A number of my friends have told me about this television show, Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader? In the program, grown-up contestants are asked perfectly ordinary questions from elementary school textbooks in subjects like math, geography, science, and history. Adding to the spectacle, the host commends the contestant’s courage when they choose to answer a question typically asked of a nine-year-old, rather than tackling one of the questions ordinarily asked of seven-year-olds. To give you an example of the difficulty of the game, in a recent episode the $500,000 question was: “What Revolutionary leader wrote the influential pamphlet ‘Common Sense’ in 1776?” A half-a-million dollars to know Thomas Paine? You Americans!
While it is entertaining enough to watch adults try to remember what it is that they inevitably learned when they were in grade school, it is not amusing to discover that many current students don’t know the basics of American history. The U.S. Department of Education recently issued its National Assessment of Educational Progress. The results are disheartening. 73% of twelfth-graders scored below the proficient level in civics, 78% of eighth-graders scored below the proficient level, and 76% of fourth-graders scored below that level. To put this into perspective, 72% of eighth graders could not explain the historical purpose of the Declaration of Independence. This is a national tragedy.
We Americans—unlike citizens of other countries—need teachers to teach us what it means to be an American. We need to be reminded that this country was founded on the principles of liberty and right, on a solemn declaration that we ordinary human beings are capable of governing ourselves. And this is what the Ashbrook Center does. We teach undergraduates and high school teachers what it means to be an American, and uniquely enable school teachers to pass on this knowledge to their students. But we can’t do it without your help. Your gift will help us to preserve this nation’s heritage, so please make a tax-deductible contribution today to help us in this vital mission. After that, you can match your wits against fifth graders by playing the trivia game here.