A Student of History

February 6, 2008

What about Colonial History?!?!

Filed under: Early America,The world today — John Maass @ 7:33 am

Who are the most famous Americans?  USA Today reports that:

Researchers gave blank paper and pencils to a diverse group of 2,000 high school juniors and seniors in all 50 states and told them: “Starting from Columbus to the present day, jot down the names of the most famous Americans in history.”

The study acknowledges that the emphasis on African-American figures by the schools leaves behind not only 18th- and 19th-century figures but others as well, such as Hispanic icon Cesar Chavez, Native American heroes such as Pocahontas and Sacagawea and labor leaders such as Samuel Gompers and Eugene V. Debs.

At the same time, the study, scheduled to appear in the March issue of The Journal of American History, notes that teachers the researchers talked to while giving the quiz predicted that student lists would be top-heavy with entertainers and celebrities. Aside from Winfrey and Marilyn Monroe, entertainers appear “nowhere near the top” of the lists.

No colonial period figures appear on this tabulation, nor generals, presidents, or (mercifully) sports “heroes.”  The list:

1. Martin Luther King Jr.: 67%

2. Rosa Parks: 60%

3. Harriet Tubman: 44%

4. Susan B. Anthony: 34%

5.Benjamin Franklin: 29%

6. Amelia Earhart: 25%

7. Oprah Winfrey: 22%

8. Marilyn Monroe: 19%

9. Thomas Edison: 18%

10. Albert Einstein: 16%

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1 Comment »

  1. Spinning Cleo notes that the poll specifically told students not to name Presidents or First Ladies. That perforce removed three of the country’s most famous generals from consideration.

    I wonder what the results would be if pollsters asked high-school students to name an African-American of historic importance who was not King, Parks, or Tubman. Does the emphasis on making sure the schools teach some African-American history extend much beyond those famous exemplars?

    Comment by J. L. Bell — February 12, 2008 @ 10:05 pm | Reply


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