I like to ask some survey questions on the final exam for my history classes. This year I received responses from eleventh grade Advanced Placement US History students and eleventh grade Cambridge US History students.
The questions were:
- What has been the most significant historical event to happen in your lifetime?
- Of the different historical eras studies this year, which do you feel was the most important and relevant in shaping your life and your future?
- What do you feel are the most pressing challenges that your generation will face in the next 20-30 years?
The results are eye-opening.
The election of Barack Obama was important, but 9/11 still looms largest over the lives of our young people by a wide margin.
In this area, there was an interesting breakdown by race. For Hispanics, the election of Barack Obama was foremost on the minds of more students than was 9/11, the only group for which this was so. Few white/other students, mentioned the election of Obama. Only one student mentioned Hillary Clinton running for president. Her response was not in reference to the 2008 election, but rather the 2016 election.
There was great diversity when it came to question two. The top three eras that students considered the most relevant were the Civil Rights Movement, the 1920’s and the Great Depression. Of which, the Civil Rights Movement was the most significant.
Again, there was a clear racial component.
When it came to the most pressing challenges, the economy was clearly the number one concern. The number two concern, however, was very surprising…
By “Technology” students expressed concern that technology would “take over.” Others believed that the ubiquity of technology in our lives would make us more complacent and lazy. Some suggested a fear that this technology could be used against us, or that it would ultimately fail us at some point.
Students were concerned about many other challenges, from health care to fossil fuel consumption to crime. Some students believed that political apathy was something to be concerned about. There were some who expressed their disdain for political corruption. However, none of the other categories stood out as being of significant concern to large numbers of kids. If passing on the national debt to our children is of importance to a significant part of the adult population, the youth are not particularly concerned. Only two students suggested that the debt was a major challenge. Nor were many students particularly concerned about the state of education.
The data above was taken from fifty-four AP students. There was little differentiation with regard to gendered opinions, so that data was not included. It cannot be assumed that the interests of AP students are representative of the school or the community as a whole. Still, I think it’s informative. Many of these students are our future leaders.
Next post will elaborate the data collected from the Cambridge students. The Cambridge curriculum is different from that of AP. It’s important to realize that having gone through these classes may motivate the students’ perceptions. For instance, I may have given greater weight to the Civil Rights Movement in my AP class than I gave to, say the 1920’s or to the Great Depression, hence their responses to question 2. However, the Civil Rights Movement is not covered in the Cambridge curriculum.