High School Students Not Interested in Studying Cold War

FOR RELEASE: Tuesday, November 5, 2019
CONTACT: Patrick Riccards (@Eduflack) | [email protected]| (703) 298-8283


Survey Results Point for Need to Provide More Support to Educators, Says Woodrow Wilson Foundation

PRINCETON, NJ (November 5, 2019) – As the world prepares to mark the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall on Nov. 9, 21 percent of U.S. high school students say the Cold War is not very or at all important to learn about or don’t know if it’s important, according to a Woodrow Wilson American History Initiative poll. Twenty-two percent of high school students also say it is not relevant to study the Cold War to understand today’s world, a finding the Initiative says reinforces the need to build on the successful HistoryQuest Fellowship professional development program.

However, the Cold War era still beats the Progressive Era in terms of importance, according to today’s teens; they rated the years from 1880 to 1914 the lowest in importance of all the historical periods.

Fewer than a third of students say that social studies will be very important for them when they are out of school, while more than half of high school students say that English will be very important. High school seniors are most likely to say that social studies will be very important. Urban students and 12th graders are most likely to say history is important to understand current events, and Hispanic students are most likely to say history is important to be a responsible citizen.

Rajiv Vinnakota, president of the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation said, “The pictures from the Berlin Wall three decades ago are still sharp in the minds of adults, because it signaled the hope for a new era of freedom and openness. The Cold War is staggeringly important to the current world and national dynamics and we must do a better job of offering professional development to more middle and high school American history teachers so that students can understand those dynamics.”

In this regard, Vinnakota points out that the HistoryQuest Fellowship uses the power of games, play, and digital tools to transform both teacher practice and student engagement. All Fellows are first nominated by their school districts and then chosen through a rigorous selection process launched by the Woodrow Wilson Foundation last year. Each HistoryQuest Fellow attends a six-day summer intensive, then participates in a 10-month follow-up program that includes additional workshops as well as individual coaching.


Additional research previously conducted by the Woodrow Wilson Foundation found only one in three Americans (36 percent) can actually pass a multiple-choice test consisting of items taken from the U.S. Citizenship Test, which has a passing score of 60. In Vermont, the highest-performing state, only 53 percent of the people were able to earn a passing grade for U.S. history. People in every other state failed; in the lowest-performing state, only 27 percent were able to pass.

Teens are able to correctly answer some key questions directly from the U.S. Citizenship Test, outperforming other generations. For instance, high school students are more likely to know the answers to the questions about original states and the Federalist Papers than adults nationwide. However, adults were more likely to identify the correct number of Supreme Court Justices, another citizenship question. Still, 85% of high schoolers report they received As or Bs in social studies.


Lincoln Park Strategies conducted the online survey of 1,000 high school students from September 9-17, 2019. The results were weighted to ensure proportional responses and mimic the number of high school students within the United States. The margin of error is ±3.1 percent at the 95% confidence level.

About the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation
Founded in 1945, the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation (www.woodrow.org) identifies and develops the nation’s best minds to meet its most critical challenges. The Foundation supports its Fellows as the next generation of leaders shaping American society.


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