Require history courses

A recent study published in The Washington Post shows a mere 47 percent of high school seniors pass basic history competency tests. Among college graduates, many cannot identify basic historical events such as the Gettysburg Address or in what century the American Revolution took place. This is an alarming development, and the University should take measures to address this ineptitude.

The College of Liberal Arts requires that all students take math, science and historical perspectives courses along with other requirements in order to graduate. Many CLA students have majors that will never make use of math or science, but the University sees these courses as essential to a proportioned education. Yet the Institute of Technology and some majors in other colleges have no history requirements at all. This oversight likely contributes to the ignorance of college graduates in relation to history and needs to be remedied immediately.

Knowledge of history is essential to more than just becoming a well-rounded individual; it is necessary to creating functioning and well-informed members of a democratic society. Simply because disregarding history’s importance is seemingly a national trend does not mean the University should perpetuate it. As a forum of higher education, the University has a responsibility to ensure basic knowledge is imparted to all students. Lack of competency should lead to tougher standards, and all colleges and departments should share these. Upper-level political science courses are not necessary to vote responsibly. However, if upon graduation students don’t know what Watergate is, the likelihood of their taking a responsible role in politics or society is slim. And that is something that is detrimental to all citizens, whether lawyers or chemical engineers.

Historical perspectives courses provide students with the capability of making informed decisions. Young people today grew up in an era of peace and prosperity and cannot conceptualize the importance freedom of speech, attorney-client privilege and freedom of the press carry in our country. But if they are aware of the struggle previous generations underwent to secure these rights, they are more likely to know why they need to be so vigorously protected. Particularly with the current turn of events, and with President George W. Bush and Attorney General John Ashcroft signing away more civil liberties every day, students need awareness of the danger these actions present in order to combat it.

In failing to require historical perspectives courses of all graduates, the University is damning future generations to commit grave but avoidable blunders of the past. Clearly many in this country have already forgotten Joseph McCarthy and the price innocent civilians paid for his witch hunt, but its relevance now should be self-evident. It is a disservice to the country when University students graduate without a rudimentary concept of their past.