Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Don't Know Nothing 'bout History

Chester E. Finn, Jr. links to and discusses the recently published Fordham Institute study on the "State of State World History Standards." The report finds the standards in most of the states to be lacking. Only 8 states received A's; 33 received D's and F's. Finn points out that such poor standards are unacceptable in a world where American children need to know about Mexico, Iran, and China, to give a few examples, in order to understand the world in which they live.

As Finn notes, poorly written state standards for world history hinder the development of appropriate curricula and the execution of good teaching. Of course, this makes a bad beginning on a problem that only gets worse. If the level of instruction -- this includes curriculum and other issues besides the ability of the teacher -- in the average public school classroom is poor, then the teaching of history generally, and world history particularly, is abysmal. Many public schools have rightly figured out that they need to hire highly qualified, appropriately educated professionals to teach math and science courses, but for high school history, any semi-literate football coach will do. Students who take history with a teacher who last opened a book in the middle of third grade are not likely to get excited about the people and ideas that made the world what it is in our day.

Of course, many people consider subjects such as history to be marginally relevant. That is true for one going through life as someone who never bothers to think beyond his narrow corner of a neighborhood. For those who would think more broadly, history is an enormously important part of the educational experience.

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