Ron Augustine: The History Education Our Economy Needs






Mr. Augustine, a former Under Secretary of the Army, is the retired Chairman and CEO of Lockheed Martin.

In the spirit of the new school year, here’s a quiz for readers: In which of the following subjects is the performance of American 12th-graders the worst? a) science, b) economics, c) history, or d) math?

With all the talk of America’s very real weaknesses in the STEM subjects (science, technology, English and math), you might be surprised to learn that the answer—according to the federal government’s National Assessment of Educational Progress—is neither science nor math. And despite what might be suggested by the number of underwater home loans, high-school seniors actually fare best in economics.

Which leaves history as the answer, the subject in which students perform the most poorly. It’s a result that puts American employers and America’s freedoms in a worrisome spot.

But why should a C grade in history matter to the C-suite? After all, if a leader can make the numbers, does it really matter if he or she can recite the birthdates of all the presidents?

Well, it’s not primarily the memorized facts that have current and former CEOs like me concerned. It’s the other things that subjects like history impart: critical thinking, research skills, and the ability to communicate clearly and cogently. Such skills are certainly important for those at the top, but in today’s economy they are fundamental to performance at nearly every level. A failing grade in history suggests that students are not only failing to comprehend our nation’s story and that of our world, but also failing to develop skills that are crucial to employment across sectors. Having traveled in 109 countries in this global economy, I have developed a considerable appreciation for the importance of knowing a country’s history and politics....



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