Stephen Sawchuk wrote an article for Education Week titled How History Class Divides Us (October 23, 2018). 

« A third of all Americans** cannot name a single branch of government. — Source: Annenberg Public Policy Center, 2018 Constitution Day Civics Survey »

« More than a third of Americans cannot name a specific right articulated in the 1st Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. — Source: Annenberg Public Policy Center, 2018 Constitution Day Civics Survey »

« A quarter of all students, and nearly half of all black students, had ‘below basic’ knowledge of civics, according to the 2014 Nation’s Report Card. — Source: National Center for Education Statistics »

« It’s easy to lose sight of the connection between what students learn in history and the civic ideals and values those topics communicate, especially since they tend to be treated as different disciplines in K-12 education. »

« Sam Wineburg, a professor of education and history at Stanford University, whose recent volume attempts to connect the dots between history education and citizenship [said,] “It is not popular to talk about in an era of identity politics, but history teaching in school has a civic purpose, not only a disciplinary purpose… “Americans can argue over different interpretations because history and civic issues are complex, and there are different ways to think about them,” Wineburg said. “But the basis has to be an agreement of what constitutes facts.” A sobering message from Wineburg’s more recent research, however, is that the ability to evaluate print sources critically doesn’t automatically translate into the online domain. » Wineburg is author of Why Learn History (When It’s Already on Your Phone).

« Sociologist James Loewen’s 1995 book Lies My Teacher Told Me… “They present history to get students to ‘learn’ it. They should help students learn how to learn history,” he said. “We aren’t just learning about the past to satisfy our curiosity—we are learning about the past to do our jobs as Americans.” »

« Countless historians have bemoaned that much of what students learn about their country is closer to mythology than to history. »

« Different curriculum efforts…. prioritize students doing the work of history, by putting primary sources at the center of the history classroom and having students grapple with those sources, often by using a provocative question as a starting point. In essence, this approach theorizes that the most effective history education isn’t dependent on a textbook with a narrative favoring those on the right or the left. Rather, it is helping students view history as an evolving tissue of stories and interpretations and to draw their own conclusions after weighing the evidence. »

« U.S. history teacher Brandy Reed… [says] “Stories change over time, and I want us to think about why.” »

« Another concern: the influence of postmodernist thought in much historical debate. In brief, it’s a notion borrowed from language theorists that no textual interpretation can be “privileged” above another. That, some historians say, might be fine for literature classes. But it’s disastrous in historical thinking and even more so in public life, where it presages the idea of “alternative facts,” to borrow a phrase that’s emerged in recent political discourse. »

« Take the original alternative fact in U.S. history: the Lost Cause, and how its mythology led to the ruinous teaching of the Civil War and the Reconstruction for more than a century. Texas’ 2010 standards misrepresented the causes of the conflict, listing sectionalism, states’ rights, and tariffs alongside slavery—even though the historical evidence is indisputable that slavery was the cause animating all the others. (The state school board has given preliminary approval to revise that language.) As several historians who testified at the Texas hearing pointed out, the consequences of keeping students ignorant of hard truths aren’t theoretical: They are civic in nature. »

« A history education rooted in facts, evidence, and well-argued positions might be a beginning step toward healthier, more productive, and more engaged citizenry. »

**[Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Chuck Schumer are among those who struggle to understand the most basic structure of U.S. government.]

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