‘They are convinced that slavery was an American problem.’
Kate Hardiman – University of Notre Dame: For 11 years, Professor Duke Pesta gave quizzes to his students at the beginning of the school year to test their knowledge on basic facts about American history and Western culture.
“Most of my students could not tell me anything meaningful about slavery outside of America. They are convinced that slavery was an American problem that more or less ended with the Civil War, and they are very fuzzy about the history of slavery prior to the Colonial era. Their entire education about slavery was confined to America.”
The most surprising result from his 11-year experiment? Students’ overwhelming belief that slavery began in the United States and was almost exclusively an American phenomenon, he said.
“They cannot tell you many historical facts or relate anything meaningful about historical biographies, but they are, however, stridently vocal about the corrupt nature of the Republic, about the wickedness of the founding fathers, and about the evils of free markets.”
“Most of my students could not tell me anything meaningful about slavery outside of America,” Pesta told The College Fix. “They are convinced that slavery was an American problem that more or less ended with the Civil War, and they are very fuzzy about the history of slavery prior to the Colonial era. Their entire education about slavery was confined to America.”
“Most alarmingly, they know nothing about the fraught history of Marxist ideology and communist governments over the last century, but often reductively define socialism as ‘fairness.’”
— Professor Duke Pesta
Pesta, currently an associate professor of English at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh, has taught the gamut of Western literature—from the Classics to the modern—at seven different universities, ranging from large research institutions to small liberal arts colleges to branch campuses. He said he has given the quizzes to students at Purdue University, University of Tennessee Martin, Ursinus College, Oklahoma State University, and University of Wisconsin Oshkosh.
The origin of these quizzes, which Pesta calls “cultural literacy markers,” was his increasing discomfort with gaps in his students’ foundational knowledge.
“They came to college without the basic rudiments of American history or Western culture and their reading level was pretty low,” Pesta told The Fix.
Before even distributing the syllabus for his courses, Pesta administered his short quizzes with basic questions about American history, economics and Western culture. For instance, the questions asked students to circle which of three historical figures was a president of the United States, or to name three slave-holding countries over the last 2,000 years, or define “capitalism” and “socialism” in one sentence each.
Often, more students connected Thomas Jefferson to slavery than could identify him as president, according to Pesta. On one quiz, 29 out of 32 students responding knew that Jefferson owned slaves, but only three out of the 32 correctly identified him as president. Interestingly, more students— six of 32—actually believed Ben Franklin had been president. Read the rest of this entry »