McCullough: No teacher should major in ed

Americans are “historically illiterate,” by and large, complains historian and author David McCullough in a 60 Minutes interview. When he speaks at universities, he meets bright, attractive, stunningly ignorant college students.

One young woman at a university in the Midwest came up to me after one of my talks and said that until she heard me speak that morning she’d never understood that the original 13 colonies were all on the East Coast. And I thought, “What are we doing that’s so wrong, so pathetic?” I tried it again at several other places, colleges and universities, same thing. . . . when I say our fault I don’t mean just the teachers. I mean the parents and grandparents. We have to take part. The stories around the family dinner table. I say bring back dinner if you want to improve how children get to know history.

What about the teachers? asks Morley Safer.

“We need to revamp, seriously revamp, the teaching of the teachers,” McCullough replies.

I don’t feel that any professional teacher should major in education. They should major in a subject, know something. The best teachers are those who have a gift and the energy and enthusiasm to convey their love for science or history or Shakespeare or whatever it is. “Show them what you love” is the old adage. And we’ve all had them, where they can change your life. They can electrify the morning when you come into the classroom.

One of the historian’s children, David McCullough Jr., is an English teacher known for his “you’re not special” commencement speech at Wellesley High in Massachusetts.

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