Teaching US history to 14-year-olds could be frustrating. In Maine, as in most states, students took US History in 5th, 8th, and 11th grades. That latter was required for a high school diploma and I believe it still is, but none of it guarantees that those who graduate high school have even a cursory understanding of American history — or any other history for that matter. My frustration in 8th grade was the discrepancy in basic knowledge of history or geography with which students came to me. Most didn’t know a country from a continent. They could not point to Maine on a world map, nor did they have even a cursory understanding of what the United States even was.
The scope of my curriculum included US History from Indians to the present, weaving in geography, economics, civics, the US Constitution, and current events. I was prepared to deliver it, but after the first year I realized that most students had no framework of space (geography) and time (history) into which this material could be assimilated. Without such a structure, my students would not retain much. Some 5th grade teachers taught US History, but most did little more than cut out turkeys and Pilgrim hats at Thanksgiving. I had to fill huge gaps before delivering my course because without a mental framework of time and place, what I had to teach would go in one ear and out the other.
Because of an enrollment bulge one year, I had to give up two sections of history to other teachers and pick up a couple of writing classes instead. Though I gave one teacher the scope and sequence of my 20th century US history curriculum (the scope had narrowed by then), she taught nothing but slavery all year. That’s it. Students emerged from her classes knowing nothing else of US History but that black slavery was practiced here. I was appalled, but there was little I could do except bring it to the attention of administrators. I’ve since learned this was not usual. According to Assistant Professor Duke Pesta at the University of Wisconsin, it’s much more widespread than I ever realized. Pasta offers one telling anecdote:
I started giving quizzes to my juniors and seniors. I gave them a ten-question American history test... just to see where they are. The vast majority of my students - I'm talking nine out of ten, in every single class, for seven consecutive years — they have no idea that slavery existed anywhere in the world before the United States. Moses, Pharaoh, they know none of it. They're 100% convinced that slavery is a uniquely American invention... How do you give an adequate view of history and culture to kids when that's what they think of their own country - that America invented slavery? That's all they know.
Most Americans have no idea that Arab Muslims enslaved more than a million white, Christian Europeans between 1500 and 1700, and as many as 2.5 million more whites from the Black Sea region. Touring the Greek Gulf of Corinth in 2014, I asked our guide why all the villages were located up on steep hillsides instead of on the coastal plain, she said it was to escape Muslim slavers. Arab Muslims practiced black slavery long before and long after Europeans or Americans did and still enslave black Christians in Sudan.
|Simon Deng - black Christian slave I met in 2010.|
When my curriculum included US History from Indians to the present, I had students reenact pre-Civil War congressional slavery debates in class. Southern congressmen like John C. Calhoun were correct when arguing that slavery was approved in both the Old and New Testaments as well as in virtually every other culture throughout history. College students today, however, think slavery a uniquely American institution.
Consider what their misconception — that Americans invented slavery — does to their understanding of their own country. Consider that leftist professor control academia — and make sure students hear a continuous drumbeat about what an evil country this is — founded by evil, capitalist, white, racist men. It’s no wonder so many flock to Bernie Sanders rallies and support dubious organizations like Black Lives Matter. No wonder they’re so willing to believe that racist cops shot Michael Brown in the back while he had his hands up — which never happened. And, it’s getting worse. According to a report by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA):
The overwhelming majority of America’s most prestigious institutions do not require even the students who major in history to take a single course on United States history or government. Disregard for the importance of United States history in the undergraduate history major is matched by the overall disappearance of United States history requirements from general education…
When ACTA commissioned a Roper survey of seniors at the "Top 50" colleges and universities, those holding the most prestigious positions in the U.S. News & World Report rankings, it found that only 29% could identify—in a multiple-choice survey—the definition of "Reconstruction.”
Don’t count on an informed electorate going into November.
Labels: History, ignorance, Maine, politics, slavery, teaching