Uncommon Sense

politics and society are, unfortunately, much the same thing

Do Irish students know more about American history than American students?

July 11, 2014 by Michael McShane

Well just a few weeks ago, thousands of Irish students sat for their leaving certificate exams, a set of exams that they must pass in order to graduate from high school. They also double as college placement exams. Students are required to sit for six exams (though most take seven and keep their six best scores). They must take English, Irish, and Math, and can then choose from a host of other subjects for their remaining three (or four) exams.

Students must simply pass their exams to successfully graduate, but to matriculate to college, they must acquire enough points for the university and major they are interested in pursuing. There are two levels of exams, “ordinary” and “higher.” Each ordinary level test has a maximum score of 60 points and each higher level test has a maximum score of 100 points.

The various programs and universities set different bars for admission. If, for example, you would like to study social science at University College Cork, you would need to amass 385 points. Want to enter the nursing program? 450 points. Finance? 475.

If you’re interested in studying at Trinity College, the top University in Ireland, the points are even higher. To study history, you need 465 points. Law? 530. Pharmacy? 565.

As a professional education researcher and amateur history buff, I love to learn what students around the world need to know about history, particularly if (and what) they need to learn about America.

Ireland’s leaving certificate exam for history offers a couple of “Document Based Questions” that those familiar with the AP test would recognize. Students have to read an original document and relate it to what they know about the history of the time.

But then, Irish students have to write a series of essays on a wide range of historical topics. For the “modern history” exam, the last section of the test offers a set of questions for each of six separate time periods: 1815-1871, 1871-1920, 1920-1945, 1945-1992 (Europe), 1945-1990 (Asia/Africa), 1945-1989 (The United States).

The “higher” level questions from that first section are a doozy. Students had to choose one from the follow four options:

What were the main political developments in the Germanic lands during the period 1815-1871?
Why was France politically unstable during the period 1815-1871?
What were the main social and economic developments in Europe, 1815-1871?
What were the key developments in one or more of the following during the period 1815-1871: science; technology; city planning?
Not too shabby. But I was most interested in the last section—the good old US of A.

They had to be able to answer one of the following four questions:

Why did race relations remain a major issue in the US, 1945-1989?
What were the strengths and weaknesses of Lyndon Johnson as a political leader?
What were the significant developments in the US economy, 1945-1989?
How did the Americans achieve a successful moon landing in 1969 and what was its importance for the US?

read full article: Do Irish students know more about American history than American students?

american, children, education, history, tragedy

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