Thursday, February 21, 2013

Was our children learning?

One of my first posts on this blog (and the most viewed, according to Google) was about how knowledge of important historical figures grew between 1952 and 1975.  I recently discovered that the same questions had been asked in a British survey in 1955.  The percentages who could identify the figures were:

               US     UK          US
             1952   1955        1975
Beethoven     63     84          84
Raphael       30     39          35
Tolstoy       23     36          29
Freud         21     19          47
Aristotle     33     35          44
Rubens        15     37          24
Shakespeare   80     93          89
Karl Marx     32     43          41
Napoleon      66     76          58
Columbus      89     83          92

Avg           44     55          54
Avg*          30     42          43

*excluding Shakespeare, Napoleon, and Columbus




The average Briton in 1955 did considerably better than the average American in 1952, and slightly better than the average American in 1975, even though Americans had a lot more formal education.  According to estimates by Robert Barro and Jong-Hwa Lee, American adults averaged 8.5 years of schooling in 1955 and 11.4 in 1975, while British adults in 1955 averaged only 5.9 years.

If you omit people who had a direct connection with British or American history, 1975 Americans move in front, but just barely.  Compared to the British, the 1975 Americans were more likely to recognize Freud and Aristotle, but  less likely to recognize Rubens, Tolstoy, or Raphael. 



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