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Old 02-05-2008, 03:49 PM   #1
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High Schoolers Name Most Famous Americans In History

By Greg Toppo, USA TODAY

Here's a quiz: Get a pencil and paper and jot down the 10 most famous Americans in history. No presidents or first ladies allowed.

Who tops your list?


Ask teenagers, and they overwhelmingly choose African-Americans and women, a study shows. It suggests that the "cultural curriculum" that most kids — and by extension, their parents — experience in school increasingly emphasizes the stories of Americans who are not necessarily dead, white or male.

Researchers gave blank paper and pencils to a diverse group of 2,000 high school juniors and seniors in all 50 states and told them: "Starting from Columbus to the present day, jot down the names of the most famous Americans in history."

Topping the list: the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks and Harriet Tubman. Three of the top five — and six of the top 10 — are women.

Sam Wineburg, the Stanford University education and history professor who led the study along with Chauncey Monte-Sano of the University of Maryland, says the prominence of black Americans signals "a profound change" in how we see history.

"Over the course of about 44 years, we've had a revolution in the people who we come to think about to represent the American story," Wineburg says.

"There's a kind of shift going on, from the narrative of the founders, which is the national mythic narrative, to the narrative of expanding rights," he says.

Yes, but how does he explain No. 7: Oprah Winfrey?

She has "a kind of symbolic status similar to Benjamin Franklin," Wineburg says. "These are people who have a kind of popularity and recognition because they're distinguished in so many venues."

Joy Hakim, author of A History of US, says taking out the presidents "isn't quite fair" but concedes that the list isn't too shabby.

"I sometimes ask students to imagine themselves in a classroom 500 years from now. What will their teacher say about the 20th century? What were its lasting accomplishments? Of course, we don't know where future historians will focus, but I'm guessing that the civil rights movement and the incredible scientific achievements will be the big stories."

For what it's worth, when the researchers polled 2,000 adults in a different survey, their lists were nearly identical. To Wineburg, that shows that what's studied in school affects not just children but the adults who help them with their schoolwork.

The study acknowledges that the emphasis on African-American figures by the schools leaves behind not only 18th- and 19th-century figures but others as well, such as Hispanic icon Cesar Chavez, Native American heroes such as Pocahontas and Sacagawea and labor leaders such as Samuel Gompers and Eugene V. Debs.

At the same time, the study, scheduled to appear in the March issue of The Journal of American History, notes that teachers the researchers talked to while giving the quiz predicted that student lists would be top-heavy with entertainers and celebrities. Aside from Winfrey and Marilyn Monroe, entertainers appear "nowhere near the top" of the lists.

Dennis Denenberg, author of 50 American Heroes Every Kid Should Meet, says it's no surprise the civil rights era still resonates. "Since it so redefined America post-World War II, I think educators feel it's truly a story young people need to know about because we're still struggling with it," he says. "The Cold War is over and gone. The civil rights movement is ongoing."

Asked to name the most famous Americans in history, high school students put 20th-century black Americans in the top three slots. Here are the top 10, with the percentage who chose each:

1. Martin Luther King Jr.: 67%

2. Rosa Parks: 60%

3. Harriet Tubman: 44%

4. Susan B. Anthony: 34%

5.Benjamin Franklin: 29%

6. Amelia Earhart: 25%

7. Oprah Winfrey: 22%

8. Marilyn Monroe: 19%

9. Thomas Edison: 18%

10. Albert Einstein: 16%
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Old 02-05-2008, 03:55 PM   #2
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WTF? No Britney Spears? What about Lindsey Lohan or Paris Hilton? OMG!
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Old 02-05-2008, 04:04 PM   #3
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WTF? No Britney Spears? What about Lindsey Lohan or Paris Hilton? OMG!


you know what? when i read the title of this thread i thought that it was certainly going to be another article about how high schoolers knew everything about Britney but nothing about Benjamin Franklin or that Lohan had topped Lincoln.

what a pleasant surprise.
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Old 02-05-2008, 04:09 PM   #4
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I was pleasantly surprised too, especially that it isn't just a bunch of white males
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Old 02-05-2008, 04:11 PM   #5
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Didn't Robert Mapplethorpe make the list?

dbs
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Old 02-05-2008, 04:13 PM   #6
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Didn't Robert Mapplethorpe make the list?
Well isn't that bizarrely random and disjointed, dare I even ask?

Mitt didn't make the list
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Old 02-05-2008, 04:39 PM   #7
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I'm surprised Earhart made the list; I'm pretty sure I never learned about her in school. Other than that, I don't know that this list is that different from what me and my classmates would've come up with 20 years ago if asked to list "the 10 most famous Americans in history, no presidents or first ladies allowed."
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Old 02-05-2008, 04:47 PM   #8
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Well isn't that bizarrely random and disjointed, dare I even ask?

Mitt didn't make the list
Diamond is a big fan and collector of his work...
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Old 02-05-2008, 04:47 PM   #9
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Originally posted by BonoVoxSupastar


Diamond is a big fan and collector of his work...
Is it a line of hair gel?
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Old 02-05-2008, 04:50 PM   #10
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what a pleasant surprise.
We're smaht! We can do things! Not like everybody says ... like dumb.
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Old 02-05-2008, 05:13 PM   #11
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Originally posted by diamond
Didn't Robert Mapplethorpe make the list?

dbs


i knew you had a thing for well-endowed, beautifully proportioned African-American males.

i can't claim to have all those characteristics ... but, you know ...
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Old 02-06-2008, 12:35 AM   #12
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No Jefferson
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Old 02-06-2008, 10:41 AM   #13
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No Buzz Aldrin, that's BS and I'd tell it to 'em right to their face I swear to god I would.
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Old 02-12-2008, 07:32 PM   #14
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Amelia Earhart???
And no Lincoln or Kennedy??????
C'mon.
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Old 02-12-2008, 07:54 PM   #15
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Amelia Earhart???
And no Lincoln or Kennedy??????
C'mon.
Methinks you did not read the article.
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