Here's the lede:
'We're raising young people who are, by and large, historically illiterate," David McCullough tells me on a recent afternoon in a quiet meeting room at the Boston Public Library. Having lectured at more than 100 colleges and universities over the past 25 years, he says, "I know how much these young people—even at the most esteemed institutions of higher learning—don't know." Slowly, he shakes his head in dismay. "It's shocking."So what's wrong with the way history is taught today? McCullough focuses on three things, teacher education, method, and political correctness:
He's right. This week, the Department of Education released the 2010 National Assessment of Educational Progress, which found that only 12% of high-school seniors have a firm grasp of our nation's history. And consider: Just 2% of those students understand the significance of Brown v. Board of Education.
Mr. McCullough began worrying about the history gap some 20 years ago, when a college sophomore approached him after an appearance at "a very good university in the Midwest." She thanked him for coming and admitted, "Until I heard your talk this morning, I never realized the original 13 colonies were all on the East Coast." Remembering the incident, Mr. McCullough's snow-white eyebrows curl in pain. "I thought, 'What have we been doing so wrong that this obviously bright young woman could get this far and not know that?'"
Answer: We've been teaching history poorly. And Mr. McCullough wants us to amend our ways.
One problem is personnel. "People who come out of college with a degree in education and not a degree in a subject are severely handicapped in their capacity to teach effectively," Mr. McCullough argues. "Because they're often assigned to teach subjects about which they know little or nothing." The great teachers love what they're teaching, he says, and "you can't love something you don't know anymore than you can love someone you don't know."This is, of course, what happens when the left takes over an institution, as they've taken over American education. History is not taught for the sake of helping students understand and appreciate their heritage, but rather as a means to indoctrinate them with a political or social agenda.
Another problem is method. "History is often taught in categories—women's history, African American history, environmental history—so that many of the students have no sense of chronology. They have no idea what followed what."
What's more, many textbooks have become "so politically correct as to be comic. Very minor characters that are currently fashionable are given considerable space, whereas people of major consequence farther back"—such as, say, Thomas Edison—"are given very little space or none at all."
The same thing is happening to some extent in the sciences. Students in many schools are taught about various environmental problems, often inculcated with left-wing political views in the process, and often at the expense of learning basic science. They're also often indoctrinated in Darwinian materialism regardless of the offense this might cause to the students', or their parents', deepest beliefs.
Literature classes are likewise often politicized. In many schools the classics are eschewed in favor of works which have a liberal socio-political message. Students in many cases are required to read novels that emphasize race, class, gender, or sexual orientation, but are never exposed, except superficially, to Shakespeare.
Perhaps as time goes on the pendulum will swing back to the side of common sense, assuming that we have time. Perhaps in time people will realize that the left has the Midas touch in reverse, pretty much vitiating everything it handles. Perhaps in time people will have had enough.