top of page
  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

We're not that far apart on how to teach our history

The "history wars" are a fight between "imaginary enemies" concludes More in Common, after surveying Americans. "Both Democrats and Republicans alike grossly overestimate whether members of the opposing party hold extreme views," creating a "perception gap."

Most people agree that schools should teach about racism and slavery, while also teaching about our founding principles and leaders, writes Seth Moskowitz, an associate editor at Persuasion. A large majority "agree that teachers should not bring their personal political beliefs into the classroom and that students should not be made to feel personally responsible for the actions of previous generations."

Most (83%) of Republicans say that want students to "learn about slavery, Jim Crow, and segregation” and even more (93%), agree that “Americans have a responsibility to learn from our past and fix our mistakes.”

However, Democrats guessed that only 35 percent of Republicans would agree with these statements.

On the flip side, "Republicans will say that Democrats want to erase the achievements of our Founding Fathers and make students feel personally responsible for the mistakes of past generations."

But that's not so: 83% of Democrats believe that “students should not be made to feel guilty or personally responsible for the errors of prior generations,” and 92% agree that “all students should learn about how the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution advanced freedom and equality.”

The far left and the far right, who vehemently disagree, make up only about 15 percent of the population, writes Moskowitz. "The vast majority of Americans want students to be taught a curriculum that includes the good parts of the country’s history as well as the bad, that treats historical events and figures as multi-dimensional, and that doesn’t teach students to feel guilty on behalf of previous generations."

Sarah Schwartz writes about the same survey on Ed Week. Her take is that Americans disagree, but not that much.

As she's reported previously, surveys show "most U.S. adults want teachers to focus on both the triumphs and the dark chapters of American history." People do disagree on "how much focus to devote to each, and what lines to draw between the past and the present," Schwartz writes. But it's a debate, not a "war."

154 views3 comments


Dec 14, 2022

I suspect that the devil is in the details about how history should be taught, not that the both the good and bad of American history happened. I don't know enough American history to give examples, but I do know something about the history of chemistry.

Good way: The Phlogiston theory of burning is an interesting, but possibly necessary step in determining how things burn.

Bad way: Those ancient scientists were so dumb that they believed in phlogiston and that it affected how things were burning. I question whether they should be called scientists.

Dec 14, 2022
Replying to

Bad: Jefferson was just a slave owner.

Good: Jefferson was a slave owner but also signed a bill banning the slave trade in 1808 and originally had 2 grievances in the Declaration of Independence criticizing slavery (later removed).

Problem is that many teachers only know or teach the first one but rarely the second.


Dec 13, 2022

I'd like to see that poll done on teachers, and compare their views with the public of each party. What do teachers think is important to teach?

Ann in L.A.

bottom of page