American Students Lack Basic Historical Knowledge

As a fan of history, and a strong believer that a key to progressing forward is a firm grasp of the past, this article in the Wall Street Journal concerns me. As a general plea, I’d just like to remind parents and teachers to take advantage of the wonderful resources we have in the state, including Conner Praire, the Indiana Historical Society, the Benjamin Harrison Home, the governmental and Civil War history in Corydon, etc.:

The results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress revealed that U.S. schoolchildren have made little progress since 2006 in their understanding of key historical themes, including the basic principles of democracy and America’s role in the world.

Only 20% of U.S. fourth-graders and 17% of eighth-graders who took the 2010 history exam were "proficient" or "advanced," unchanged since the test was last administered in 2006. Proficient means students have a solid understanding of the material.

The news was even more dire in high school, where 12% of 12th-graders were proficient, unchanged since 2006. More than half of all seniors posted scores at the lowest achievement level, "below basic." While the nation’s fourth- and eighth-graders have seen a slight uptick in scores since the exam was first administered in 1994, 12th-graders haven’t.

One bright spot in the data was the performance of African-American and Hispanic students in fourth and eighth grades. The average score of Hispanic fourth-graders jumped to 198 last year, versus 175 in 1994, which helped shrink the gap with their white counterparts. In eighth grade, black students improved to 250 points in 2010 from 238 in 1994. At the fourth-grade level, the gap between Hispanic and white students was 39 points in 1994 and 26 points in 2010. In eighth grade, the black-white gap narrowed to 23 points in 2010 from 28 in 1994.

The overall lackluster performance is certain to revive the debate about whether history and other subjects, such as science and art, are being pushed out of the curriculum because of the focus on math and reading demanded under the No Child Left Behind federal education law. The federal law mandates that students be tested in math and reading.

Enlist Now to Protect the Union at Conner Prairie!

By now, I would hope most Hoosiers have been to Conner Prairie in Fishers (an Indiana Chamber member and Indiana’s only Smithsonian affiliate) at least once. I remember when — as a fifth grader taking field trips there — my primary delight in visiting was focused on the rock candy in the gift shop. Now, as an adult, I’m happy to say that getting in touch with history is my main motivation — although I still partake in the sweeter rations found on the premises.

But beginning tomorrow, the award-winning interactive history park will turn a page in its long history, as the public is introduced to its latest (and permanent) exhibit: 1863 Civil War Journey. I’m proud to say I serve on a young professionals council for Conner Prairie, and was privy to a sneak peek of the $4.3 million project last week. To say I was impressed would be understating things.

I’ll spare you a lengthy prologue, but the exhibit tells the story of Morgan’s Raid of 1863, in which southern Indiana was invaded by the "rogue" general John Hunt Morgan and his 2,500 cavalrymen in their effort to capture the state for the Confederacy. In researching Civil War sites in the region, I actually discovered that, while we may view Morgan as a villain, Lexington, Kentucky features tours of his home, as well as a monument in his honor. And that in a city just a few hours drive from central Indiana — such a telling commentary on how perspectives in the Civil War could vary so greatly between such short distances.   

The exhibit combines live acting with visuals, videos and a remarkably interactive experience, and you simply must see it. The park’s staff has been hard at work on the promotional trail, invading Indy’s city market and gaining mentions both regionally and nationally. Ideally, the journey is for adults and children 10 years and up, and if you have a little one, they’ve also built a new playground in the area. If you’re a history buff or just a casual fan, you will get a great deal out of this. Hope to see you there — and wear yer fightin’ boots.

New Conner Prairie Exhibit Brings Indiana Civil War History to Life

Conner Prairie (Fishers), an Indiana Chamber member and an organization I’m proud to be affiliated with via its Horizon Council, just announced a new exhibit and massive undertaking launching in June. Though Indiana is not often thought of as a site for Civil War battles, anyone whose traveled to Corydon knows Hoosiers of the day were privy to one major scare courtesy of Confederate General John Hunt Morgan. Now, visitors can be part of an interactive experience telling the story of this event. The Indy Star reports:

A $4.3 million Civil War exhibit, unveiled Wednesday, is the museum’s newest way to present history.

The "1863 Civil War Journey: Raid on Indiana," opening June 4, will integrate technology with Conner Prairie’s first-person interpretation in an outdoor setting to create a new kind of guest experience focused on personal stories during the Civil War in Indiana. Conner Prairie’s largest exhibit, at 8,800 square feet, it will use projected images, video, theatrical sound, staging, hands-on experiences and live action to bring the drama of Civil War Indiana to life.

"It’s going to be an experience like none other in the country, and maybe even in the world," said Ellen Rosenthal, Conner Prairie’s president and chief executive officer.
The museum, on 850 acres at 13400 Allisonville Road, offers programs designed to engage and connect people of all ages and backgrounds with one another and the past.

The new exhibit will tell the story of Confederate Gen. John Hunt Morgan’s cavalry raid through Dupont during July 1863. The characters in the exhibit are based on real people who lived in Indiana during the Civil War when Morgan’s Raiders invaded.

"It’s the most important Civil War event ever to occur on Indiana soil," Rosenthal said.

The exhibit posed three challenges: to re-create Morgan’s raid with 2,500 cavalry over and over again daily, to make visitors feel part of the experience and to make the experience engaging for the entire family, not just for military history buffs.

Dan Freas, the museum’s vice president of guest experiences, said "Civil War Journey" doesn’t rely on an increase in staff.

"That’s where technology comes into play," he said. The exhibit incorporates theatrical wizardry that includes interactive video, special effects, lighting, sound and costumed interpreters "to provide that sense of excitement."

A Business Lesson on Timeliness and Aggression from the Civil War

What does the story of a lost note during the Civil War have to do with organizations gaining good customer feedback to make solid business decisions in today’s economy?

It’s true. We’re talking the Confederate army, Gen. Robert E. Lee, Antietam Creek, Union leader George McClellan and more. You will have to read the story in this BizVoice web exclusive to find out the connection.

Thanks to Indianapolis attorney and Civil War buff Mark A. Bailey for the intriguing tale and to consultant Ron Shaw for the analysis.