, James McPhereson, and Donald Ritchie. Still, the book is one of the most used American history textbooks in schools for 11th graders.
He criticizes the book's flat portrayal of 9/11, perhaps misleading students to believe that the day's attacks killed more people than the invasion of Normandy. The authors, he points out, also use examples of "terrorist attacks" on America that don't fit the book's own definition of terrorism. Friedersdorf writes:
What follows is an account of the early War on Terrorism told from the perspective of the Bush Administration, often using paraphrased or direct quotes from government officials rather than exercising judgment. "President Bush decided the time had come to end the threat of terrorism in the world," the authors say, as if discussing a plausible proposal that might well end up succeeding.
Isn't that the sort of myopia historical study is supposed to gird us against?
To be sure, Friedersdorf points to the book's 2003 publish year as indication that its contents were written during a volatile time in America -- when tensions ran high and when public sentiment was patriotic. But that's not a factor in how students are learning about the country's recent history.
Click through to continue reading excerpts from the textbook and Friedersdorf's analysis of the chapter's teachings of the Patriot Act, acts of terrorism against America, anthrax and the Bush administration's response and decisions leading up to the Afghanistan War.
Friedersdorf's criticisms of the history textbook come as American students are continuously proving to know less in subjects like history. A study released last month by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni and GfK roper saw abysmal results on surveys gauging American history literacy among college graduates. The results seemingly echoed the findings of two viral videos from earlier this year that suggested students do not possess adequate knowledge of U.S. history, politics and current events.
A 2010 study by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) showed the U.S. history testing scores are "stagnant," with only 9 percent of fourth graders correctly identifying a photograph of Abraham Lincoln and stating two reasons for his importance.
Lee White, executive director of the National History Coalition, says the problem stems from history's place in American curriculum.
"They've narrowed the curriculum to teach to the test. History has been deemphasized," he said. "You can't expect kids to have great scores in history when they're not being taught history."
Check out some of the Roper survey’s results -- and test your own knowledge -- below:
Test Your Own Knowledge WIth These Six History Questions Asked Of 300 College Graduates...
The Emancipation Proclamation issued by Lincoln stated that: A. Slavery was abolished in the Union B. Slaves were free in both the Union and Confederate states C. Slaves were free in areas of the Confederate states D. Slavery could continue nationwide, but buying or selling slaves was no longer legal
Just 16.6 percent of students could identify that the Emancipation Proclamation freed slaves in areas of the Confederate states. 41.2 percent believed it to have abolished slavery in the Union, while 32.1 percent said it freed slaves in both the Union and Confederate states.
Which document established the division of powers between the states and the federal government? A. The Constitution B. The Articles of Confederation C. The Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions D. The Marshall Plan
58.2 percent of respondents answered this correctly, identifying the U.S. Constitution as establishing the division of powers. Another 25.2 percent believed the document to have been the Articles of Confederation.
Who was the American general at Yorktown? A. George Washington B. Ulysses S. Grant C. Robert E. Lee D. William T. Sherman
Fewer than half of college graduates surveyed could identify George Washington as the general at Yorktown, when asked to choose among him, Ulysses S. Grant, Robert E. Lee and William T. Sherman. Ulysses S. Grant was the second-most popular answer, at 20.1 percent.
Who was the "Father of the Constitution?" A. Thomas Jefferson B. James Madison C. Benjamin Franklin D. John Adams
Only 20 percent of college graduates surveyed could identify the "Father of the Constitution." 50.2 percent of respondents chose Thomas Jefferson.
What was the source of the following phrase: "Government of the people, by the people, for the people"? A. Declaration of Independence B. U.S. Constitution C. Gettysburg Address D. George Washington's Farewell Address
Only 17 percent knew the source of the phrase, "Government of the people, by the people, for the people." 54 percent selected the Declaration of Independence.
The Battle of the Bulge occurred during: A. World War II B. Revolutionary War C. World War I D. The Civil War
Fewer than half of college graduates surveyed could identify the war in which the Battle of the Bulge occurred.