The ignorance of youth

I get a bit irritated when I read those smug overseas news stories about how stupid American schoolchildren are about geography and history.
Hence it was not without a twinge of schadenfreude that I read this account of what British children think really happened on D-day:

It is 1899 and Denzel Washington, the American president, orders Anne Frank and her troops to storm the beaches of Nazi-occupied New Zealand.
This may not be how you remember D-Day but for a worrying number of Britain’s children this is the confused scenario they associate with the events of June 6, 1944.

But not all hope is lost:
There were some exceptions to the general ignorance. One teacher at Great Addington Church of England Primary school in Northamptonshire was amazed to find that one of his pupils had scored 100 per cent in the test.
He said: “I asked him how he knew material which we had not covered in school. He told me he had picked it up from a D-Day game he played on his computer.”

Hey, whatever works.



  1. Dave J

    As someone who was a historian before I became an attorney, and who still regards himself as such, I have to say I found that article profoundly depressing, maybe most especially this quote:
    “We look at issues that are relevant to children themselves. They learn about evacuation for instance, or the issuing of gas masks.”
    Arrrgh! They’re not going to be children forever, you idiot: it’s your job to do more than just babble about a few random “experiences” that, without any knowledge of the overall narrative, will seem like meaningless disconnected non sequiturs.
    Call me old-fashioned, but history IS names and dates, “kings and battles.” It’s not JUST that, of course, but you need that first, or it becomeess not history but what this and obviously too many teachers are engaging in: therapeutic edu-crat masturbation, primarily for their own rather than their students’ benefit.

  2. Sam

    “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”
    Better learn to don those gas masks, kiddies, for the next time the Blitz comes around. They’ll be huddled in London Tube tunnels avoiding the dropping bombs, yet won’t be able to understand why they get this sense of deja vu.

  3. Dave J

    Of that, I have little doubt, Alan. My comments, at least, while made in reference to this article specifically, are not directed only at the UK, but at the touchy-feely dumbing-down of teaching history in general.

  4. John Anderson, again

    “I asked him how he knew material which we had not covered in school. He told me he had picked it up from a D-Day game he played on his computer.”
    Not to be entirely facetious, should such “games” be allowed into the curricula as teaching aids? D-Day, the Roman empire, Build-your-own-city (if you have X funds, should you extend the sewer system another mile or bid for the Olympics?), build-your-own-empire (you are friendly with country A but country B is refusing to trade with you and threatening to invade country C which is important to your merchants/trade and A says it will not support your moving troops to help C – what do you tell A and how far should go to get its support? Invade B? How does this impact D which is run by your officials?), and others.

  5. roy edroso

    It’s a truism (and a Simpsons episode, which may amount to the same thing at this point) that immigrants with an interest in citizenship often know more about their adopted country than do the natives. So maybe we should require citizenship tests for everybody. Then students might treat geography and history as if they were important.
    On second thought, why would they care whether they’re citizens or not? Because they’d miss the privilege of choosing among lousy candidates who normally get nominated for office? Not likely.
    We have to make citizenship more appealing. Can’t guess how we’d do that. Give ’em all oxen, maybe.

  6. Alan K. Henderson

    Now here’s a guy who knows his history:
    “So this Jefferson dude was like, ‘Look, the reason we left this England place is ’cause it was so bogus. So if we don’t get some primo rules ourselves – pronto – then we’re just gonna be bogus, too.”
    Jeff Spiccoli (Sean Penn), Fast Times at Ridgemont High

  7. yobbo

    Don’t knock computer games as learning tools. Most of what I know of ancient history i learned from playing Civilisation…

  8. triticale

    About 15 years ago, I had an early version of Where in the World is Carmen Santiago running on my TRS Color Computer. My son and his friends had this real sneaky idea – they studied geography so as to cheat at the game.