Wednesday, March 02, 2005

History teachers need not know history

Sam Wineburg, a professor in Stanford's School of Education laments that nationwide less than a fifth of high school history teachers majored (or even minored) in history.

Whatever happened to NCLB's highly qualified requirement?

Imagine this: Nearly a third of the students who apply to Stanford's master's in teaching program to become history teachers have never taken a single college course in history. Outrageous? Yes, but it's part of a well-established national pattern. Among high school history teachers across the country, only 18% have majored (or even minored) in the subject they now teach.

Ignorant teachers are boring.

History courses made up of all facts and no interpretation are guaranteed to put kids to sleep. And that's exactly what seems to be happening. In a national survey some years ago, 1,500 Americans were asked to "pick one word or phrase to describe your experience with history classes in elementary or high school." "Boring" was the most frequent answer.
Ignorant teachers fall prey to ideological dogmas.

Lack of knowledge encourages another bad habit among history teachers: a tendency to disparage "facts," an eagerness to unshackle students from the "dominant discourse" — and to teach them, instead, what the teacher views as "the Truth." What's scary is the certainty with which this "Truth" is often held. Rather than debating why the United States entered Vietnam or signed the North American Free Trade Agreement or brokered a Camp David accord, all roads lead to the same point: our government's desire to oppress the less powerful. It is a version of history that conjures up a North Korean reeducation camp rather than a democratic classroom.

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