- SYRACUSE, Ind. - Parents,
educators, and humor writers across the country were shocked and amazed
several years ago when we discovered that American high school students
were seriously deficient in simple geography. That's when the now-famous
statistic "one in four high school students can't identify Canada
on a map" was bandied about like a ping-pong ball in a wind tunnel.
- Now we're equally shocked (okay, humor writers are actually
wringing their hands at the thought of new material) by the news out of
Norfolk, Va., wherever that is, that American teenagers are equally as
bad at simple American history.
- Colonial Williamsburg, a "living history" community
dedicated to educating people about life in America in the 1700s, polled
1,020 US teenagers between the ages of 12 and 17 on basic fourth-grade
level history questions. What they found may shock you. But then again,
if you have a teenager between the age of 12 and 17, it may not shock you
- Answer this simple question: Who was the first president
of the United States?
- If you said George Washington, you were right, as were
90 percent of the teenagers surveyed. Sure, 90 percent is pretty good,
but that also means that one out of 10 teenagers didn't know that George
W. (no, the other George W.) was the father of our country.
- How about this one? From what country did America win
- Twenty-two percent of the teens didn't know it was England,
and fourteen percent of them thought it was France (another one percent
thought it was Canada).
- "When you look at these numbers, it means that more
than five million U.S. teenagers don't understand the true meaning of Independence
Day," Colin Campbell, president and chairman of the Colonial Williamsburg
Foundation said in an online press release. "In fact, one in eight
teens thought Independence Day involves a large rabbit who hides colored
- Okay, he really didn't say that, but you believed me
for a second, didn't you?
- If you didn't know we won our independence from England
either, don't feel too bad. To decorate for Independence Day, a church
in my community has hung a picture of Abraham Lincoln, our 16th president.
He was elected 84 years after we declared our independence.
- Here's an easy one for you. Who fought in the Civil War?
The North and South, the East and West, the US and Canada, or the US and
- Believe it or not, 13 percent of the respondents thought
it was the U.S. and Great Britain, five percent thought it was the East
and West (take that, Utah!), and two percent thought it was America and
- In all fairness to that last two percent, half of them
thought Canada Day (July 1) was a Canadian holiday celebrating the fact
that we won our independence from Canada. On the other hand, some people
argue that the National Day of Mourning is really so Canadians can mourn
the fact that they aren't Americans. However, this is all pure fiction
which I created only to raise the ire of my Canadian fellow humor writers,
who often read this column and then steal my ideas.
- So were you one of the nearly one in seven who guessed
the U.S. and Great Britain? Don't feel too bad. When I took the quiz on
the Colonial Williamsburg Website (http://www.history.org), I discovered
they had inadvertently highlighted that answer as the correct one. I'm
not making that up.
- When I pointed the error out to Tim Andrews, the Director
of Public Relations at Colonial Williamsburg, he said he appreciated the
irony, but that the mistake was quickly caught and corrected. And since
he's not around to disagree with me, I'm taking full credit for pointing
- Andrews, who works in the back office, doesn't get to
wear any of the traditional costumes the rest of the Colonial Williamsburg
staff wears. I suppose that's for the best, since Public Relations Directors
were usually burned at the stake as witches in this country until 1978.
When I, secretly posing as a serious journalist, asked him if Colonial
Williamsburg had any recommendations to President George W. Bush for teaching
history, he said they encourage "... more hands-on history educating
and continue strong funding for teachers and educators." I'm not making
Tim Andrews up either -- he's real.
- Speaking of President Bush, he actually fared pretty
well in the quiz. Ninety-six percent of the teens knew that he was president.
Two percent thought that was Al Gore, two thought it was Bill Clinton,
and absolutely no one guessed it was Dick Cheney (only White House correspondents
think that). This news left White House staff members chuckling at the
"fast one" they've pulled on American teenagers, as well as the
- So how did you do on the quiz? If you have more than
a passing awareness of American history, you scored at least 90 percent.
So hold your head high this holiday weekend, place your hand on your heart,
and sing our national anthem, the "Star Spangled Banner," with
pride because you know that Francis Scott Key wrote it, and that 31 percent
of the teenagers didn't.
- They think it was Britney Spears.
- Copyright 2001 Joe Shea The American Reporter. All Rights