Missing history

World history starts in 1500 in Georgia’s new curriculum; U.S. history starts in 1876. Writing in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, a veteran teacher protests.

“The Iliad” and “The Odyssey” will not be mentioned. The development of democratic government in Greece and the fall of the Roman Empire will be skipped. Jesus, Muhammad, the Buddha and Confucius are not to be found in the new curriculum. Great civilizations like ancient Egypt will no longer merit study, and the concept of feudalism will not be discussed.

The present 11th-grade U.S. history course covers the Exploration period to today. In the proposed changes, teachers will spend two or three weeks discussing the foundation of our country, with the remaining time devoted to studying events from 1876 to the present. Gone is any mention of the Louisiana Purchase or Lewis and Clark. There will be no discussion of Indian removal and the Trail of Tears.

The Civil War? Not in high school. The missing history topics are supposed to be covered, more or less, in fourth through seventh grade.

Though teachers supposedly have no time to discuss topics essential to understanding our heritage, the curriculum suggests they have their students write a 1920s radio drama. Teachers are also encouraged to assign essays about dating in the Jazz Age and to show segments from “All in the Family,” “Good Times” and “Chico and the Man.”

The state superintendent says the old curriculum tried to cover too many topics. The new standards allow deeper learning of fewer things.

Such as the role of Chico and the Man in late 20th century television.

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  1. How in the world can one teach American History, in Georgia no less, without touching on slavery and the Civil War?

    As I read Joseph Jarrell’s opinion piece, I thought, “hmm, that reminds me of Japan, which is constantly criticized for its teaching of history, in particular Japan’s role in WWII.” I was amused to see this proud statement from the superintendent’s article: “They drew on the best practices from Texas, Michigan and North Carolina, and from nations such as Japan. (In fact, Georgia is the first state in the nation to adopt the highly successful Japanese-based math standards for its statewide curriculum.)”

  2. Mark Rose says:

    This is just absolutely horrifying. I don’t have much respect or love for my own experience as a student in public education, but we at least discussed things like ancient history and the Civil War, the latter of which could fairly be said to be the defining moment in our nation’s history.

    Kathy Cox has no business in education. And showing clips from “Chico and the Man”?? Great. So now not only are you dumbing down whatever level of education you once had, but you’re showing yourselves to the kids as totally out of date and completely irrelevant to boot. Nice job.

  3. Timothy Taylor says:

    The superintendent has one thing right. High school history can’t cover everything. Trying to do a complete history of the world back to 1000 BC, along with a complete history of the U.S. back to colonial times, is ludicrously broad and just isn’t going to happen. Personally, I’d settle for a decent grounding in main events of U.S. history back to colonial times and then a good overview of world events in the 20th century. Sorry, ancient Romans and Egyptians. Sorry, Buddha and Confucious. But at the high school level, you need to become elective courses.

  4. My kids (4th and 2nd grade) have already covered the Greeks, Romans, and Egyptians, as well as some Civil War and Revolutionary War. And they will get it all again in more depth as they get older. In fact, I bet they know more history than the above average GA HS graduate.

    Disclaimer – we homeschool.

  5. If there is a broad but one-inch deep problem, having looked just at the US history curriculum, it’s not really solved. The standards required are detailed and demanding – fitter for an undergraduate degree course, some of them:

    The student will discuss the ideas and ideals that influenced the Founding Fathers from previous models of government including John Locke, The Federalist Papers, the Enlightenment, and Ancient Greece and Rome.

    That’s an undergraduate degree course on its own!

    Whereas the stuff the students are supposed to do to achieve this remarkably sophisticated standard of knowledge can’t remotely achieve the objective, because they’re trivial, off the point or too damned difficult to do properly:

    Analyze neo-classical architecture in Washington DC and create a “tour guide” which describes the symbolism present in buildings in the Nation’s capital.

    The fact that Ms Cox and Co care so little about the document as to issue it with principals wrongly used for principles several times is perhaps indicative.

    I’m an American history addict – I blog about the stuff all the time. The 1876 cut off is dumb: the stuff Georgia proposes for the kids to do is much dumber.

  6. This is unbelievable.

    My kid is taking honors World History in high school. They are covering world history in much more depth than I ever did, Romans and all. It can be done.

  7. P.S. – she sez they just finished the Catholic Reformation and the test is tomorrow. And that the Pope recognized the Jesuits in 1540, the same year that Hernando DeSoto arrived at the Mississippi.

  8. Oh my god. No one remembers anything from 4th through seventh grades. This is mind-blowing. They would be better off assigning four years of history. Ancient/Modern and a US History up to 1900 then 1900-today. I’m going to go bang my head against a wall now.

  9. This isn’t quite as horrifying as I thought it was on first reading…at least they’re covering the earlier history in the primary grades…but it’s still pretty bad. How many people will remember much about ancient Greece from way back in the 3rd grade?

    What really disturbed me, though, were the comments from the superintendent of schools. She could have tried to make reasonable arguments for her program (like: remember how irritating it was to study Columbus in 3 different grades?). She chose instead to lecture everyone on how wonderful “change” is.

  10. Julia,

    “hmm, that reminds me of Japan, which is constantly criticized for its teaching of history, in particular Japan’s role in WWII.”

    I studied Japanese history IN Japanese when I was in high school. At least the Japanese don’t pick 1876 as a cutoff point! In fact, the course I did covered Japanese history from ancient times to WWII in one year. What was wrong with the way I was taught Japanese history wasn’t the timespan, but as you pointed out, the revisionism which isn’t limited to WWII – it extends to early Japan as well. Taking Japanese history again in English was at times quite a different experience.

    So no, I don’t think Japanese methods of teaching history influenced this new “standard” in any way. The influence is probably limited to math and – I’m guessing – maybe science.

  11. jeff_wright@sbcglobal.net says:

    The truth is there is an awful lot of history to learn and semesters tend to pass very rapidly. What’s needed is a history course in each semester of each grade 7-12. Coherent cirricula are also desperately needed. As it is, they’re all over the map. Teacher competence and knowledge beyond the rudimentary textbooks is also an issue.

    Teaching history to kids younger than about 12-years-old is, IMO, a waste of time, and I’m surprised that any responsible educator would suggest doing so.

    The problem is our society does not value history. It is also doesn’t really value reading and writing. We’re now hung up on math and science, with topics such as history being the losers. Colleges, and, increasingly, high schools, are being turned into trade schools. And we can’t get rid of electives, right? School might not be fun. So, it looks like history has to go.

    Anybody remember Santayana? No? That’s the problem.

  12. “We’re now hung up on math and science, with topics such as history being the losers.”

    American performance in math and science isn’t much to brag about either. So I’d say all of those subjects are losers.

    “It is also doesn’t really value reading and writing.”

    Without reading and writing, there can be no math or science OR history. If history should be phased out of schools before grade 7, why not put that energy into the basics (reading and writing) needed for ALL later subjects?

    I myself didn’t have any formal history classes until 7th grade, and I don’t feel any sense of deprivation. (I did, however, read about history on my own prior to that point.)

  13. We had social studies till 8th grade, which meant memorizing the three principal products of various countries — and each Canadian province. I was pleased to learn that Birmingham is the Pittsburgh of the South AND the Pittsburgh of England. Malmo is known for the manufacture of ball bearings. The three principal products of Manitoba are wheat, oil and . . . cattle, I think.

    On the flip side, there was less history then to learn. We never really made it past the Great Depression. There’d be one day for World War II and then review for the final.

    I loved to read history books and historical fiction, so I did OK.

  14. I was in Georgia public schools from 1980 – 1986. The one thing I remember about taking history in Georgia is that we never managed to make it past the Reconstruction. Heck, in Georgia history class (6th grade), I believe we skipped straight from the Civil War to Jimmy Carter.

  15. If schools bought into the Hirsch “Core Curriculum” notion, a lot of this stuff would begin in kindergarten and be a lot easier to teach come High School. Simple stuff like 1492 and Columbus sailing the ocean blue, Squanto the friendly Indian at the first Thanksgiving, Paul Revere yelling the Redcoats are coming, and the movie “1776” sings about how we got independence until Dolly Madison had to save the painting of Washington from the burning capitol, while Frances Scott Key watched the rockets red glare over the ramparts of Ft Henry, and how we fired our guns but the British kept a comin’, there wasn’t as many as there was a while ago, we fired once more and they began a running, down the Mississippi to the gulf of Mexico; and do you remember Sweet Betsy from Pike, who along with Kirsen of the “American Girls” books and Laura Ingalls Wilder moved out into those Louisiana Terrorities, in covered wagons until me and my mule Sal got the fifteen miles of Erie Canal and American Robert Fulton took an idea from Scotsman James Watt and put a steam engine on a riverboat for Mark Twain, and another on wheels so that John Henry the steel driving man went to working on the railroad all the livelong day … and how some black workers like John Henry were worked to death on plantations like “Addy” in the American Girls but a book called “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” by a lady named Stowe caused (according to a president named Lincoln) a Great War so that blacks were free to work for wages and not to death but times were still hard and

    we can DO American popular media culture in the schools and STILL do a good job teaching American

    Or, well, at least we can do so in HOMEschool. If parents can do it I suppose professional teachers can too.

  16. I was absolutely astonished when I read this. 3rd graders get ancient Greece – great! I’m sure most 3rd graders of today will be able to grasp the influence of ancient Greece on western civilization, no problem…It seems there are dissertations done on some of those very issues. I guess we shouldn’t be expecting any dissertations from kids educated in Georgia (on that or any topic, for that matter).

    That’s why we homeschool!

  17. Consider, as well, that for many citizens, High School history is their exposure to history, period. Many colleges don’t require history, and if they required some classes in history, they would assume that American history, and world history, would have been covered in high school.

    Looking at the US history curriculum (thank you, John Smith), it strikes me that the kids are “doing” a great deal.
    The time which could be spent extending the time range covered in class, is devoted to producing plays, or making posters. These kids are in Georgia, and it seems to me that a visit to a Civil War battlefield, or a replica of a nineteenth century plantation, would teach them more about their country and its history, than a unit spent on 20th century entertainment products.

    I can sympathize that slavery, the Civil War, and the treatment the Indians received are difficult and sensitive topics to tackle with adolescents, but schools can’t duck the issue by refusing to teach it.

  18. PJ/Maryland says:

    I have a degree in History, and I’m still unsure of the best way to teach it. It sounds like Georgia is really keen on “hands on” and multimedia stuff, which means there’s less time to cover the broad sweep of history. (No, I don’t think 4th graders will understand the broad sweep.)

    I remember in 7th and 8th grades, we always started at the Revolution, and never made it to WWII. We made Mohawk masks (or maybe Iroquois; this was in NY state) in the Fall, and I also remember the newspaper cartoons from the Gilded Age (1880s to 1900 or so). In high school we had one year of US history, which was pretty much from the Revolution to WWII; one year of European history, which I think started with the fall of Rome (and I don’t think made it to WWII); and a third year of “World History” which included Rome and China and I think India.

    When you think about it, there have to be gaps in what is taught. There’re 150 years between Plymouth Rock and the Declaration; how many events in there can you name?

    So, I can see Georgia’s problem, but I agree with most here that they’re handling it wrong. Let’s drop “Chico and the Man” and maybe even Jazz, and add back in the early Georgia colonists, the Revolution, slavery, and the Indians. Shoot, you could probably skip from Reconstruction to the Depression without too much trouble…

  19. excelsiorpoet says:

    Chris posted this: “My kids (4th and 2nd grade) have already covered the Greeks, Romans, and Egyptians, as well as some Civil War and Revolutionary War. And they will get it all again in more depth as they get older. In fact, I bet they know more history than the above average GA HS graduate”

    I applaud you for this. Basically, my thinking is that we should increase the intensity of secondary education by about ten-fold, then we could cover all these topics. But for that, more people have to leave corporate world and teach. And that is the problem, its just too lucrative in corporate worlds. So, homeschool or fight for higher teacher salaries, or expect more of the same, or less of the same whatever way you look at it.

  20. I can’t tell whether the recitation of Hirschian subject matter is serious or not. Surely we want to teach accurate history (as far as that is possible) apart from American Folk Myth (which is language arts).

    As far as history in the elementary grades, I think it should be done. The kids thrive on stories, and history is stories. My 2nd grader certainly loves coming home and telling me the bits she’s learning, and we’ve reinforced them with trips to historical places like Plymouth Rock, etc. She also LOVES Liberty Kids on PBS and really gets a kick out of connecting the cartoon with places she’s been.

  21. Every aspect of history should be taught over and over throughout an education. Everyone should learn about American history, world history, religious and political history, and cultural history (though Chico and the Man doesn’t deserve a starring role). It should be taught thematically: “The Rise of Individualism”, “The Age of Colonization”, “Democracy and its Roots”, etc. Subjects such as the Arab-Israeli conflicts, slavery, exploration, technology, and transportation should be explored. And it should be taught in every other possible way until the material is learned.

    I have often toyed with the idea that history should be taught backwards. It should start with today. Here we are; how did we get here? It would be hard to lose relevance (an argument made only by the lazy students and their allies in administrations) when everything is based on today. And the clueless can catch up easily.

  22. I agree that history can be taught well in the early grades. We’re following the classical model used by “The Well Trained Mind”, which recommends history be taught in three 4-year cycles. From http://www.welltrainedmind.com/historycenter.php:

    “You should begin any story at the beginning, and progress towards the end! So start studying history with ancient times, and move chronologically forward. We suggest that you divide history into four divisions:
    Ancients BC 5000 to 400 AD
    Medieval/Early Renaissance 400-1600 AD
    Late Renaissance/Early Modern 1600-1850 AD
    Modern Times 1850-Present Day

    and spend one year on each division. If you begin to do this in first grade, the student will study all of history three times: in elementary school; in greater depth in middle school; and, finally, by using original sources in the high school years.”

    There is a primary grade text for each year of the cycle, with coloring pages, maps, activity suggestions and lists of corresponding literature. We’re in the first cycle and I am amazed at how much my kids are picking up. They always look forward to their history lesson. And I am learning an amazing amount of history myself in the process.

    This history curriculum can be done in about an hour a week. Instead, schools insist on insipid “social studies” with time-consuming visits to the fire station and projects like cardboard replicas of the neighborhood. As if our kids might **horrors** reach adulthood and not know the function of the Blockbuster down the street.

  23. “So, homeschool or fight for higher teacher salaries, or expect more of the same.” We’ve already greatly raised teacher’s salaries since 1970, and got more of the same. The problem is, the unions strongly resist anything that distinguishes better and worse teachers, and the school boards have in general caved in to these demands. Until this changes, more money just gets you higher-paid deadwood.

    Of course, if the principals were former corporate managers, that lack of quality control would be considered intolerable…

  24. The fewer people learning history, the easier it will be for the “professional tinkerers’ to revise it.

  25. I am ashamed to be from Georgia after reading this. It almost makes me believe the conspiracy theories that the government is deliberately not teaching history to our children so they won’t even notice that their rights are being abridged. Thank God my husband and I love history, and it is a major topic of conversation every day in our home. We watch a lot of History Channel programs and encourage our kids to read history, both fictionalized and nonfiction. The two of our kids who are still in public school still have a fighting chance to know something of the past.

  26. jeff wright says:

    5{32-year-old daughter about this today, when she came down to watch the Super Bowl. I was a little surprised at her response. This kid is a manager in a leading bio-tech outfit (dual degrees in science) and, although I knew I was hopeless in dealing with her on science topics, I always figured I had a leg up on her in history. Wrong. She still remembers a lot of her high school history and she also believes her high school did well by her (in Maryland). She also took three history or civilization courses in college (private school in Florida) and really knows the stuff. (I really didn’t know)

    She laughed at Georgia, saying she wasn’t surprised at all. She knows something about Georgia because her college roommate (Florida) is now in Atlanta and she’s visited several times. She was in her roommate’s wedding last June, in Atlanta, and when she came back, remarked on what a strange experience it is to travel to Georgia from California. My daughter’s roommate is now pregnant and she intends to alert the roommate to this move on the part of the state of Georgia. Quote: “That girl’s got to get out of there.”