Children's museums and social-studies mush

National Children's Museum
The boring National Children's Museum could be considered a by-product of our nation's poor social-studies standards.
Photo from In The Air.

The so-called “National Children's Museum” that recently opened in Washington has already been panned in the Washington Post as a feeble excuse for a national anything—and a bore for kids.

No, I haven't been there myself—and based on that review will not hasten to take my granddaughters. But a friend recently took her young children, and this commentary makes a link that hadn't occurred to me but turns out to be painfully plausible:

“A couple weeks ago my family went to the new ‘National’ children's museum. The whole small place felt like the sad outworking of too many years of mushy social-studies standards.  No structured content, just a mish mash of world culture with clothing and food prep, etc., focusing on their place in the world, neighborhoods, even a bunk bed to understand...not sure what.”

Fordham has been reviewing state social-studies standards (well, history standards) for fifteen years now and has never found more than a few bright spots—that is, states that have done a good job of organizing their academic expectations for this key subject. South Carolina, for example, has handled both U.S. and world history exceptionally well. But most state standards in this field are dismal, and the effort now underway to develop some version of national standards for social studies is off to a dreadful start.

We know, of course, that rigorous standards do not necessarily lead to well-educated children in history or any other subject. But we also know (see the latest NAEP results) that U.S. students know precious little about the history of their own country, much less anybody else's.  (One wonders how much sense an historically illiterate person can make out of the superb new Lincoln movie.) The schools plainly aren't doing the job. The states aren't making the schools do the job. We shouldn't have to leave it to museums to do this job. And that's probably just as well, considering that the newest museum aimed at children, though purporting to be "national," is not going to teach them much history—or, apparently, anything else.

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