Our View: Kentucky needs a history lesson

The Bluegrass State was almost the worst performer in the nation on a recent American history survey conducted by the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation.

Only 1 percent of Kentuckians who participated in the 41,000-person survey scored an A (90 percent or better), while 71 percent of Kentuckians got an F. Only Louisiana had more F’s at 73 percent. Only three other states had 1 percent get an A: North Dakota, South Dakota and New Mexico.

A total of 29 percent of Kentuckians got a passing grade — if you count a D as a passing grade: 6 percent got B’s; 11 percent got C’s; and 11 percent got D’s.

Sitting above Kentucky with a 70-percent failure rate is Arkansas; then Alabama and Mississippi at 69 percent; Georgia at 67 percent; West Virginia and South Carolina at 66 percent; and Alaska at 65 percent.

The survey results don’t look all that good for any state — only Vermont had a majority of participants score a D or higher. Even in that best-performing state, only 4 percent got A’s and 47 percent failed.

Other top-performing states were Wyoming (51 percent failed), South Dakota (52 percent), Montana (53 percent) and Virginia (54 percent).

Nationwide, only 15 percent knew when the Constitution was written (1789) and only 25 percent knew how many amendments there are (27). One in four didn’t know that the First Amendment guarantees freedom of speech; and a solid majority (57 percent) didn’t know Woodrow Wilson was president during World War I.

“Unfortunately, the Woodrow Wilson Foundation has validated what studies have shown for a century: Americans don’t possess the history knowledge they need to be informed and engaged citizens,” said Arthur Levine, president of the Woodrow Wilson Foundation, in a news release about the survey.

The survey results are embarrassing — especially for a country that has put so much stock in its history. But the problem goes beyond embarrassment; the survey results reveal a nation incapable of governing itself with any perspective.

You cannot understand where you are going if you don’t know where you have been. Understanding the past gives us the experience and knowledge necessary to understand what is going on now, and what kinds of choices now will help us do better in the future.

Without that historical context, we’re more likely to make the wrong moves, make rash decisions, repeat mistakes or even be tricked and manipulated.

Kentucky and the nation can and should do better at knowing and understanding our history. It will be important for our future.