It’s Presidents’ Day Monday, but whom the holiday is meant to honor depends on whom you ask. Even the placement of the apostrophe is open to question!
To the U.S. government and Virginia, the home state of George Washington, the holiday is recognized as “Washington’s Birthday.” Some states jointly celebrate the birthdays of George Washington, born Feb. 22, and Abraham Lincoln, born Feb. 12, while others honor Washington and Thomas Jefferson but not Lincoln. In some Southern states, all of the presidents are commemorated on Presidents’ Day.
The inconsistent approach to the holiday is echoed in the uneven way schools teach about the presidents. The study of presidents usually is done in the context of American history units — Washington during the Revolutionary War period and the birth of the United States or Lincoln during the Civil War, for example — without a dedicated look at the power and evolution of the executive branch.
The most recent results of students’ performance on civics exams on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, sometimes called the nation’s report card, revealed a continuing lack of knowledge about the nation’s past: On the 2010 test, only 2 percent of fourth-graders, 1 percent of eighth-graders and 4 percent of 12th-graders performed at the advanced level, which represents superior performance.
See how well you can do on our Presidents’ Day quiz. If you don’t do well, it’s time to hit the history books! Here are some Web sites that can help.