Those Who Fail To Learn From History . . .

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Recasting History: Scholarly Study Finds that Race, Class, and Gender Studies Crowd Up University American History Classes

This week the Texas legislature is kicking off its 83rd session in Austin. The funding of public education in the state will be a hot topic as it always is, but this session, the content of public education will be worth a look. The National Association of Scholars today released the findings of a study into the contents of university-level history teaching at two of Texas’ (and the nation’s) most highly regarded public universities, the University of Texas at Austin and Texas A&M University, in Bryan-College Station.

Specifically, the NAS looked at the syllabi and reading assignments of classes at both universities, in 85 sections of lower-division American history courses. These classes covered the state requirement, passed by the legislature in 1971, that all undergraduate students at Texas public institutions take two American history courses. What the NAS study found is very disturbing.

The study found that U.S. history courses at both universities strongly emphasize race, class, and gender (RCG) in reading requirements. Fully 78% of faculty members at UT emphasize race, class, and gender, while 50% of faculty members at Texas A&M do the same. Likewise, 78% of UT professors have special research interests in RCG, while 64% at A&M do too.

The study contends that the strong emphasis on RCG crowds out other relevant themes in American history, such as the nation’s intellectual, military, spiritual, and economic history. The emphasis on RCG studies also influences a further narrowing of history subject matter and the tailoring of “special topics” courses, which omit the use of significant primary source documents. These narrowed-focus classes, the study finds, “seem to exist mainly to allow faculty members to teach their special interests.”

The effect: Students at two of Texas’ flagship universities are not being assigned to study such important and influential milestones as the Mayflower Compact or President Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address. “Only one faculty member,” the study finds, “assigned the ‘Letter from a Birmingham jail’” or Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America. Major historical figures, from John Dewey to Alexander Graham Bell to Thomas Edison and the Wright brothers, are increasingly being left out of American history courses at both universities. The result of this is that we are losing touch with our history, replacing it with an overemphasis on grievances.

“These trends extend beyond the two flagship Texas universities,” the study report says. “History departments at other universities around the United States share similar characteristics, such as faculty members’ narrow specializations; high emphasis on race, class, and gender; exclusion of key concepts; and failure to provide broad coverage of U.S. history.”

The National Association of Scholars proposes 10 remedies to correct the imbalance of U.S. history teaching in universities. Those remedies include instituting external reviews to ensure that professors are not narrowing history classes down to their particular field of interest, and depoliticizing the teaching of history. “Historians and professors of United States history should counter mission creep by returning to their primary task: handing down the American story, as a whole, to future generations.”


As you probably know, I majored in history. I can attest to the fact that there is a whole lot of it out there. No one person can possibly learn it all. If you have 85 different sections of lower division United States history, some of those will be very narrowly focused.

We teach history in K-12 schools. Then we teach it again in college. Even so, most people don’t seem to retain very much of it. Part of the reason for that is we teach it so badly. History is not about memorizing a bunch of names and dates. It’s our story. It tells us who we are and how we got here.

All college students should take the basic two semesters of U.S. history survey class to get a basic knowledge of the chronology and major events from colonization up to the present. After they have acquired a basic knowledge of U.S. history they should take a few semesters of some more narrowly focused history courses.

Everything has a history. Geology and geography are the history of the Earth. You can study the history of math and science. I once attended a lecture on the history of eucalyptus trees in California, and believe it or not it was a lot more interesting than it sounds.

History textbooks tell us that Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin in 1793. But the important fact there is not who or when, it’s what, why and how. It doesn’t really matter who invented the cotton gin. The exact year it was invented isn’t important either. The thing that matters is what a cotton gin is, why it was important and how it affected history.

Part of teaching history is making it real. I was born in 1960. I will turn 53 years old this April. Imagine if I had been born in 1860 instead.

There would be some similarities. I would have been born at the beginning of a war that traumatized the nation. I would have been a young child when a president was assassinated. I would have lived to witness a stolen presidential election. I would have turned 53 in 1913 – a very different time from when I was born. If I made it into my 70’s I would have witnessed WWI, the Roaring 20’s, prohibition and the Great Depression.

Now imagine if I lived through that same era, but I was a woman or a black man. I would have lived through the same era, but I probably would have had very different experiences. That’s what learning history is all about.


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47 Responses to Those Who Fail To Learn From History . . .

  1. For no reason whatsoever than that we are on the topic, my favorite history lecture ever was actually archeological (history of humans!). It was about Greco-Roman gynecological procedures and tools. I remember it so well because they actually had the tools and one of them was an instrument for crushing a fetus’ head for abortion. It was a rather ghastly thing, but very interesting nonetheless.

    I was almost a history major myself, but got hung up on how badly it was taught. I quit the department when I took my first class with the Dean and after class as we were chatting at his lectern, he mentioned that his teaching notes were about as old as I was. That dude thought history was static. I did not. I was in love with the history as told and all the emerging marginalized stories as well. I once had a dream of writing a continuous integrated history of the US textbook. We could use one, but it would likely come in volumes.

  2. myiq2xu (D) says:

    • Mary says:

      Wow….Shapiro ate his lunch. Well done!

    • fif says:

      What a pissy child. That is a great demonstration of someone trying to have an intelligent, honest, detailed debate with someone who is arguing from an emotional, reactive, and immature position (ie: most of the media talking and unfortunately, what the left has become in this country). Trying to have a respectful disagreement is beyond their desire and ability.

    • Somebody says:

      I had a conversation with an obot yesterday that mistakenly accused me of not caring about dead children. Should’ve known better because I had the mother of all comebacks. I spent years in and out of a pediatric cancer ward while my youngest went through treatment. I’ve known far, far too many children that lost their lives and I’ve consoled many mothers as their children slipped away from them…….so don’t tell me I have no care or compassion for dead children.

      Left the bastard speechless!

      • DandyTiger says:

        It’s always a smack down when someone talks facts or experience to these stupid obots. But no worries, they’ll forget everything said and snap back to you’re a racist, or whatever, in mere hours. Living with a kool-aid IV doesn’t lend itself to higher brain functioning.

      • Erica says:

        You were real, and he was a real twirp.

        I’m sorry you lost your youngest. And really admire that you’ve consoled others going through the same. Best to you.

        • Somebody says:

          I’m sorry if I gave the impression that I lost my youngest. She is in fact very much alive, she’s a survivor!

          But there were many children on the same journey as my daughter that didn’t make it, each of them were very precious to me. Families bond rather quickly when they’re all going through the same hell.

  3. votermom says:

    There is a saying in my old country (roughly translated):

    The one who doesn’t know how to* look back at where he came from will never arrive at his destination.

    (Or “refuses to look back”)

  4. votermom says:

    a comment I posted on ace:

    The trilion dollar coin trick is not illegal for the same reason that painting the White House neon green and declaring it a nudist only zone isn’t illegal: it’s never occurred to Congress that any admin would actually do anything that absurd.

    To which I’d like to add – so basically, we’re at the point where we need laws on what the executive branch can do that are modeled on ground rules for a rebellious teenager.

  5. yttik says:

    I love history. We do history for fun and recreation at our house. History is not being taught in k-12 anymore, at least not where I live. It’s a real shame, too, because history gives you a chance to teach other things, reading, writing, math, research skills. Seriously, if I were in charge, I would teach nothing but history and every other subject would spring from that.

    There is far too much focus on victimization and oppression in what we are teaching. To make matters worse, it is often false information. Cowboys for instance, at one point in our history, nearly half of all cowboys in Texas where black. Women actually fought in the civil war. We omit the facts that don’t fit our stereotypes and teach history as if it were something to be ashamed of.

    • elliesmom says:

      When I went to engineering school, my freshman year I took a history course called, “The Scientific Revolution”. I learned more science in that class than I had ever learned up to that point. It was amazing to see how one piece of knowledge gained can increase our knowledge base exponentially. If that had been the only thing that stuck with me from that course, it would have been a great course. When we were looking for new science electives in the high school where I worked, I suggested it. The other science teachers thought the kids would find it too dull and boring – letting me know it was nothing any of them had ever studied in “Teacher School”.

  6. votermom says:

    ouch!

  7. myiq2xu (D) says:

    Study: Streaming Video Viewers Lose Patience After 2 Seconds

    Streaming online viewers have no tolerance for videos that take longer than just a few seconds to load onto their screens.

    Video-streaming services – such as YouTube or NetFlix – win and lose millions of viewers and customers in just a matter of seconds. And according to a new study from the University of Massachusetts, about half of the people who use a high-speed, fiber-optic connection believe that five seconds is too long to wait, National Public Radio reports.

    YouTube alone averages 4 billion hours of streaming video each month, and that is only a fraction of the overall online-streaming community. And for a business that serves an average base of 800 million people a month, every single second counts, and the more people who click away, the larger the problem quickly becomes.

    Many users won’t wait even a couple of seconds before navigating away to another web source.

    “What we found was that people are pretty patient for up to two seconds,” Ramesh Sitaraman, science professor at the University of Massachusetts, told NPR News. “If you start out with, say, 100 users — if the video hasn’t started in five seconds, about one-quarter of those viewers are gone, and if the video doesn’t start in 10 seconds, almost half of those viewers are gone.”

    Sitaraman and his colleagues’ research revealed viewers begin to abandon video if it does not start up within two seconds. Each additional second of delay resulted in a 5.8 percent increase in the abandonment rate.

    Revenge of the ADD generation.

    • votermom says:

      At the rates high speed providers charge, I’m not surprised.

    • yttik says:

      So true! I really notice my kid’s impatience. They expect all technology to respond instantly.

      I had to laugh, we have a land line phone and somebody needed to make a call, but they were too impatient to actually dial the number in. They wanted their cell phone that is pre-programed so you only have to push one key.

  8. myiq2xu (D) says:

    • elliesmom says:

      If Obama wasn’t such a bad president, I may never have discovered Iowahawk. He’s the reason I signed up for Twitter.

  9. votermom says:

    check out this pic

  10. driguana says:

    Great topic….history is so fascinating..and so obscured…we still don’t even know the real purpose of the Great Pyramid at Giza and why pyramids were built all over the planet in places where the construction of such megalithic structures defies cognition.

    But one of the interesting aspects of history, to me, is how all ethnic groups have layers and levels of membership acceptance……love this one…

    http://weaselzippers.us/2013/01/11/msnbc-black-conservatives-are-dangerous-to-minorities/

    • yttik says:

      Ha! They are dangerous because if word gets out that you can be empowered to think for yourself, to rely on yourself, the entire Dem party platform would collapse. Without a victim class that is dependent on the Gov for protection, there can be no spending sprees, no fundraising appeals, no conservative boogeymen who you must vote against.

      If you think about it, it’s really a conflict of interest for the D party to be in charge of creating equality, because their very existence depends on maintaining inequality.

  11. votermom says:

    I am glad that some school districts are being sensible

  12. Somebody says:

    Myiq I’m curious what books and/or documentaries, etc. you would suggest as fair representations of history.

    • myiq2xu (D) says:

      Most scholarly history books are like reading tech manuals for obsolete equipment. I’m not a student anymore so I prefer stuff that is well researched but written for more of a general audience. I don’t like preachy authors or those who are trying to shoehorn the facts into some grand theory of history. Honestly though when I read for fun I don’t read history books.

      Mostly I enjoy military documentaries and silly ones like the history of fast food.

    • One free “history in the making” source is the blog Belmont Club The author’s unique and remarkable ability to expound upon today’s events in the light of history is remarkably intuitive. What he mentions today is often a NYT headline next week. Well worth the read, IMO.

      • myiq2xu (D) says:

        Victor Davis Hanson is good too.

        • Yep, and for extra points he intensely dislikes the Monterey Herald, too – for the best of reasons. So he’s my hero, too.

        • Yep. Carmel (by the Sea) exists in a completely different reality than the rest of us. Over a dozen inns and hotels in the village can be called “classic”, IMO, but the recently renovated La Playa is in the same elite class as the Tenaya Lodge and Ahwahnee Hotel up near Yosemite.
          For well over a decade spent time in and around the hotel while involved with various Pebble Beach functions, and helped the local hospitality industry “partner” with the former “Crosby” tournament folk for faster, better event access. Though retired, a couple cops there still call me for traffic planning meetings prior to events.

  13. OT but I notice with the 16 hour closing of the Grapevine portion of California’s I-5 overnight Algore wins another round of Global Warming golf.

  14. votermom says:

  15. HELENK says:

    http://nj1015.com/these-photos-are-proof-albert-einstein-was-correct-about-technology/

    please take a look at these photos. this is a sad commentary on what is happening to people today.

    I love history and always did. When my kids were in school and they complained about history I used to tell the history is life. Today will be history. If there is something you do not understand about the period of history being taught find a book about a person who lived in that time. Funny they like history today

  16. HELENK says:

    being lucky enough to live near and in Philadelphia I and my kids got a chance to see where the country was born. It was like living history and old town Philadelphia was a great place to see and learn.
    They even have the oldest candy store in the country there.
    The Fire Museum showing how before there was a city fire company, different insurance companies had their own and if you did not have their symbol on your house , that fire brigade would not put out your fire.
    The Franklin museum is an awesome place to take kids. You can walk through a heart, climb a train engine, visit the planetarium and see the stars. History is a living thing, not dusty papers

  17. t says:

    I recently discovered a PUBLISHED book that outlined my maternal grandmother’s predecessors from their escape from religious persecution in France to their arrival in Pomeroy, WA where my grandmother was born. The book outlined the arrival in America, the settling in Tarrytown, NY, the burial of some members of the family in the Sleepy Hollow cemetary (and the fact that at least one member of the family was mentioned in one of Washington Irving’s books.) It talked about my family’s service in the Revolutionary and Civil Wars (some members being captured as prisoners). My own branch of the family came West to California via the Panama Canal. Imagine the Panama Canal being the easiest way to get West from New York.

    I showed the book to one of my family member and he said he couldn’t follow it because it didn’t relate to him…..well it literally did relate to him but it shocked me that he didn’t find this work fascinating. The story of a family clan dropping on the shore of the US and how they fanned out across the states and a depiction of many of their experiences along the way is FASCINATING, even if purely from a historical viewpoint. But when you realize it’s YOUR family that experienced all of this. Well.

    I think the bottom line is that some people just find history uninteresting, no matter who tells it, what it’s about and how relatable it is to them. Thus, it is a very difficult subject to teach. The very idea of being disinterested in history is puzzling, but I find so much of human behavior puzzling that it isn’t surprising, I guess. Anyway.

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