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Gov. Mitch Daniels announced in October that a social studies category will be added to Indiana's statewide testing program for school children, known as ISTEP, for grades 4, 6 and 8 when the test moves to spring.
That subject had previously been totally ignored in the tests. But a national study released last month sponsored by Common Core, a new nonpartisan group pushing for the liberal arts in public school curriculums, indicates it's not a moment too soon to be adding this vital subject.
The study found that 57 percent of 1,200 students surveyed did not know that the Civil War was fought between 1850 and 1900. And 49 percent did not know that the controversy surrounding Sen. Joseph McCarthy was about his out-of-control search for communists in government and other important positions.
Why should we be concerned about those facts? As 18th century English statesman Edmund Burke said, "Those who don't know history are destined to repeat it."
A true study of history should, of course, be more than memorizing dates that events occurred. But if a majority of 17-year-olds don't even know in what half-century the Civil War occurred, chances are they also don't know what brought it about.
And lack of knowledge about McCarthyism might explain why many people today are not concerned about U.S. citizens' Constitutional rights being abridged by the Patriot Act or electronic eavesdropping without court warrants, both of which the Bush Administration says are necessary to fight terrorism.
According to USA Today, the study's "authors fear the nation's current focus on improving basic reading and math skills . . . might (give) short shrift to the humanities."
The Indiana Department of Education's Web site section about ISTEP and the high-school graduation requirement examination says, "Solid reading, writing and math skills are 'must haves' for a successful future."
We agree. But we think a basic knowledge of American history is also a necessity and should receive the same emphasis as the other subjects.
So we are glad to see that social studies (history and geography) will be added to ISTEP, though we would like to see it added to every grade's test from fourth grade up.
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