It hasn’t been a great week for history teachers. News media made headlines out of a new report that only 13% of high school seniors are proficient in American history. Students perform worse in history than other subjects routinely tested in the NAEP, the National Assessment of Educational Progress.
Who is to blame for the appalling condition of our historical knowledge? Most of us could make a pretty decent list of things that make it difficult to teach history today, but according to Rick Santorum, the problem is liberal teachers. In Ames, Iowa, hot on the presidential trail, the Republican former Senator from Pennsylvania ignored the Texas textbook controversy, the Virginia textbook controversy, the rewriting of history by David Barton and Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann and Mike
Huckabee. Instead, Santorum declared:
We don’t even know our own history. There was a report that just came out last week that the worst subject of children in American schools is — not math and science — its history. It’s the worst subject. How can we be a free people. How can we be a people that fight for America if we don’t know who America is or what we’re all about. This is, in my opinion, a conscious effort on the part of the left who has a huge influence on our curriculum, to desensitize America to what American values are so they are more pliable to the new values that they would like to impose on America.
The bad news for teachers continued. How does Congress propose to combat this deficit in history? By slashing, or perhaps eliminating altogether, the funding for the Teaching American History program.
So for all the disheartened teachers out there, I offer a ray of hope. Months ago, I mentioned a high school sophomore who had never heard of the Cold War hotline between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. Just yesterday, the student sent me a copy of her final project for National History Day: an interactive website about the history of the hotline. There was a strict word limit and an equally strict limit for images, so the project does not take long to read. But I highly recommend you take some time to click through it (my favorite is the section on pop culture). It shows that, without a doubt, at least some students are learning and some teachers are teaching well.
The student is a minor, so I’m not going to give her name, but hats off to both her and to her teacher, Mr. Christopher Kurhajetz!
Nice work, both of you. You give us hope.