Don't know much about history

American students don’t know much about history, writes Robert Holland for the Lexington Institute.

In the most recent round of the National Assessment of Educational Progress, only one fourth of American schoolchildren tested as proficient in their knowledge of U.S. history.

Only a small minority of history teachers have majored in history, Holland writes.

. . . history is often tucked under the umbrella of social studies – a mishmash of everything from global studies to sociology, in which critical figures and lessons from American history are often overlooked. Indeed, in some cases, it is possible to gain certification as a social studies teacher without having studied any history.

However, Holland praises the Teaching American History Grant Program, adopted in 2001, which has enabled schools “to partner with colleges, libraries, museums, and nonprofit history and humanities organizations to enhance history teachers’ knowledge and appreciation of American history.”

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  1. superdestroyer says:

    One of the things to remember is that in some states, the sports coaches have to be teachers. Thus, history becomes the area where schools place the sports coaches. Texas is a good example. If one does not play sports or plan on sponsoring a club, then it is very hard to find a history teaching job in Texas.

  2. SD, social studies is a saturated market everywhere, so being willing to sponsor a club or coach a sport is essential to finding a job in every state. The same holds true for English teachers. In many cases, prospective teachers who actually get jobs know this, get appropriate experience, and mention in the interview that they would be absolutely delighted to coach/sponsor just about anything. It has nothing to do with finding a slot to place coaches, not to mention that many states don’t require coaches to be teachers at all.

  3. This makes me weep.

  4. Richard Aubrey says:

    Does the ed establishment consider this a feature or a bug?
    It’s easier to get people to repeat the errors of history if they’ve never heard of the errors of history.

  5. Kevin Smith says:

    I think one big problem is the lack of a history component to NCLB testing. Our middle school that feeds into the high school I teach at essentially ignors history because all they get tested on is reading and math. Until the state (NC) added a state level science test for Middle and Elementary grades science was in the same boat. Our students would arrive at high school having to pass two history state level tests and at least two science tests having never actually studied history or science before.

  6. First, the standard is pretty absurd: majoring in history? I majored in English a billion years ago, and am certified to teach history and math in addition to English. I currently teach all three (60% math). I had to pass a test in all three subjects that was not easy. Although I don’t know what the cut scores are, I know that I answered “most questions correctly” in all history, English, geometry,and algebra sections on all tests. (I answered “some” questions correctly in calculus, my weakest subject because I don’t get to teach it much.)

    I knew many history majors at ed school, some of whom said they were “afraid” to lecture because their subject knowledge simply wasn’t that strong. I teach an APUSH and Subject test prep course that is two plus hours of full lecture every week for ten weeks. I do it extemporarenously, without notes. I could easily score an 800 on the Subject test and a 5 on the AP tests in both US and European/World history.

    So, you know, spare me the nonsense about the importantance of a history major. History degrees these days don’t involve all that much of a wide span of history.

    THe real problem has nothing to do with sports coaches or anything else, but rather that most history teachers are far more interested in proselytizing than they are communicating the facts and reasons of history. Go find a US history teacher and chances are high that he or she will sneer about the “boring” founding fathers and talked about how much time he or she spent on the civil rights movement.

  7. Oh, and one more point: Americans have been weak in their knowledge of history for all of the country’s history. It’s nothing new.

  8. Richard Aubrey says:

    I did spend time in the civil rights movement. Forty-plus years ago.
    If I were a teacher, I’d be retired. As would be/are most of my Mississippi colleagues.

  9. Most of the SS teachers I had in HS new mostly about the history of getting high.

  10. Richard,

    It surely is obvious from my post that I’m talking about classtime.

  11. Go find a US history teacher and chances are high that he or she will sneer about the “boring” founding fathers and talked about how much time he or she spent on the civil rights movement.

    I’m fairly certain you are wrong.

  12. Richard Aubrey says:

    Cal. Obvious point is that anybody who did civil rights work is already retired and anybody who’s teaching and claiming they did is probably lying.

  13. Roger Sweeny says:

    Everybody, Cal talked about teachers spending time on the civil rights movement, not in, it.


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