American students’ worst subject is history, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress. After it issued a standardized history test to students nationwide this year, the group found that 20 percent of fourth graders, 17 percent of eighth graders and 12 percent of high school seniors demonstrated a lack of proficiency in American history.
It's not surprising, given that Americans have a reputation for not knowing history well. Although critics contend that the assessment test is problematic, they don't debate its conclusion: history education is deteriorating in the United States, and there are no signs of improvement.
According to history advocates, the 2002 No Child Left Behind act exacerbates the dismal state of affairs. The act requires schools to raise test scores in mathematics and reading comprehension, which compromises time devoted to teaching other subjects like history. In some elementary schools, history has become an elective class. Furthermore, history textbooks are infamous for being utterly boring, which tends to deter students from reading them.
Why are Americans well known for not knowing their own nation’s history? How should we reform our history education? What are the politics behind the social studies curriculum standards and how are they affecting K-12 students? Why are colleges reducing the number of history classes? Who wrote the letter from Birmingham jail?
Sam Wineburg, Margaret Jacks professor of education, professor of history at Stanford University
Linda Salvucci, associate professor of history at Trinity University in San Antonio, chair-elect of the National Council for History Education (NCHE)