Teaching American History
American history is one of the most important subjects in school since it reveals aspects of our past that enable us to comprehend ourselves and the world around us. Americans show great interest in history, with historical novels becoming bestsellers and series and movies about history spellbinding audiences. Many people express the need to learn American history, but in schools, many students express its irrelevancy and find it boring. Even though students generally get higher grades in history than in other subjects, many are forced to take it and most repress what they learn. African American, Latino, and Native American students particularly detest American history, and the professor articulates the reasons why this is the case.
Textbooks have been blamed continually by both teachers and students as being irrelevant and boring. Many high school teachers, for example, abandon the textbooks and reinvent their own version of American history that is interesting to students, while others will only cover the areas in the textbooks that will be covered in the exams. In college, history teachers put down high school courses and have an opinion that history is mistaught in high school. All these teachers blame textbooks, as they are the ones primarily used in teaching history.
One of the issues with textbooks is that they are bulky. The professor states that history textbooks are bulky and overly full with information. Textbook authors want to include every detail about American history, all the presidents, and details of concerns to particular groups or geographical regions in order to sell. There are thus numerous main ideas in addition to thousands of key terms and reviews which students and teachers have a problem remembering. As a result, students and teachers memorize an idea or a chapter in readiness for a test and then forget it to clear the synapses for another idea or text. The professor’s opinion is true, as research has shown that many students forget significant parts of their history, and most of what is remembered are simple facts. The reason for this is that in the quest to fill textbooks with details, many authors only articulate facts without attributing causation or meaning, and thus students cannot identify with the events they read about.
The failure to attribute causation and meaning has been highlighted by professors as the reason for the disparity between history learned in classrooms and that learned on a daily basis. Textbooks do not use past history to illuminate the present or use the present to illuminate the past. The narrative remains traditional so that current events that have a bearing on the past are almost always excluded from the textbooks. Also, omitted from history textbooks are the raw materials of history; speeches, songs, diaries or letters. The reason for omitting these issues is to present a uniform narrative for history students to learn from and avoid controversy. In a bid to avoid controversy and debate on issues, students have learned to take what is taught in classrooms as the gospel truth and do not feel the need to research deeper about issues. The godlike nature of history and the insulation of students from controversial issues leaves the students unable to analyze controversial issues regarding their life, the past, or future occurrences. It is for this reason that the professor states that the history taught in schools leaves students more foolish than they were, unable to analyze issues. Since only a sixth of people take history after high school, most of the population have a distorted notion that history is learned facts.
Another issue the professor takes with history textbooks is the misinformation contained in them. Even when present reality affects the past, these textbooks are not rewritten to incorporate the new findings. Most of the facts presented in American history are also flatly wrong or unverifiable, but textbook authors do not bother to investigate these facts or correct the errors. In some cases, the textbooks either ignore or distort some facts of history to avoid controversies, such as the distortion of the facts regarding the impact of the Spanish impact on Latin America and the colonial United States. Textbooks have also omitted crucial details regarding our past, such as who the original Americans were, or the dark history of America.
American history textbooks also promote nationalism that erodes the need for inquiry. The books try to indoctrinate blind patriotism by positing America as a great nation that one should be proud of. The textbook titles, as well as the cover illustrations, posit American history in a positive light that calls for blind patriotism without enquiring as to the nation’s dark past. Students thus fail to enquire about pertinent matters of history as this would be deemed unpatriotic, and thus there is a notion of what American history should look like and what people should believe. With time, these interesting stories about nationalism and the greatness of America become monotonous especially as students are presented with contrary information about America’s greatness in some situations.
Tied to nationalism is also the optimistic spirit of America. The textbooks are filled with optimistic stories about how Americans have overcome challenges in the past. It is also filled with stories of togetherness and bravery, without taking into account the impact on numerous groups in the past. For example, despite the horrors of African Americans being enslaved, hostilities towards Native Americans, and the plight of the American poor, textbooks depict a proud heritage in which someone can be all they want to be. This bland optimism prevents an understanding of failure, and tends to blame the victims rather than the perpetrators, and is the reason why many African Americans and Native Americans feel alienated and perform poorly in history than their white counterparts.
The last reason why American history textbooks are to blame for students’ disinterest in history is that they are all clones of each other. The professor, who has reviewed over 12 textbooks and written one himself, states that these textbooks are often not written by the authors who grace the covers. Additionally, these books usually use the same secondary sources and borrow both the material and the narrative from each other. Any time a historian attempts to write a comprehensive book on American history or one different from the rest in the market, they are always criticized by their colleagues. Due to the uniformity of textbooks, production houses have also adopted a tradition of using old textbooks to inform new ones without relying much on independent research. The similarity of these textbooks proves boring to both students and teachers.
From the foregoing discussion, the professor makes a good point that the textbooks used in American history are to blame for the disinterest in history exhibited by students. The professor articulates various elements of the textbooks that lead to the disinterest in great detail, and also offers examples from the textbooks. The professor uses clear writing that enables the reader to follow the discussion. The professor also uses first person narrative and first-hand experience that enables the reader to identify with the students as well as their problems in understanding American history.
The article, however, fails in some respects. Firstly, the article only espouses the drawbacks of textbooks, even though there might be other reasons why students are disinterested in history. The article is also shallow in its explanation of some reasons why history textbooks are bad, such as nationalism. The professor additionally makes some unsubstantiated claims, such as the fact that American history makes students more stupid. In effect, learning is beneficial in one way or the other and thus teaching American history cannot be said to be detrimental to American society. Another issue I take with the article is that it makes all the claims on how textbooks are bad, but fails to offer any suggestions on how they can be improved.
In conclusion, the professor makes a reasoned argument as to why textbooks may promote the negative attitudes towards American history by students. These reasons include the optimistic spirit of these textbooks as well as the promotion of blind nationalism without room for inquiry. The textbooks are also bulky, overly filled with information, and some contain material errors and omissions. These textbooks also exclude conflict and suspense that makes them boring to most students. Lastly, these students are said to be clones of each other that use the same narrative and source of information. The article thus manages to illustrate the issues with history textbooks and invites discussion on what can be done to improve the situation.