President Barack Obama has launched a new initiative to get American schools to teach computer science. Appearing at a Newark, New Jersey, middle school, the president suggested that students, especially girls and minorities, should learn "not just how to use a smartphone but to create the apps for a smartphone."
If we lived in a country where most students were graduating from high school with good English and math skills and with a firm grasp of American history and government, we might be in a position to make time for advanced computer skills. But we don't. Only about 68 percent of Newark's students even graduate from high school.
As for those students who do graduate, not just in Newark but across the country, it seems that smartphone skills come pretty naturally. Who hasn't seen a middle-aged adult getting tutoring on his iPhone from a teenager?
Meanwhile, Obama's progressive allies have been assiduously slanting the teaching of American history and government to produce new generations of left-leaning citizens — that is, when they teach civics at all.
The Annenberg Public Policy Center conducted a civics survey in September and found that only 36 percent of American adults could name the three branches of government, and 35 percent could not name even one. Only 27 percent knew that it requires a two-thirds vote of the House and Senate to override a presidential veto. Sixty-one percent were unable to correctly identify the party that controls the House, and a nearly identical percentage couldn't name the party in control of the Senate. Leaving aside our middling performance in math and science, this alone should be enough to indict our public school system.
What about more educated Americans? A 2012 survey of college graduates commissioned by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni found that only 37 percent knew the terms of U.S. representatives and senators. Only 58 percent knew that the document establishing separation of powers is the U.S. Constitution; 25 percent chose the Articles of Confederation, and 7 percent thought it was the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions. (Do you get the feeling people were guessing?) Less than half knew that the American general at Yorktown was George Washington — 48 percent.
Only about 18 percent of American colleges require a survey course on U.S. history or government. Then again, when they do teach U.S. history, they tend to do so in a highly tendentious fashion. As my colleague Jay Nordlinger has observed, "it's all slavery, racism and the internment of Japanese-Americans in World War II."
This is deadly serious business. Civilizations are not self-sustaining enterprises. People must believe that their society and culture are worth preserving. If we don't teach our children the fundamentals of American history and government, they will not have the knowledge or perspective necessary to maintain it.
The undermining of the Advanced Placement U.S. history curriculum is typical of the progressives' work in our schools. Like thousands of termites, they are eating away at the foundations of our culture.
The new "framework" for the teaching of AP history, which is studied by thousands of America's top-performing high-school students, emphasizes oppressors and exploiters while scanting liberators and pioneers. Teachers are encouraged to examine the Colonial period by comparing and contrasting the different social and economic goals of the 17th-century Spanish, French, Dutch and British colonizers. The British, students are to be instructed, differed from the rest because of a "strong belief in British racial and cultural superiority," which led to the imposition of a "rigid racial hierarchy."
Larry Krieger, a former high-school history teacher, summarizes: "While students will learn a great deal about the Beaver Wars, the Chickasaw Wars, the Pueblo Revolt, and King Philip's War, they will learn little or nothing about the rise of religious toleration, the development of democratic institutions, and the emergence of a society that included a rich mix of ethnic groups and the absence of a hereditary aristocracy. The Framework blatantly ignores such pivotal historic figures as Roger Williams and Benjamin Franklin and such key developments as the emergence of New England town meetings and the Virginia House of Burgesses as cradles of democracy."
Curriculum is destiny. No one is suggesting that students be indoctrinated or spoon-fed a cheerleading version of American history. The real thing will do very well — but too few students are getting that.
Mona Charen is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.