Engraving depicting the trial of a witch at Salem, Mass.
The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
By TIME Staff
September 26, 2017

Whether or not American students know enough about their nation’s history — and what exactly should be included in any assessment of that question — has become a perennial school-year subject of debate. After all, in the most recent U.S. History installment of the so-called “nation’s report card” from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, only 18% of eighth graders surveyed scored a “proficient” or “advanced” score on the test.

But middle- and high-school students aren’t the only ones who sometimes slip up when it comes to American history. Ask historians about the matter and you’ll probably find that each has an experience with the persistent misconceptions that can dog any subject of study. The reasons are many: Some schools don’t have time to leave every student with an in-depth knowledge of the subject; the growth of the Internet has meant there are more ways to learn, but also more ways for errors to spread; and some errors are the result of new discoveries. And the errors are many, too.

With that in mind, TIME asked seven historians about the myths they often find themselves debunking — and where Americans’ understanding of their country’s history tends to be incomplete.

Compiled by Olivia B. Waxman


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