Students in this country don't know much about history. In the most recent National Assessment of Educational Progress, only 12 percent of high school seniors ranked as proficient in U.S. history, even though many of the questions were just a step up from, "When did the War of 1812 start?"
The organization hasn't given an exam yet in global history, but there's little reason to assume the results would be better. That's why it's alarming to many people that New York is considering letting some high school students skip the global history and geography Regents exam en route to graduation.
But the alarm is unwarranted. What's really going on is a laudable effort by the state Education Department to provide a more customized education in keeping with its emphasis on producing graduates who are ready for college or career.
The department proposes to create two new "pathways" to graduation, one for students who excel at science and math, and the other for students who choose a more vocationally oriented program imparting marketable 21st century skills.
Students on both these vitally important pathways would still have to take global history, with all the usual homework and tests. They'd just skip the Regents exam in favor of an assessment more appropriate to their path.
A young science and math wizard might substitute a Regents exam in physics, for instance. A student on the "career and technical" pathway, as the department calls it, might have to achieve certification as an aviation mechanic, computer networking specialist or medical lab technician.
But if something had to go, why the exam in global history? Well, year-end tests in math, science and English are federally mandated. That left only the exams in U.S. history and global history-geography. It's a shame to lose either, but the latter test is probably more expendable.
That said, it's imperative that global history and geography aren't allowed to fall by the wayside. These subjects have never been more important, since we've never before lived in a world -- or an economy -- so thoroughly interconnected. Our state is also more diverse than ever. With residents from all over the world right here on Long Island, it's important that each of us gain some understanding of other cultures and the history of other lands.
There are signs the state's educators understand this. For instance, the department proposes to take the overdue step of dividing global history and geography into two courses, each with its own Regents exam for those using it as a requirement. The subjects are now part of a single two-year course culminating in a Regents exam covering a period stretching back from the present to the Stone Age. Not surprisingly, students have a lot of trouble with a test of such sweep.
The key to the department's proposals will be creating two valuable additional paths to graduation by sacrificing only a test -- and not the underlying subject.