Americans are woefully ignorant about basic civics; 9/11 in the classroom and memory; presidential health issues; HMS Terror found; another icon from the WWII generation passes on


Want to get depressed? Check out this new report on how well the American people understand the three branches of our government and their respective functions. Get this: only 25% of Americans can even name all three branches, much less know their powers. As I have discussed before, I am convinced that these sorts of reports tell us that for whatever reason, students are not retaining information that we know darn well they are being taught (and probably passed a test on). The problem is that we teach and test in a way that allows students to get by on just cramming stuff into short term memory. We’ve got to change this, but how? (When I think about the fact that these ignorant people’s votes count as much as mine or yours does, it becomes imperative that we find the solution).

And speaking of teaching challenges: We’ve just seen the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, as we continue to vow to “never forget.” Yet our college students these days have little to no memory of the event, and most school kids now were not alive then. This fact brought forth many articles and essays pointing this out, and offering thoughts on how to teach the event as history, as well as the inevitability of it becoming similar to Pearl Harbor, or the Civil War, in our collective memories. For me, the most poignant to read was Civil War historian Kevin Levin’s essay for the Daily Beast, because he lost a family member that day. All of us that have taught the survey US history classes struggle with getting the course even up to Reagan before the semester ends, so the challenge to be able to include 9/11 is very real. Yet if the world was truly changed that day (as we know it was), how can we fail to cover the topic with our students? Time to revise my lectures . . . again.

Health issues have suddenly become the latest craziness in this crazy election campaign. Of course this is not the first time that such issues have been a concern for the American people in regards to their presidents. The New York Times has a  “short history of presidential health,” from pneumonia to gunshots.  So does CNBC, as does the Washington Post. (I like the Post one the best).

The second of two lost ships that were involved in an ill-fated 1845 expedition to find the fabled “Northwest Passage” has been discovered. It has long been considered “among the most sought-after prizes in marine archaeology,” and was involved in the British attack on Fort McHenry in the War of 1812. There are no plans to bring the ship to the surface, but it appears to be “a perfect time capsule.”

Every day we lose more and more members of the WWII generation, and this past week we lost one of the more iconic ones. The woman in the famous Times Square VJ-Day “the kiss” photograph passed away at 92. Sadly, we are rapidly approaching a day when we will have no more of the WWII generation left. (As I do every semester with my students, I encourage you to talk to them now and get their stories down before it is too late).


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