Monday, November 26, 2012

Are students historically illiterate?

Pulitzer Prize winning historian David McCullough was asked to name five lessons American students need to learn about history before they graduate from high school.

McCullough said it changed his life when one of his history teachers in college told the class they were not responsible for dates or quotes because that is what books are for. The class, instead, was told to learn about what happened and why.

McCullough went on to say that history should be taught:
  • through the teaching of music, drama, art, architecture, and the like
  • by using a laboratory technique (trips to museums, historic sites, gathering information about buildings, statues,  etc.)
  • by using source documents  
Most compellingly, McCullough said the teaching of history should not be boring with the primary strategies for instruction being reading history books at home and listening to teacher lecturing in school.

In a recent 60 Minutes segment, he said that American students are, for the most part, historically illiterate. Furthermore, he said, "I don't feel any professional teacher should major in education. They should major in a subject, and know something..."

American philosopher George Santayana wrote, "Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it."


  1. I could not agree more with the fact that teacher's should major in a subject as opposed to education. Sure, have a minor or a concentration to teach things that need to be learned and can't be gotten any other way (although I bet some modification to the student teaching curriculum could absorb much of that), but the primary point should be to learn the subject you are going to be teaching. This has always seemed like a no brainer to me. I know I would rather have my student learning from someone with substantive knowledge. Not to mention it would often pose more of a challenge to many students (at least at my alma mater the education curriculum was one of the easiest) and therefore might help insure that kids are getting the best, the brightest, and the most able teachers.