Nearly a third of would-be history teachers who apply to Stanford’s master’s in teaching program haven’t taken a single college history course, writes Sam Wineburg, an Stanford education professor, in the LA Times.
Among high school history teachers across the country, only 18% have majored (or even minored) in the subject they now teach.
In other subjects, the state of California requires subject-matter knowledge. “Yet with history, the theory goes, all you need is a big heart and a thick book” — and a “loosey-goosey ‘social science’ credential.”
To qualify to teach history in California (and in many other states), you can possess a major in almost anything — anthropology, psychology, ethnic studies. All you’ve got to do is earn the “social science” credential and pass a multiple-choice exam of historical facts.
Some teachers end up teaching history as a series of isolated facts, writes Wineburg. Even worse:
Lack of knowledge encourages another bad habit among history teachers: a tendency to disparage “facts,” an eagerness to unshackle students from the “dominant discourse” — and to teach them, instead, what the teacher views as “the Truth.”
The less the teacher knows, the more certain he or she is of the truth.
Wineburg is the author of Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts.