David McCullough, quoted in the WSJ (in an article about the gentleman):
'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."
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.
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."
This topic has long been a hot-button here at EIP (yeah, I know: it's but one among many. But that's what geezers DO, Gentle Reader). I'll trot out my objections, rant, rave, and otherwise bemoan the woeful state of the citizenry's historical knowledge every danged time I take one of those current events and/or historical knowledge quizzes, and I've been doing so ever since we created EIP. So, yeah: more o' the same.
That said, I'm SO very grateful that I received a decent high-school education, long before the advent of politically correct textbooks and the proliferation of This-And-That Studies. Dead White Men had a lot of good things to say and I'm MOST grateful that educators of my youth realized that, and for the fact they insisted I learn those things.
So, at the risk of preaching to the very small but excellent choir here: RTWT. All isn't lost, yet. There's still hope as long as people like Mr. McCullough continue to speak out and people like YOU continue to listen.