Illinois Loop
Your guide to education in Illinois
  Bookmark and Share
The Illinois Loop website is no longer updated on a a regular basis. However, since many of the links and articles have content and perspectives that are just as valid today, we are keeping this website online for parents, teachers and others researching school issues and solutions.
Broken links:If you encounter links that no longer lead to the desired article, it's still often possible to retrieve them. Most of the linked items include a sentence or more from the original. Copy a section of that text, and type it into Google surrounded by quotes. More often than not, Google will find the article at a revised location.


Social Studies

What Is "Social Studies"?

  • "Social studies ... is an insipid approach to the cultivation of the mind"
    Abolish Social Studies: Born a century ago, the pseudo-discipline has outlived its uselessness by Michael Knox Beran, City Journal, Autumn 2012. Excerpts: "Emerging as a force in American education a century ago, social studies was intended to remake the high school. But its greatest effect has been in the elementary grades, where it has replaced an older way of learning that initiated children into their culture with one that seeks instead to integrate them into the social group. ...
    "The test of an educational practice is its power to enable a human being to realize his own promise in a constructive way. Social studies fails this test. Purge it of the social idealism that created and still inspires it, and what remains is an insipid approach to the cultivation of the mind, one that famishes the soul even as it contributes to what Pope called the 'progress of dulness.' It should be abolished."

Expanding Horizons

    "The more closely I examined the social studies curriculum,
    the more my attention was drawn to the curious nature of the early grades,
    which is virtually content-free."

    -- Diane Ravitch

    Most American schools subscribe to the dumbed-down "expanding horizons" or "expanding environments" view of teaching of social studies. Here's how it works ...

    In early grades, children "study" about their families, their pets and their houses, eventually making a map of their block. It's not uncommon that a dollop of politically correct social issues are thrown in for good measure, totally without any benefit of any historical or social context, leading one 1st grader to ask his Dad, "When you were little were you mean to black people?"

    As late as 3rd grade, most American children are "studying" no more than trivia about their neighborhood or their town. By 4th grade, in isolation of any factual, structured context of history or geography, they may look at "pioneer life" (where they "study" such vital information as what kinds of toys "pioneer" children played with). This is also when many Illinois children get an out-of-nowhere look at the state of Illinois, unrelated to any larger national or world context.

    In their article, The Case for Ancient History Rob and Cindy Shearer write, "Almost all current publishers' programs begin with an introduction to a student's local community and a study of 'community helpers' where the children are taught such insights as 'the fireman is our friend.' While we certainly think that a field trip to the local fire station makes a great outing, we're not convinced that it takes a year-long study in order for students to learn these things."

    Bruce Frazee and Samuel Ayers describe the result of all this wasted time, in their excellent paper, Garbage In, Garbage Out: Expanding Environments, Constructivism, And Content Knowledge In Social Studies (click for PDF doc):

    Expanding environments is the basic curriculum that most states, textbook companies, and curriculum leaders use to organize elementary (K-6) social studies, and it has dominated elementary school social studies for nearly 75 years. The basic premise is that at each grade level, each year, students are exposed to a slowly widening social environment that takes up, in turn, self/home (kindergarten), families (1st grade), neighborhoods (2nd), communities (3rd), state (4th), country (5th), and world (6th). While this approach appears to provide an organized curricular sequence, it lacks substantial content, especially in the early elementary grades, and children tend to find its narrow focus deeply boring. In fact, expanding environments actually impedes content knowledge because of its trivial and repetitious sequence. For example, students in grades K-3 are taught about "community helpers" like mail carriers, milkmen, and fire fighters. Such lessons are superfluous (what kindergartener does not know about firefighters?) but more damagingly do not even begin to lay the groundwork for later study of history, heroes, struggles, victories, and defeats. Instead, they limit children's instruction to persons and institutions with which children are already familiar.

    Eminent education historian and researcher Dr. Diane Ravitch, speaking on the topic Reflections on History Teaching Today is just as puzzled and dismayed:

    "Social studies professionals ... insist upon the peculiar curriculum known as 'expanding environments,' and they will make sure that little kids are saddled with boring, trivial lessons about the family, the neighborhood, and the community. They will insist on teaching about community helpers and, of course, the sacred story of how milk gets from the cow to the kitchen table. They will seek to prevent little children from learning anything that fires their imagination or feeds their intellect, like myths, legends, or the stories of heroic men and women.
      "Why do social studies professionals think that little children want to study abstract sociological or economic principles? It's a puzzlement. ... Children of this age should learn about exemplary lives, about how brave men and women in other times had overcome oppression, fear, ignorance, physical handicaps, and other barriers to achievement. It seemed self-evident to me that children of this age would find stories of heroism and adventure far more engaging than the study of family, community and local government.
      "This bias against history, so blatant in the elementary years, is just one of the false principles that is deeply imbedded-~one might say emblazoned-~in the minds of many in the social studies. I have studied the rise and spread of the expanding environments concept, and it has no basis whatever in research. ... Certainly this decision was not based on any research about how children learn ... This campaign to kick history out of the elementary grades did succeed, and rare indeed is the public [elementary] school where children learn anything about the past other than the story of national holidays."
    A recurring early grades topic is "study" of Indian groups, but only in a Romantic idealized fashion, completely devoid of any historical content or context. (For more on this, see The Ecological Indian by Shepard Krech, In the Hands of the Great Spirit: The 20,000-Year History of American Indians by Jake Page, or Plagues of the Mind, by Bruce S. Thorton.)

    The vapidity of this approach in social studies is described in this essay: Why Doesn't Johnny Vote? Blame It on Social Studies by Brendan Miniter, Wall Street Journal, September 29, 2003. Excerpts:

    "The new social studies often rests on 'student-centered instruction' which allows students to be their own learning guides. The starting premise is that students can learn only what is familiar and directly relevant to them. Thus social studies in kindergarten through the third grade teaches students first about family, then local public servants like firemen and policemen. It also holds that members of a racial minority aren't immediately capable of learning about people who are of a different race, so black kids read about the Great Zimbabwe kingdom, not Columbus. This concentric-circle approach leaves students unprepared for serious analysis. But mostly, students find it boring. To combat boredom, teachers use pictures, videos, music and other 'hands on' tools to displace reading and writing. We might call it dumbing-down...."
    The emptiness of the typical social studies curriculum has also been blasted by a most reputable source -- the American Federation of Teachers. The AFT took a look at what second graders usually "study" in most schools, and compared it to the rich vitality of the Core Knowledge curriculum for second grade. See "Standard Curriculum Underestimates Students" from the Winter 1996-1997 issue of the AFT's magazine, American Educator.

    In many, perhaps most, American schools, it is not until 6th or 7th grade that children first begin any substantive introduction to history.

    Even then, so much emphasis is placed on reports, "creative" essays, dress-up projects and other time-wasters that it's no wonder some educators speak of American schools as "a mile wide and an inch deep". Unfortunately, some of these same ivory tower theorists think the solution is to cut back even further on content to accommodate even more projects and activities.

"Magic Me"

    At the center of the expanding horizons universe is the child, presumably with the world, the sun, the moon and the stars revolving about him or her.

    One university professor writes,
    Our children are raised in a sophisticated culture. They are bored by the "magic me" that can proliferate ... ("what I like best," "what pets I would like to have," "what I want to learn" -- jeepers, one often has no idea about what will be exciting to learn).

    It's far more exciting for a ... student to be learning about "big things." When one of our inner city [schools] adopted the Core Knowledge curriculum the parents started coming to school events. These parents who previously wouldn't turn out for anything despite the staff's best efforts were so excited about how excited their children were about school. ... and impressed that they were learning things that even the parents didn't know.

    In their article, The Case for Ancient History, Rob and Cindy Shearer write, "The modern preoccupation with self, cultural diversity, and political correctness permeates social studies texts. A program of cultural and historical study which starts with self and moves gradually outward (family, community, state, country, world) may make logical sense, but it also communicates perfectly the preoccupations of the 'me generation.' It teaches children that they are the center of the universe, that everything revolves around them. It teaches them that things are important only to the extent that they touch their personal world."

    "Magic Me" (under whatever name) is seen by educrats as a solution for "relevance." The more likely results are a poor education and a dangerously overinflated sense of self-esteem. See our page on self-esteem for more about that.

    "All About Me" on our page concerning writing assignments.

DAP, Developmentally Appropriate Practices

    This "expanding horizons" view is deeply intertwined with another progressivist mantra, "developmental appropriate practices" or DAP, in which meaty content is intentionally withheld from children in earlier grades.

    The effect of DAP on social studies is particularly egregious. When schools first started lumping the disciplines of history, geography and civics together under the label "social studies" critics feared that this would lead to a dilution of content. This is exactly what has happened. Worse, social studies in later grades in most schools is dominated by heavy use of "research", "projects", webquests, essays, artworks, and other non-instructional uses of time, many of which have little to do with any substantive academic content.


  • The Idiocy of Relevance Thomas Sowell, February 28, 2003. One of the many fashionable idiocies that cause American schools to produce results inferior to those in other countries is the notion that education must be "relevant" to the students ... It is absurd to imagine that students can determine in advance what will turn out to be relevant to their progress as adults. Relevance is not something you can predict. It is something you discover after the fact -- after you have left school and are out in the real world."

  • Don't Teach "Cute"! by Tina Blue, March 30, 2001 "One choice of topic: Your friends are about to have a baby boy, and they have asked your advice on choosing a name for their son. Should they name him after St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, or Muhammed? Explain why they should choose one name over the other two. The second topic: You are the moderator of a televised debate for a hotly contested senate seat. Two of the three religious figures we have studied (St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, and Muhammed) are running for that seat. Write the questions for the debate and the answers each would give, and then present it as a dramatic scene. ... I hope I don't need to tell you how silly and off the wall these essay topics are. ... All too often what passes for clever or creative teaching in our schools is irrelevant, self-indulgent, or just plain goofy. ... The sort of student that needs Big Bird to deliver the lecture on major religious philosophies is not the sort of student who is really interested in learning about such things or in writing analytical essays about similarities and differences in the core philosophies of important religious thinkers. And the sort of student who is interested in writing such papers neither needs nor desires the "cute" aspects of such an assignment. ... Our students come to us with alarming gaps in their knowledge and skills, especially in subjects in the humanities. We--and they--have plenty to do to start filling in those gaps, without our forcing them to play games with what should be straightforward assignments. Besides, one reason for their ignorance is the fact that when they should have been mastering such material in lower grades, they were instead playing these sorts of silly games. ... The truth is, most students despise these dumb teaching games, and they resent being made to perform in some teacher's idea of a 'clever' or 'creative' assignment. ... one thing I know from experience is that students don't really need Big Bird. They can be enthralled by any subject if it is taught energetically and enthusiastically, even if they don't get to show what they have learned in some form of performance art--or tell the class how the subject relates to their own personal experience."

Illinois Standards for Social Studies

  • In a special report in the Spring 2008 issue of American Educator (American Federation of Teachers), the AFT scored Illinois' Social Studies standards:
    • The Illinois Social Studies standards DID NOT MEET criteria at the Elementary level
    • The Illinois Social Studies standards DID NOT MEET criteria at the Middle school level
    • The Illinois Social Studies standards DID NOT MEET criteria at the High school level

  • Illinois given a grade of "D" in world history!

    From the Fordham Foundation's Review of State World History Standards, 2006:

    "The standards cover the entire political history of the world in half a page, much of it vague and unhelpful (e.g., "Analyze world wide consequences of isolated political events, including the events triggering the Napoleonic Wars and World Wars I and II.") Worse, much of the actual political content of history is overlooked or treated superficially. ... "These standards are by no means the worst of the worst, and in places they're good. But unless they're updated with significant amounts of historical detail, the standards will keep Illinois students in the dark about the broader world around them."

  • Illinois given a grade of "F" in history!
    Is Illinois serious about children learning history? According to the Fordham Foundation the Illinois standards for the teaching of history are so extremely bad that Fordham calls them "useless" and gave them that grade of "F".

    See the Fordham Foundation's Review of State History Standards:

    The Fordham Foundation also says,

    "The Illinois Learning Standards for Social Science attempt to present all of what should be taught and learned in history in six pages. Such economy of historical content should not be construed as pedagogical thrift but rather as an educational travesty. The lack of coherence and other matters of historical soundness are striking. To be sure, these standards are peppered with specific names, but none of it will be of any use to teachers, students, and parents who are seeking to determine what every child should know and be able to do in history." (emphasis added)

  • Illinois given a grade of "D" in geography!
    Is Illinois serious about children learning geography? See the Fordham Foundation's Review of State Geography Standards, which gave that grade of "D" to Illinois. Excerpts:
    "Illinois' Geography Goal and four Learning Standards are ... not comprehensive. Of four geography standards, one relates specifically to history. Some concepts and topics are either missing or presented so nebulously as to leave evaluators scratching their heads as to what is wanted from students, e.g., 'describe how physical and human processes shape spatial patterns including erosion, agriculture, and settlement' (B. -- Late Elementary). Benchmarks, intended to bring specificity to the standards, are all over the map. They are strongest at the elementary level. But at higher levels, evaluators were often lost in their breadth, open-endedness, and/or lack of clarity. So confusingly are they presented that we were occasionally unable even to identify the knowledge or skill being addressed. We believe that curriculum developers and teachers will find the state's standards somewhat useful in setting direction, but they will have to work hard to organize a coherent curriculum from them."

  • In a 1999 report, the American Federation of Teachers called the Illinois social studies standards "vague" and "unrealistic". The AFT said,
    "The [Illinois] social studies standards ... are vague about what students should know. The world history standards include specific historical references but ask students to cover a span of 1,000 years or more. It is unrealistic to expect a common core of learning to develop based on such broad standards."
    The AFT three separate times described the Illinois standards as offering "vague U.S. and world history", at the elementary, middle and high school levels.

    (In 2001, the AFT released Making Standards Matter 2001 (PDF). Interestingly, despite no significant change in Illinois standards since the previous AFT report, suddenly the union scores the state better on various criteria. The AFT does not explain the change or provide any explanation for this revised conclusion. Detailed text discussion is gone, and instead, states are given simple yes/no symbols denoting achievement of various factors.)

  • A few more examples from the Illinois standards:

      "16.B.2d (US) Identify major political events and leaders within the United States historical eras since the adoption of the Constitution, including the westward expansion, Louisiana Purchase, Civil War, and 20th century wars as well as the roles of Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Woodrow Wilson, and Franklin D. Roosevelt."

      -- This astonishing "standard" only serves to highlight the preposterously vague nature of the Illinois standards. Everything from the adoption of the Constitution through FDR is implied in ONE item? Outrageous!

      "16.A.3b Make inferences about historical events and eras using historical maps and other historical sources.
      16.A.4a Analyze and report historical events to determine cause-and-effect relationships.
      16.A.4b Compare competing historical interpretations of an event.
      16.A.5a Analyze historical and contemporary developments using methods of historical inquiry (pose questions, collect and analyze data, make and support inferences with evidence, report findings)."

      -- These are so worthlessly abstract as to not count for anything. Consider:

      • Events? Which events?
      • Maps? Of where?
      • Pose questions? How do students do this without knowledge of the topic at hand?
      These fuzzy-wuzzy standards are a perfect illustration of why Illinois kids can wind up not knowing much about anything in history.

  • As an outstanding example of what a state standard can be, take a took at this report: Virginia Revamps Its Social Studies and History Standards, Education Week, April 11, 2001.

Academics vs. "Social Studies"

Vanishing Knowledge of History

    The net effect of developmentally appropriate practices is the widespread "dumbing down" of the curriculum. The links below document the effect that has had on history classes.

  • Why American Students Know So Little American History and What We Can Do About It by Sandra Stotsky, Education News, October 6, 2005. "Over the past 100 years, however, there has been a steady decline in the teaching of history through the grades. During the early decades of the twentieth century, social studies -- an idiosyncratic mix of history, political science, geography, civics, anthropology, sociology, psychology, economics, and current events in each school -- emerged and steadily gained ascendance. ... As a result, American students are ending up without a basic knowledge of our history and with little reason to value our political principles."
        Stotsky details 14 reasons for this decline:
    1. Inadequate state history standards for K-12.
    2. Bloated, watered down, biased, or sanitized history textbooks
    3. Skewed textbook adoption criteria
    4. A spiral K-12 history curriculum that misplaces in-depth study of the Founding
    5. Inefficient or inappropriate use of teaching time in the elementary school
    6. A classroom pedagogy that embeds anti-historical thinking
    7. Growing interference by state legislators
    8. Varying or no specific history requirements for teachers of history
    9. Faulty licensing regulations
    10. No scrutiny of academic content by experts in accrediting licensure programs
    11. Minimal competency tests of subject matter for teachers of history
    12. Deficient courses or professional development given by many history professors
    13. Skewed accreditation of higher education degree programs in history?
    14. A social studies orientation in high school re-accreditation

  • "This curriculum ... contains no mythology, legends, biographies, hero tales, or great events in the life of this nation or any other. It is tot sociology."
    "Tot Sociology: What Happened to History in the Grade Schools?" by Diane Ravitch. (Highly recommended!)
        "The more closely I examined the social studies curriculum, the more my attention was drawn to the curious nature of the early grades, which is virtually content-free. ... This curriculum of 'me, my family, my school, my community' now dominates the early grades in American public education. It contains no mythology, legends, biographies, hero tales, or great events in the life of this nation or any other. It is tot sociology. ...
        "The current pattern in early primary grades has not always been there, and it is not derived from research into child development or cognitive psychology. As far as I can tell, it is there because no one has questioned why it is there. It persists today because it is the status quo; it survives because of a circular assumption that it wouldn't be there unless there was a very good reason for it to be there. ... Leading scholars in the fields of cognitive psychology, child development, and curriculum theory know of no research justifying the expanding environments approach. In fact, they make repeated references to the 'vacuousness' and the 'sterility' of the content offered to young children in their social studies classes."

  • "History ... is the foundation of political intelligence. We can't have thoughtful public discussions of issues when the public is so woefully uninformed about the past."
    First, Get the Knowledge by Diane Ravitch, New York Sun. May 25, 2007. "Why does history matter? It is the foundation of political intelligence. We can't have thoughtful public discussions of issues when the public is so woefully uninformed about the past. ... Without a public that knows its history, without political intelligence widely dispersed, we can anticipate a future in which our politics is continually degraded to the lowest common denominator. To reverse this downward spiral in public knowledge, we need a national commitment to strengthen history education in schools, colleges, and universities. Every student should study American and world history, not just in high school, but in the elementary and middle school grades. Everyone who teaches history should have a degree or pass a test of the knowledge that they will teach."

  • Anti-Social Studies: So many ideas for improving the curriculum--all of them bad by Kay S. Hymowitz, Weekly Standard, May 6, 2002. "If the [National Council for Social Studies (NCSS)] has its way, young Americans will graduate from high school with a few hazy ideas about equality and freedom of speech, but almost no knowledge of their country's past. They'll be more likely to get teary-eyed at 'We Are the World' than 'The Star-Spangled Banner.' They will be engaged citizens, to be sure, but engaged as community and global activists. Having been taught that kids need 'to solve real problems in their school, the community, our nation, and the world' (according to a recent NCSS position paper), the ideal NCSS graduate will be as busy as he is ignorant. 'Expectations of Excellence' touts classrooms where high-schoolers debate alternative sites for their town's new landfill, where middle-schoolers agitate against a store's requirement that teenagers be accompanied by adults, where fourth graders meet with community leaders to decide the best use for an abandoned factory, and where elementary school kids organize to 'Save the Earth.' It would be difficult to exaggerate NCSS's betrayal of the Founders' view of education."

  • Excerpt from an interview with ucla history professor daniel walker howe:
      Q: Do today's students learn enough history in high school? Do they know enough history when they graduate from college?
      Prof. Howe: Schools have been downgrading history for a long time. First it was subordinated to "social studies." More recently, it has suffered from the priority accorded reading and math, now that they are the only two subjects tested for the purposes of evaluating the schools. In reality, of course, the study of history could do a great deal to improve reading comprehension. Colleges could do a better job imparting a general knowledge of history to undergraduates. At research universities, faculty members are often reluctant to teach the survey courses that nurture an informed citizenry; instead, they want to teach their latest research article. Compounding the problem is the movement to substitute courses in "world civilization" for the customary "western civilization." Unfortunately, the faculty members are seldom qualfied to teach such a diverse curriculum, and the students end up with an undigested hodge-podge. Until courses in world civilization can be better organized, I think undergraduates are better served by taking western civ. If world civ is to be taught, then it should take two years to cover it, since one year is barely enough for what needs to be taught about western civ.

  • The Right Stuff Of Civics by Suzanne Fields. It takes a solid academic background in history and civics to generate genuinely critical thinking on current events and public issues. In this essay, a solid classical background (at Ridgeview Classical, a Core Knowledge charter school in Colorado) is shown to serve a child well in understanding the Iraq war.

  • "Our students are supposed to think historically without knowing what happened."
    The History of Boredom by Charles J. Sykes, July 10, 2003. Excerpt: "The ignorance runs deep. When high school seniors were asked to pick a U.S. ally in World War II from a list of countries, more than half named Italy, Germany or Japan. ... All of this is the legacy of the education establishment's campaign to eliminate the emphasis on facts in history and its success in making our nation's story colorless and dull. ... I read the latest stories about our national ignorance last week, the day after I got back from a trip to Gettysburg with my wife and 11 year-old son. We were lucky enough to be there for the 140th anniversary of the battle and to walk the ground where General Pickett lead his charge, where Robert E. Lee, supremely confident, watched his desperate gamble fail, where a handful of exhausted men made a desperate charge to save Little Round Top and the Union flank. And I wondered: how in God's name did they ever make this boring? How did our schools decide this wasn't worth teaching, and if taught, taught badly, drained of life, personality, anything that might capture the imagination of children? Instead, we've taken the most riveting dramas of human experience and made it a tedious, bland, politically correct stew of intellectual tofu. All the dioramas in the world can't disguise that. Educationists rationalize all of this, by arguing that it's not important to learn mere facts about history; that it is more important to learn to 'think historically.' What's unclear is how our students are supposed to think historically without knowing what happened."

  • History IS Fun (PDF) by Will Fitzhugh, The Concord Review, November 10, 2003. "A large number of Social Studies educators experience difficulty, despite their many imaginative efforts, in 'making history fun' for their students at all levels in our schools. ... Social Studies educators have set themselves two impossible tasks. First, they neither ask students to read a history book, which is the way most people get interested in history, or to write a history research paper, and second, for ideological reasons, they try to limit the range of student interest to current social problems in their immediate environments."

  • Learning to Eat My Vegetables by Michael Blue. "When I was in high school, broccoli wasn't the only thing I didn't like. I also turned up my nose at history, English, math, and science, preferring to concentrate on music, girls, and staying out late. ... Luckily for me (I thought at the time), my high school allowed me to slide by with only a limited exposure to history and other subjects I considered dull. Like the majority of my peers, I thus graduated from high school with almost no knowledge of world history or geography ... I hadn't realized the extent of this particular gap in my education until I came to Spain in January to study the Spanish language and culture. ... I was appalled. I knew that my knowledge of history outside of the United States was limited, but I didn't understand how it had been possible to graduate from high school without even hearing about events as important as the Inquisition or the Spanish civil war. ... Shouldn't I at least have been exposed to information about such major events in European history, even if I was determined to try to ignore it? As I began to query other American students, I realized that I was in no way an exception."

  • What Kids Know by Mark Goldblatt, September 3, 2002. A college teacher is startled when he discovers that only one student in his class knows who Martin Luther was, but then faces an even more depressing insight: "That moment has stuck with me because it highlights what, to my mind, are the two great problems with students now entering college. The first is familiar enough: They don't know what they should know. The second is more subtle yet even more worrisome: They assume they know much more than they actually do know."

  • Should We Be Alarmed by the Results of the Latest U.S. History Test? Yes! By Diane Ravitch. This is an excellent and detailed dissection of the results of the NAEP history scores released in 2002. Ravitch also lists and details four main causes for the pathetic level of history learning: out-of-field teachers, textbooks ("the dullness ... is legendary" and "I have trouble reading them because of their jumbled, jangly quality"), standards ("totally inadequate ... I have seen state standards for social studies that barely mention history"), and resources.

  • Don't Know Much About History By Jane Hall. "As a journalist-turned college professor, I was dismayed--but not surprised--by the dismal results of the latest U.S. History Report Card testing the knowledge of high-school seniors about what used to be considered major events in American history."

  • Don't know much about history by Mona Charen, July 15, 2003. "If the words Yorktown, bleeding Kansas, reconstruction, Ellis Island, Marbury vs. Madison, "Remember the Maine," the Spirit of St. Louis, Midway, 'I shall return,' the Battle of the Bulge, the Hiss/Chambers case and 'Ich bin ein Berliner' mean no more to most Americans than to the average Malaysian, what is it that makes us Americans? ... If you doubt the scope of the problem, consider a poll commissioned by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni. David McCullough, author of John Adams and other wonderful works of history, said, 'Anyone who doubts that we are raising a generation of young Americans who are historically illiterate needs only to read this truly alarming report.'"

  • U.S. History Again Stumps Senior Class, Education Week, May 15, 2002.

  • Why Students Don't Know Much About History, by Diane Ravitch, Education Week, March 4, 1998.

  • History Is Fun (PDF) by Will Fitzhugh, The Concord Review, January 26, 2004. "Social Studies educators have set themselves two impossible tasks. First, they neither ask students to read a history book, which is the way most people get interested in history, or to write a history research paper, and second, for ideological reasons, they try to limit the range of student interest to current social problems in their immediate environments. ...
    "...It seems likely that most [U.S. high school students] graduate without ever having read a single complete history book, unless they did it on their own. ... This constraining pedagogy is an excellent way to kill interest in any subject, and without interest, students will gain very little knowledge of anything ..."

  • The value of a class in "World History":
    Finding Who and Where We Are, by Paul Gagnon, American Educator (American Federation of Teachers ), reprinted in Summer 2005 issue, originally printed in Spring 1985 issue. Excerpt: "The plain fact is that American history is not intelligible, and we are not intelligible to ourselves without a prior grasp of the life and ideas of the Ancient World, Judaism and Christianity, of Islam and Christendom in the Middle Ages, of Feudalism, of the Renaissance and Reformation, of the English Revolution and the Enlightenment. Contrary to the image we often formed in school, the pilgrims did not sail into view out of the void, their minds as blank as the Atlantic sky, ready to build a new world out of nothing but whatever they could find lying about the ground in eastern Massachusetts. They and all the others who landed in the Western hemisphere were shaped and scarred by tens of centuries of social, literary, political, and religious experience. ...
        "We seem unwilling to lay the record open. Many of our freshmen arrive at college, after 12 years of school (presumably in the 'college track'), knowing nothing of the pre-Plymouth past, including the Bible! All too frequently, they have not heard of Aristotle, Aquinas, Luther, Machiavelli, Hobbes, Locke, Montesquieu, Burke, or Marx. They often know nothing of the deterioration of Athens and Rome, of Czarist Russia and Weimar Germany, and next to nothing of the history of science, technology, industry, of capitalism and socialism, of fascism and Stalinism, of how we found ourselves in two world wars, or even in Vietnam. They have been asked to read very little and to reflect hardly at all. At 18 or 19, they are unarmed for public discourse, their great energy and idealism at the mercy of pop politics and the seven o'clock news."

  • Simon Bolivar? Hernando Cortez? Kids Don't Know -- And States Aren't Asking, Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, June 2006. The "learning standards" issued by most of the education bureaucracies across the country get their lowest marks for their coverage of Latin America. Only 9 states directly reference Simon Bolivar, perhaps the most well-known figure in Latin American history. And only 6 states make mention of famed explorer Hernando Cortez. Excerpt: "At a time when we're in the middle of a great national debate about how to assimilate the massive influx of immigrants from Latin America, it's unconscionable that the states would consider a student well-educated without knowing much of anything about the history of this region ... Today's students will be critical players in working out terms of accommodation and assimilation between Latin-American culture and Anglo-American culture. They desperately need a firm grounding in the history of our hemisphere."

  • "Doing Battle With Chronological Impairment", by Bill Ross, III

  • "Has YOUR Child Learned of the Midnight Ride of Paul Revere?"

  • "Losing America's Memory: Historical Illiteracy in the 21st Century", American Council of Trustees and Alumni, February 16, 2000

  • Analysis Finds Shallowness in Latest History Textbooks, Education Week, April 26, 2000.

  • George Washington Is Last in the Minds of College Students, by Denise K. Magner, Chronicle of Higher Education, February 22, 2000

  • July 4th: Kids Unclear on the Concept by Emily Gurnon, San Francisco Examiner, July 4, 1999. Excerpts: "Out of four dozen teens quizzed in an informal survey in San Francisco, Concord and Pacifica, most knew that the Fourth of July had something to do with America's independence, but less than half could name the country from which we won our freedom. ... 'That kind of ignorance may stem in part from the lack of emphasis in many schools on rote learning and memorization' said ... a history teacher at Ygnacio Valley High School in Concord. ... 'Educational theory has leaned in recent years toward the teaching of concepts rather than facts -- and that could be a mistake ... you have to learn to walk before you can run.'"

The Napoleon Test

  • The "Napoleon Test": When taking a tour of a school, try to figure out when children will learn about Napoleon. Surprisingly often, the answer is "never." You may find that a course in "world history" consists of a dim parody of what it meant to you when you were in school. In many schools today, there is some coverage of ancient Greece and Rome and perhaps the Dark Ages and the Renaissance, and then a leap is made to something under the heading of American history.

    As just one quick test, ask about ol' Napoleon! If nothing is taught about Napoleon, chances are that not much is taught about anything else in Western Civilization since the Renaissance.

Vanishing Knowledge of Civics

  • A New Vision of Participatory Democracy, The League of Women Voters of Chicago. Excerpt: "The overall decline in civic participation is most apparent in young people, at least in part due to an ongoing decline in quality of civic education in both high school and college curricula. The level of civics requirements has significantly decreased in recent years. Only 31 states test high school students on civics topics, and only three states have a separate test for civics; 29 states require a high school civics course, and five states require a senior year 'capstone' course in civics. Only eight states offer specific certification in civics for teachers. The decline in high school civics education is evident in curriculum patterns. From 1916 through about 1960, social studies focused on citizenship, with courses in civics, government, and problems of democracy. In the 1960s and 1970s the 'New Social Science' changed the focus to political behavior and processes, the process of social science inquiry, and skills for democratic participation in society. By the 1980s law-related education had become a main priority, and civics became intertwined with history and geography curricula."

    However, despite its correct observation (above) that civics instruction has been decimated, the League of Women Voters remains steadfastly committed to the educational bureaucracy that is the cause of it! The League is not only opposed to child-centered funding, but even to expansion of charter public schools, which might offer parents a chance to give their children the kind of civics education that the League says it wants.

  • Struggling to Get Civics Back Into the Classroom: Educators Face Hurdles in Effort to Reverse Slide in Citizenship Knowledge by Michael A. Fletcher, Washington Post, July 4, 2002. "[A]s the nation celebrates the 226th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, there is mounting evidence that too many of its young people do not understand the responsibilities, or even the basic governing structure, of American society. At the same time, an increasing number of educators say these types of civics lessons have become disturbingly rare in the nation's classrooms ... Evidence of civic knowledge among young people is hard to come by. Three-quarters of the nation's fourth-, eighth- and 12th-graders lack proficiency in civics, according to the 1998 National Assessment of Educational Progress, a highly regarded federal exam. Worse, nearly a third did not have a basic knowledge of the subject, making them what the National Alliance for Civic Education calls veritable 'civic illiterates.'"

  • Many U.S. Students Aren't Getting a Strong "Civic Core" of Learning: New Report Critiques Uneven Civics and History Standards, Albert Shanker Institute, April 25, 2003. "The typical American high school student has neither an understanding of nor appreciation for the basic democratic principles that make the United States different from most other nations. This is the conclusion of several polls and student assessments over the past few years. Now a new study suggests why -- many schools aren't teaching history and civics in a comprehensive fashion."

  • What Colleges Forget to Teach Robert P. George, City Journal, Winter 2006. "Higher education could heal itself by teaching civics -- not race, class, and gender."

  • A nasty problem in restoring civics education is the number of "solutions" that make things even worse. Here's an article that illustrates that, in describing a group called "Campaign for the Civic Mission of Schools", or "CMS": Civics Lesson by Liam Julian, Education Gadfly, Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, May 4, 2006. "CMS [makes] the same mistake that plagues many civic education initiatives. Instead of proposing that students learn civics through rigorous study of historical events, meaty biographies of important Americans, or lessons that integrate American history and politics with philosophy and character education, CMS offers a different model. One that puts the cart before the horse. ...
         "Emotion and opinion are highly valued by CMS. Its members seem to believe that to be a productive citizen of a democratic society, students must constantly be active in 'hands on' political activities -- working on campaigns, running for student government (the Founders despised cafeteria food!), or protesting for or against this, that, and the other. The message here -- one that will assuredly do more harm than good -- is that knowledge and learning comes second to frenetic activity. ... Protesting is easy these days (especially when it's encouraged by authority figures ). What's difficult, what requires effort and commitment, is putting down the sign, going alone to the library, and hitting the books to understand the history and nuances behind the debate. Civics education should encourage the latter pursuit. And if our schools do that well, the former will evolve as it should."

Vanishing Knowledge of Geography

  • Illinois given a grade of "D" in geography!
    Is Illinois serious about children learning geography? See the Fordham Foundation's Review of State Geography Standards, which gave that grade of "D" to Illinois.

  • U.S. Kids Get 'D' in Geography by Paul Recer, Associated Press, November 20, 2002. "...a National Geographic study that finds there has been little to no improvement in students' knowledge of geography since 1988. The society survey released Wednesday found that only about one in seven of Americans between the age of 18 and 24, the prime age for military warriors, could find Iraq. The score was the same for Iran, an Iraqi neighbor. ... Thirty-four percent of the young Americans knew that the island used on last season's 'Survivor' show was located in the South Pacific, but only 30 percent could locate the state of New Jersey on a map. ... When asked to find 10 specific states on a map of the United States, only California and Texas could be located by a large majority of those surveyed. Both states were correctly located by 89 percent of the participants. Only 51 percent could find New York, the nation's third most populous state. ... On a world map, Americans could find on average only seven of 16 countries in the quiz. Only 89 percent of the Americans surveyed could find their own country on the map. ... Only 71 percent of the surveyed Americans could locate on the map the Pacific Ocean..."

  • "When geography is scrambled in the mishmash of social studies, it is no longer a coherent subject of study."
    Why U.S. Students Flunk Geography by Sam Blumenfeld, November 23, 2002. "Today's American students ... seem to have a kind of cognitive block against learning geographic facts. It's as if their minds are closed to that sort of information. ... The cause of this kind of ignorance can only be attributed to the public schools where geography has been relegated to a minor corner in the greater category of social studies. ... I imagine that one of the reasons why American students have acquired this cognitive block to geography is because their teachers have it. When geography is scrambled in the mishmash of social studies, it is no longer a coherent subject of study. It has become too fragmented to be interesting or even comprehensible."

  • Is Geography Brainwashing? by Hilary Wilce, February 6, 2003. Subhead: "In the old days, geography lessons taught pupils about maps, oceans and mountains. Today's topics are poverty, global warming and the evils of multinational companies."

  • Don't Know Much About Geography by Evan Sparks, The American, May 21, 2008. "According to a 2006 survey of Americans aged 18 to 24, less than four in ten can identify Iraq on a map of the Middle East; one-third of young Americans cannot calculate time-zone differences; even after Hurricane Katrina, two-thirds cannot find Louisiana on a U.S. map; almost one-third think that the United States has between 1 and 2 billion citizens; and two in ten, amazingly, cannot point to the Pacific Ocean on a world map."

  • "Caught between a Czech and a Slovakia", humor column by Dave Barry, syndicated, originally published in the Miami Herald, July 30, 1999. Excerpt: "I studied geography in the fifth grade, and I remember that instead of just TELLING us where things were, the teacher insisted that we make relief maps of the United States by mixing flour and water into a paste and smearing it on a shirt cardboard so as to form important geographical features such as the Rocky Mountains, the Great Plains, Disneyland, etc. ... As a direct result, I grew up, like most Americans, with a poor grasp of geography."

  • Why Geography Matters by Walter A. McDougall, American Educator (American Federation of Teachers), Spring 2001. "My dream is that every teacher and student of history and geography, at the end of every block of instruction, can say proudly and knowledgeably, 'I've done the map.' Because that means they know who they are, where they are, and how to get where they want to go. That means they have had true education."

  • This Christmas, Let Children Know Where They Are: Give Them Maps by Terrence Moore, Ph.D., December 2003. "Year after year we learn that our students, from grade school through college, lack the merest acquaintance with the places on the globe and even the states of our union, despite all the talk about globalization and the incredible mobility of this nation's population. ... Geography is most definitely a subject that children can learn, ought to learn, and have fun learning. More than any other subject, geography tells us where we are in the world. That matters. Without a sense of place, human beings are quite simply lost. To a large extent, geography is also destiny. The child born in San Diego has a completely different life compared to the child born a few miles south: a different quality of life, a different culture, even a different life expectancy. Geography is also the basis of many of the liberal arts and sciences, namely, history, economics, demography, anthropology, meteorology, and geology. Students who master maps will be led insensibly into these other areas of important knowledge. The most appealing thing about geography, especially to small children, is that it exists as a great puzzle. It begins with land masses and bodies of water. On the land, we trace mountains and rivers and plains. Then we learn the political divisions -- countries and states -- followed by important conglomerations of people known as cities. Pretty soon, we can ask the sorts of interesting factual questions that entertain children's minds. How much more populous is New York than Denver? What percentage of Americans live in the ten largest cities?"

  • "Reservations Of An Airline Agent (After Surviving 130,000 Calls From The Traveling Public)", by Jonathan Lee, The Washington Post. Hilarious (and frightening)!

  • Satire: High School Students Demand Wars In Easier-To-Find Countries - "'How Come No One Fights in Big Famous Nations Anymore?' They Ask"

  • National Geography Bee, National Geographic Society. Also, there are a couple of study guides for the "Bee" on our books page.

Vanishing Knowledge of Business and Economics

    It is an alarming trend that many students have barely a remedial-level knowledge of American economic and financial institutions. According to some studies, only half of students have even a basic economic understanding of the private sector. In addition, there are practical reasons why, in our schools, we must become more vigilant about imparting knowledge of the American economic system.

  • Public Schools: An Economics-Free Zone (PDF) by Mark C. Schug and Richard D. Western, WPRI Report, May 2003 (Vol. 16 No. 4)

  • The Sorry State of Economic and Financial Education in Wisconsin (PDF) by Mark C. Schug and D. Richard Western, Wisconsin Interest, 2003, Vol. 12 No. 2

Improving History Education

  • National Council for History Education (NCHE)

  • Teacher-Centered Instruction: The Rodney Dangerfield of Social Studies by Mark C. Schug. (Also available as a PDF.) "Teacher-centered instruction has again and again proven its value in studies that show it to be an especially effective instructional method. Yet, when self-appointed education leaders meet to share best practices or write about effective teaching, teacher-centered instruction, as the comedian Rodney Dangerfield used to say, gets no respect. ... Teacher-centered instruction is supported by a strong set of empirical results conducted over several decades. And yet, these approaches are ignored by the leaders of the profession, as evidenced by the content in textbooks used to train teachers and in authoritative reviews of research. To discuss teacher-centered instruction is not even considered polite conversation. Nevertheless, now is the time for social studies leaders as well as legislators and parents to acknowledge the obvious weaknesses of student-centered approaches and begin to correct the excesses."

  • Some good websites on teaching history:

Evaluating Textbooks and Courses

    For much more about textbooks in general, go to:
    Illinois Loop: Textbooks

  • Don't Know Much about History?, Center for Education Reform, September 2000. "When 80 percent of college seniors receive a D or F on a short high school level American history test (unable to identify when the Civil War was fought or Germany's allies during World War II), it's time to shake up the nation's history lessons. One place to start is with our textbooks."

  • True "critical thinking" is crippled when history units are constrained by political correctness, or when texts and other materials are heavily biased by their selection of topics and persons to be included. An excellent report on 17 leading textbooks used in high school world history classes illustrates the problem: "Evaluating World History Texts" (PDF file) by Paul Kengor, Ph.D., Wisconsin Policy Research Institute, June 2002. The 17 included textbooks are:
    • Civilization: Past and Present (Scott, Foresman)
    • Exploring World History (Simon & Schuster)
    • Global Insights: People and Cultures (Glencoe-McGraw Hill)
    • History of the World (Houghton-Mifflin)
    • Modern World History: Patterns of Interaction (McDougall-Littell)
    • The Pageant of World History (Prentice Hall)
    • The Western Perspective: A History of Civilization (Holt, Rinehart, and Winston)
    • The World's History (Prentice-Hall)
    • World Cultures: A Global Mosaic (Prentice Hall)
    • World History: A Story of Progress (Holt, Rinehart and Winston)
    • World History: Connections to Today (Prentice Hall)
    • World History: Continuity and Change (Holt, Rinehart, and Winston)
    • World History: Patterns of Civilization (Prentice Hall)
    • World History: People and Nations (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich)
    • World History: Perspectives on the Past (Houghton-Mifflin)
    • World History: The Human Experience (Glencoe-McGraw Hill)
    • World History: Traditions and New Directions (Addison-Wesley)

  • The Thomas B. Fordham foundation has prepared a helpful short guide, "Six Questions to Ask on Back to School Night," (a PDF doc) so that parents can assess how well their child's school is teaching social studies.

  • "Consumer's Guide to High School History Textbooks" (a PDF doc) by Diane Ravitch, February 26, 2004 (Thomas B. Fordham foundation). This is an important summary review of 12 widely used U.S. and world history textbooks, followed by Diane Ravitch's own sober conclusions and thoughtful recommendations. It's an in-depth meaty report, but it's hard to beat this single line: "The books reviewed in this report range from the serviceable to the abysmal. None is distinguished or even very good. The best are adequate." From Chester Finn's introduction: "The sad reality ... is that many of our history teachers don't know enough history. To make matters worse, the textbooks on which they typically depend are vast yet surprisingly shabby compendia of dull, dated, and denatured information."

    Here are the texts reviewed in this report:

    • American history
      • The American Journey: Building a Nation (Glencoe, 2003)
      • The American Republic Since 1877 (Glencoe, 2003)
      • The American Nation (Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 2003)
      • History of a Free Nation (Glencoe, 1998).
      • America: Pathways to the Present (Prentice Hall, 2003)
      • The Americans (McDougal Littell, 2003)
      • American Odyssey: The United States in the Twentieth Century (Glencoe, 2002)

    • World History
      • Modern World History: Patterns of Interaction (McDougal Littell, 2003)
      • World History: Connections to Today (Prentice Hall, 2003)
      • World History: The Human Experience (Glencoe, 2001)
      • World History: Continuity and Change (Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1999)
      • World History: People & Nations (Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 2000)
      • World History: The Human Odyssey (National Textbook Company, 1999, Glencoe, 2003).

  • Evaluations of Social Studies Programs -- Educational Research Analysts: Click the link for detailed reviews of individual programs and extensive comparisons.

  • The American Textbook Council reviews specific history textbooks and other educational materials. Its stated purpose is to "improve the social studies curriculum and civic education in the nation's elementary and high schools."

  • The American Textbook Council provides this list of the most popularly adopted social studies texts, with summary comments.

  • World History Textbooks: A Review, American Textbook Council, 2004. Includes reviews and discussions concerning these texts:

    • World Cultures: A Global Mosaic. Pearson/Prentice Hall, 2001.
    • To See a World: World Cultures and Geography. Houghton Mifflin, 1994. This text shares material with other texts, including Across the Centuries (Houghton Mifflin, 1989) and A Message of Ancient Days (Houghton Mifflin, 1989).
    • World History: Connections to Today. Pearson/Prentice Hall, 2001, 2003.
    • World History: Patterns of Interaction. McDougal Littell/Houghton Mifflin, 2001, 2003.
    • The Human Experience. McGraw-Hill/Glencoe, 1999.
    • Continuity and Change. Harcourt/Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1999.

  • Of particular current interest, the American Textbook Council examined the coverage of Islam in seven widely adopted world history textbooks used in grades seven through twelve. In early 2003, it published its findings in a review, Islam and the Textbooks (PDF), comparing what textbooks say about the subject to prominent histories and recognized sources. Textbooks included are:
    • Junior High School (World History)
      • Medieval and Early Modern Times (Glencoe)
      • Medieval to Early Modern Times (Holt Rinehart Winston)
      • World History: Medieval and Early Modern Times (McDougal Littell)
      • Medieval and Early Modern Times (Prentice Hall)
      • History Alive! The Medieval World and Beyond (Teachers' Curriculum Institute)
    • High School (World History)
      • World History: The Modern World (Prentice Hall)
      • World History: Modern Times (Glencoe)
    • High School (American History)
      • America: Pathways to the Present (Prentice Hall)
      • The American Vision: Modern Times (Glencoe)
      • The Americans: Reconstruction to the Twenty-first Century (McDougal Littell)

    That report elicited a number of strong responses, both positive and negative. In response, ATC has also released a paper Islam and the Textbooks: A Reply to the Critics (PDF).

  • Highly recommended:
    Social Studies Textbook Review (zipped PDF) from the Texas Public Policy Foundation, July 2002: detailed reviews and rankings for a number of major social studies textbooks for middle schools through high schools. These reviews are thorough -- just the section on American history texts for high school is 230 pages! They includes meaty discussions of factual errors, and also responses from textbooks publishers. Here are the textbooks included in this extensive report:

    • World Cultures - Grade 6
      • Glencoe/McGraw Hill, Our World Today: People Places and Issues
      • Harcourt School Publishers, Harcourt Horizons
      • Holt Rinehart & Winston, Holt, People, Places and Change: An Introduction to World Studies
      • McDougal Littell, World Cultures and Geography
      • Prentice Hall, World Explorer: People, Places & Culture
    • American History - Grade 8
      • Glencoe/McGraw Hill, The American Republic, Volume 1
      • Holt Rinehart & Winston, Holt, Call to Freedom, Beginnings to 1877
      • McDougal Littell, Celebrating America: Beginning through Reconstruction
      • Prentice Hall, The American Nation: Beginnings Through 1877
    • World History - High School
      • Glencoe/McGraw Hill, Glencoe World History
      • Holt Rinehart & Winston, Holt World History: The Human Journey
      • McDougal Littell, World History: Patterns of Interaction
      • Prentice Hall, World History: Connections to Today
    • American History - High School
      • Glencoe/McGraw Hill, The American Republic, Volume 2
      • Holt Rinehart & Winston Holt the American Nation in the Modern Era
      • McDougal Littell The Americans: Reconstruction to the 21st Century
      • Prentice Hall America: Pathways to the Present, Modern American History
    • American Government - High School
      • Glencoe/McGraw Hill United States Government
      • Holt Rinehart & Winston Holt American Government
      • Prentice Hall Magruder's American Government
    • Economics - High School
      • Glencoe/McGraw Hill, Economics: Today and Tomorrow
      • Glencoe/McGraw Hill, Economics: Principles and Practice
      • Holt Rinehart & Winston, Holt Economics
      • Prentice Hall, Economics: Principles in Action

  • The Textbook League has reviews on numerous specific textbooks, including these areas in social studies: Browse the titles under these headers as well:

  • An especially controversial textbook is We the People: The Citizen and the Constitution, published by the Center for Civic Education. Here are some articles about that:
    • Federally Funded Civics? by Allen Quist. "It is an outrage that an American government textbook this radical is authorized and funded by federal law."
    • Why We Need 'The Freedom In Education Act' by Tom DeWeese, December 10, 2005
    • We the People -- A Terrible Federally Funded Textbook by Allen Quist, January 03, 2006
    • How Did We Get A Federal Curriculum? by: Phyllis Schlafly, February 13, 2002. "CCE's textbook called We the People: the Citizen and the Constitution admits a peculiar aversion to facts: 'The primary purpose of this text is not to fill your head with a lot of facts about American history and geography. Knowledge of the facts is important but only insofar as it deepens your understanding of the American Constitutional system and its development.' 'Deepens your understanding,' that is, of a prescribed worldview without cluttering your mind with hard facts about American history and what's actually in the U.S. Constitution."

  • Want to see what an excellent series of social studies textbooks looks like? Read about the Pearson Learning Core Knowledge textbooks for grades 1 through 6.

  • Catholic school administrators and teachers looking for social studies texts may be interested in exploring the new releases from the Catholic Schools Textbook Project.

Political Correctness, Bias and "Black Armband History"

    Harvard University professor Alan Heimert says the effect of dumbed-down "social studies" is that kids "are aware that someone oppressed someone else, but they aren't sure exactly what took place and they have no idea of the order in which it happened."

    This "history-of-horrors" or "black armband history" does little to provide balance, or a sense of national accomplishment or pride.

  • Here is more from the essay cited earlier, Why Doesn't Johnny Vote? Blame It on Social Studies by Brendan Miniter, Wall Street Journal, September 29, 2003. Excerpts: "Social studies, depressingly, is the course American students do not want to take. Beginning in the 1970s--and in an apparently irreversible trend--the education establishment downsized history and the like into dull-witted subjects, gutted of all passion and focused on seemingly value-free events. ...
    "All of this serves a larger purpose. Social-studies theorists seek to create social activists. Students need not know the facts to be effective change-agents; they're taught that facts are a matter of opinion. Indeed, they need only believe that they are correct as they reject the tenets of society. The result? Elementary-school lessons that use Thanksgiving to teach that we owe redress to American Indians.
    "The results have been disastrous. Young Americans are ignorant of history and are increasingly poor citizens ... The percentage of 18- to 24-year-olds who voted fell to 32% in 1996 and 2000, from 50% in 1972. A study in 2000 found that only 28.1% of college freshman kept up to date with politics, a record low and down from 60.3% in 1966. 'The current generation of young people may set a new standard for both civic disengagement and civic misinformation,' writes J. Martin Rochester in his Fordham essay." [see Where Did Social Studies Go Wrong?]

  • Jay Mathews, education columnist for the Washington Post, cited this in his May 28, 2004 column:
    "Tiffany Charles got a B in history last year at her Montgomery County high school, but she is not sure what year World War II ended. She cannot name a single general or battle, or the man who was president during the most dramatic hours of the 20th century. Yet the 16-year-old does remember in some detail that many Japanese American families on the West Coast were sent to internment camps. 'We talked a lot about those concentration camps,' she said."

  • "Whose standards? Rejected revisionist history standards are finding their way through the back door of American education" by Lynn Vincent, World Magazine, Nov. 20, 1999

  • The Historians vs. American History by C. Bradley Thompson, February 24, 2003: It is now obvious that American children know very little about the history of their own nation. ... What is less obvious -- and more dangerous -- is that the history they do know is utterly subversive of American culture and values. I recently attended the annual meeting of the American Historical Association, the nation's largest and most influential organization of academic historians. What goes on at this meeting will eventually make its way into your child's classroom. I was shocked by what I saw and heard. ..."

  • The Stealth Curriculum: Manipulating America's History Teachers by Sandra Stotsky, Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, April 2004. Excerpt from the introduction:

      "In the past three decades, scholars and parents have criticized K-12 history textbooks for their inadequate coverage of important topics as well as for being error-laden and poorly written. ... This reality has led to the development of an immense cottage industry in our primary-secondary education system, one designed to supply history and social studies teachers with pre-digested 'supplemental materials' and 'professional development' ...

      "As troubling as most current history textbooks are, however, they are less troubling than many of the supplemental resources available to teachers of history at all educational levels. ... Supplemental materials ... are far less visible and seldom get reviewed. ... K-12 supplemental materials usually fly under the radar of historians and other experts with sensitive political antennae.

      "The source of the problem with many of the supplemental resources used for history or social studies is the ideological mission of the organizations that create them. Their ostensible goal is to combat intolerance, expand students' knowledge of other cultures, give them other 'points of view' on commonly studied historical phenomena, and/or promote 'critical thinking.' But their real goal, to judge by an analysis of their materials and the effects they have on teachers, is to influence how children come to understand and think about current social and political issues by bending historical content to those ends. They embed their political agendas in the instructional materials they create so subtly that apolitical teachers are unlikely to spot them. And they tend to facilitate acceptance of their materials by appealing to teachers' sense of fairness and their presumed obligation to promote 'social justice' and withhold negative moral judgments about people or cultures deemed victims of white racism.

      "In the guise of providing teachers with ideas for a more engaging pedagogy and deeper understanding of a historical phenomenon, frequently one involving instances of prejudice, they recruit unwitting teachers as their agents in cultivating hostility toward America as a country, toward Western culture, and toward Americans of European descent. The poisonous effects of these supplemental resources on teachers' thinking and pedagogical practices can spread throughout the entire school curriculum in the moral and civic vacuum created by neutered textbooks and a host of competing 'multiple perspectives.'"

  • Does Patriotism Matter? by Thomas Sowell, July 2, 2008.
         "The Fourth of July is a patriotic holiday but patriotism has long been viewed with suspicion or disdain by many of the intelligentsia. ... Perhaps nowhere was patriotism so downplayed or deplored than among intellectuals in the Western democracies in the two decades after the horrors of the First World War ... In France, after the First World War, the teachers' unions launched a systematic purge of textbooks, in order to promote internationalism and pacifism. Books that depicted the courage and self-sacrifice of soldiers who had defended France against the German invaders were called 'bellicose' books to be banished from the schools. Textbook publishers caved in to the power of the teachers' unions, rather than lose a large market for their books. History books were sharply revised to conform to internationalism and pacifism. ...
         "Did it matter? Does patriotism matter? France, where pacifism and internationalism were strongest, became a classic example of how much it can matter. During the First World War, France fought on against the German invaders for four long years ... But during the Second World War, France collapsed after just six weeks of fighting and surrendered to Nazi Germany. At the bitter moment of defeat the head of the French teachers' union was told, 'You are partially responsible for the defeat.'"

  • Leaving Reality Out: How Textbooks (Don't) Teach About Tyranny by Diane Ravitch, American Educator, American Federation of Teachers (AFT), Fall 2003. Excerpt: "Few American students have ever lived in a society where there were no elections or where elections were a sham; where criticism of the leader was a crime punishable by years in prison; where the press and all other media served the government; where there was no independent judiciary to limit the powers of the government; where individuals were arbitrarily arrested and imprisoned; where individuals were not free to travel abroad or to join organizations (like labor unions) with others; and where individuals had few or no rights. If students don't study the reality of tyranny in school, they're unlikely to learn of it anywhere else. And their potential for political judgment will be limited by their political naivete."

  • History to the Left of Us by Larry Schweikart, American Enterprise Online, September 2002. Among K-16 textbooks mentioned:

    • America - George Tindall and David Shi
    • American Pageant - Thomas Bailey
    • Nations of Nations
    • American Journey
    • American Experience - Steven Gillon and Cathy Matson
    • Unfinished Nation - Alan Brinkley
    • Liberty, Equality, Power
    • Enduring Vision - Boyer

  • American history textbook "One Nation Many People", published by Globe-Fearon, reviewed by Kevin Killion, August 24, 2006. "I encountered this disaster of a textbook in my own family, as the assigned text for my son's American history class at New Trier High School. It's utterly unconscionable how any school could claim that this fiasco is suitable as an American history textbook. "One Nation Many People" would be better described as a history of protected minorities and left-wing movements in the United States. ..."

  • Academic Freedom in the Middle and Secondary School Classroom (PDF) by Professors Daniel E. Lee and Jack A. Garrett, July/August 2005. This is a short, excellent presentation on how teachers can handle controversial issues in the classroom without trampling on individual political or personal perspectives.

  • Schoolbooks are flubbing facts: Texts filled with errors and political correctness by Alison Gendar and Douglas Feiden, New York Daily News, December 21, 2002: "Ever wonder what your children might be learning when they hit the books in the New York City public schools? A kinder, gentler definition of jihad. It really means 'to do one's best to resist temptation and overcome evil.' An error-filled version of global geography. The equator actually passes through Florida, Texas and Arizona. A saga of a swashbuckling hero of today who can be compared to ancient historical heroes dating to the Trojan War: Indiana Jones. The world of 21st century textbook education is a learning laboratory in which agendas, ideologies and errors all too often trump balance, accuracy and fairness. 'It's a reign of distortion and censorship,' said Diane Ravitch, an education historian at New York University and former assistant education secretary in the first Bush administration. 'It's an environment in which words and images are routinely banned.' And that's just the textbooks."

  • An Army of One: What it's like to be the only Republican in your high school. by Dan Gelernter, Weekly Standard, October 25, 2004. An excellent article, from a very perceptive and well-read student, about the history textbook used in his high school. Excerpt: "My textbook last year, for example, was the 12th edition of The American Pageant by David Kennedy, Lizabeth Cohen, and the late Thomas Bailey. Its chapter on World War II has more than a page on the relocation and internment of Japanese-Americans after Pearl Harbor and one sentence on the Bataan Death March. (What does one infer from this about the value of an American life?) It spends no time at all on the American GI, but gives a comprehensive discussion of the number of women who served, and where. (It carefully refers to "the 15 million men and women in uniform.") The discussion, in short, is warped, incompetent, anachronistic."

  • How Textbooks Distort American History by Dr. Burt Folsom

  • Celebrating Western Civilization (PDF) by David Mulroy, Wisconsin Interest, 2003, Vol. 12 No. 3

  • Facts in School Texts Endangered Species, Senators Hear by Jennifer Dekel. Excerpt: "Politically correct standards in our children's schools, textbooks, and testing methods lead to ill-founded biases, censorship, and misconstrued information, according to Sen. Lamar Alexander. 'In history books it is now common to read about pre-Columbian civilizations in the Americas and their contributions to culture, while ignoring or dismissing some of their backward practices, such as the Aztec practice of human sacrifice," Sen. Alexander said. "At the same time, the accomplishments of European civilization are downplayed to the extent that some textbooks are more likely to tell about a university in Timbuktu than Oxford or Cambridge.'"

  • "From George Washington to Mansa Masu", by Suzanne Fields, Jewish World Review, May 4, 2000

  • "Snoop Doggy Dog Was a Founding Father, Wasn't He?", by Suzanne Fields, Jewish World Review, July 17, 2000

  • "'Correct' History For Johnny: Dumbed-Down Texts Repeat And Invent Myths", by Michael Chapman, Investor's Business Daily, November 27, 1998

  • Political correctness seems to run rampant anywhere that progressivist ed theories dominate. To illustrate, here is an excerpt from a chapter, "Glossary of Edubabble," (PDF) from an Australia report, Why Our Schools Are Failing, published by the Menzies Research Centre in that country:
    Black armband -- The term is associated with the historian Geoffrey Blainey and his 1993 John Latham memorial lecture. It describes the way, as a result of the politically correctness movement, Australian history is taught in our schools. Instead of celebrating what we have achieved as a nation and the benefits of European settlement, the belief is that our history is one of violence, inequality and destruction. Students are taught about the way so-called marginalised groups (women, Indigenous Australians and migrants) have been dispossessed and unfairly treated and that more traditional approaches to history privilege the role and influence of dead white European males (DWEMs). When teaching about those responsible for federation, for example, instead of learning about such founding fathers as John Quick or Edmund Barton, students are asked to explain why women and Indigenous Australians were excluded.
  • See Google's results for the search: "Geoffrey Blainey" "black armband"

Also see the section of this website on political correctness in textbooks, for a more general discussion of the dumbing-down effect of P.C. and bias in the production of textbooks and supplemental materials.

Links and More Info

Quotes on Social Studies

    From our extensive collection on education quotations, here are the entries on social studies:


      "Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness. When change is absolute there remains no being to improve and no direction is set for possible improvement: and when experience is not retained, as among savages, infancy is perpetual. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. In the first stage of life the mind is frivolous and easily distracted; it misses progress by failing in consecutiveness and persistence. This is the condition of children and barbarians."
      -- George Santayana, The Life of Reason [1905-1906]

      "We are raising a generation of young Americans who are by-and-large historically illiterate. And it's not their fault."
      -- David McCullogh, historian

      "We have to get across the idea that we have to know who we were if we're to know who we are and where we're headed."
      -- David McCullogh, historian

      "But most [history textbooks], it appears to me, have been published in order to kill any interest that anyone might have in history. I think that students would be better served by cutting out all the pages, clipping up all the page numbers, mixing them all up and then asking students to put the pages back together in the right order. The textbooks are dreary, they're done by committee, they're often hilariously politically correct and they're not doing any good."
      -- David McCullogh, historian

      "We're raising young people who are, by and large, historically illiterate. ... I know how much these young people -- even at the most esteemed institutions of higher learning -- don't know. It's shocking."
      -- David McCullogh, historian

      "The most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history."
      -- George Orwell

      "Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past."
      -- George Orwell

      "In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act"
      -- George Orwell

      "A generation which ignores history has no past and no future."
      -- Robert A. Heinlein

      "Live both in the future and the past. Who does not live in the past does not live in the future."
      -- Lord Acton

      "When else in history would you find 'educated' people who know more about sports than about the history of their country..."
      -- Wendell Berry

      "The study of history is a powerful antidote to contemporary arrogance. It is humbling to discover how many of our glib assumptions, which seem to us novel and plausible, have been tested before, not once but many times and in innumerable guises; and discovered to be, at great human cost, wholly false." -- Paul Johnson, British historian (from The Quotable Paul Johnson: A Topical Compilation of His Wit, Wisdom and Satire, edited by George J. Marlin)

      "To know nothing of what happened before you were born is to remain ever a child"
      -- Cicero

      "Civilization is not inherited; it has to be learned and earned by each generation anew; if the transmission should be interrupted for one century, civilization would die, and we should be savages again." -- Will and Ariel Durant, The Lessons of History, p. 101.

      "The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there."
      -- L. P. Hartley, The Go-Between

      "My own in-house youth consultant, my son, is almost 13 and knows with astonishing details the genealogy of Frodo Baggins from Lord of the Rings or the battles of Luke Skywalker's rebellion against the Empire in Star Wars. Yet, he did not know until recently that Abraham Lincoln was born in a log cabin. He knows because I told him. 'They don't teach us much history in school, Dad,' he said."
      -- Clarence Page, Chicago Tribune columnist, May 15, 2002

      "A history of only horrors cannot inspire."
      -- John McWhorter, University of California at Berkeley, "Toward a Usable Black History," summer 2001, City Journal

      "The West was not settled by men and women who had taken courses in 'How to be a pioneer.'"
      -- Arthur Bestor, Educational Wastelands

      "How can a citizen be called educated if he has been trained to misunderstand the world?"
      -- Robert Conquest

      "We must not lose touch with what we were, with what we had been, nor must we allow the well of our history to dry up, for a child without tradition is a child crippled before the world. Tradition can also be an anchor of stability and a shield to guard one from irresponsibility and hasty decision."
      -- Louis L'Amour, To the Far Blue Mountains

      "To look to the future we must first look back upon the past. That is where the seeds of the future were planted."
      -- Albert Einstein

      "...The presently taught curriculum in the social sciences in the early grades is a disservice to the students and a shame for the educational system ... Children of this age are sufficiently surrounded by the realities of their lives. ... What children of this age need is rich food for their imagination, or a sense of history, how the present situation came about. ... What formed the culture of the past, such as myths, is of interest and value to them, because these myths reflect how people tried to make sense of the world."
      -- Bruno Bettelheim, professor of education at the University of Chicago

      "For most Americans, all history is ancient history and the best thing about the past is that it's over."
      -- Raymond Seitz, former U.S. Ambassador to Britain

      "[The elementary social studies curriculum] "expresses a contempt for children's intelligence. ... Much more is to be gained by teaching disciplined historical thinking than by having [students] engage, while conceptually unprepared, the crucial issues that beset our society at the present."
      -- Dr. Kieran Egan, recipient of the Gravemeyer Award for research into early childhood education

      "There is a greater lesson to be learned from the 50-year-old social studies experiment. Using economic and social conditions of the 1930s as justification, proponents of social studies created an 'integrated' curriculum that robbed several generations of a solid education in history."
      -- Lil Tuttle, "Social Studies: the 'Integrated' Curriculum That Failed"

      "[Students] are aware that someone oppressed someone else, but they aren't sure exactly what took place and they have no idea of the order in which it happened."
      -- Alan Heimert, professor, Harvard University

      "The farther back you can look, the farther forward you can see."
      -- Winston Churchill

      "No one can understand history without continually relating the long periods which are constantly mentioned to the period of our own short lives. Five years is a lot. Twenty years is the horizon for most people. Fifty years is antiquity. To understand how the impact of destiny fell upon any generation of men one must first imagine their position and then apply the time-scale of their own lives."
      -- Winston Churchill

      "What can we be certain of from history? That human beings have been wrong innumerable times, by vast amounts, and with catastrophic results. Yet today there are still people who think that anyone who disagrees with them must be either bad or not know what he is talking about."
      -- Thomas Sowell

      "You cannot survive if you do not know the past."
      -- Oriana Fallaci

      "The study of history is a powerful antidote to contemporary arrogance. It is humbling to discover how many of our glib assumptions, which seem to us novel and plausible, have been tested before, not once but many times and in innumerable guises; and discovered to be, at great human cost, wholly false."
      --Paul Johnson, historian and writer

      "We shall not grow wiser before we learn that much that we have done was very foolish."
      -- F. A. Hayek, The Road to Serfdom


      "I studied geography in the fifth grade, and I remember that instead of just TELLING us where things were, the teacher insisted that we make relief maps of the United States by mixing flour and water into a paste and smearing it on a shirt cardboard so as to form important geographical features such as the Rocky Mountains, the Great Plains, Disneyland, etc. ... As a direct result, I grew up, like most Americans, with a poor grasp of geography."
      -- Dave Barry

      "There is something in maps which attracts everybody, even the smallest children. When they are tired of everything else, they will still learn something by means of maps. And this is a good amusement for children ... We might really begin with geography in teaching children."
      -- Immanuel Kant

      "Geography, I think, should be begun with: for the learning of the figure of the globe, the situation and boundaries of the four parts of the world, and that of particular kingdoms and countries, being only an exercise of the eyes and memory, a child with pleasure will learn and retain them; and this is so certain, that I now live in the house with a child whom his mother has so well instructed this way in geography that he knew the limits of the four parts of the world, could readily point, being asked, to any country upon the globe or any county in the map of England, knew all the great rivers, promontories, straits, and bays in the world, and could find the longitude and latitude of any place before he was six years old. These things, that he will thus learn by sight, and have by rote in his memory, are not all, I confess, that he is to learn upon the globes. But yet it is a good step and preparation to it, and will make the remainder much easier, when his judgment is grown ripe enough for it."
      -- John Locke, philosopher, Some Thoughts Concerning Education


      "The more closely I examined the social studies curriculum, the more my attention was drawn to the curious nature of the early grades, which is virtually content-free. The social studies curriculum for he K-3 grades is organized around the study of the relationships within the home, school, neighborhood, and local community. This curriculum of "me, my family, my school, my community" now dominates the early grades in American public education. It contains no mythology, legends, biographies, hero tales, or great events in the life of this nation or any other. It is tot sociology."
      -- Diane Ravitch, "Tot Sociology: What Happened to History in the Grade Schools?"

      "In the course of my research, I was told by many educators that the present K-3 curriculum was based on years of educational research. No one was able to point to any specific research, but they assumed that it was validated by the developmental studies of Jean Piaget. However, Piagetian theory is about how children learn, not what they are taught. In fact, Piagetian theory permits teachers to teach virtually any content so long as they proceed from the concrete to the abstract."
      -- Diane Ravitch, "Tot Sociology: What Happened to History in the Grade Schools?"

      "Leading scholars in the fields of cognitive psychology, child development, and curriculum theory know of no research justifying the expanding environments approach. In fact, they make repeated references to the 'vacuousness' and the 'sterility' of the content offered to young children in their social studies classes.
      -- Diane Ravitch, "Tot Sociology: What Happened to History in the Grade Schools?"

      "The aim of history is to educate ... the aim of social studies is socialization"
      -- Lil Tuttle, "Social Studies: the 'Integrated' Curriculum That Failed"

      "Our challenge and responsibility are clear. If we would desire good citizenship, love of country, respect for heritage among our young, then we must teach them. And we must do so actively, consistently, and most of all early. It is essential that we provide children with an environment conducive to the learning about, practicing of, and valuing of good citizenship and responsible involvement in national life. Children should be surrounded with reminders of our heritage as a nation and with the symbols of our loyalty. They will learn patriotic reverence best if they see it practiced by adults. They will learn how to be good citizens if they are encouraged and shown how good citizens respond to given situations, if they are provided opportunities to use this knowledge."
      -- Everett McKinley Dirksen, U.S. Senator from Illinois

      "The training of the intellect was meant to produce an intrinsic pleasure and satisfaction, but it also had practical goals of importance to the individual and the entire community, to make the humanistically trained individuals eloquent and wise, to know what is good and to practice virtue, both in private and public life. Such was the understanding of the ancient Greeks and of the Renaissance humanists, but not, I fear of many teachers of the humanities today, who deny the possibility of knowing anything with confidence, of the reality of such concepts as truth and virtue, who seek only gain and pleasure in the modern guise of political power and self-gratification as the ends of education."
      -- Donald Kagan, Sterling professor of classics and history at Yale University, delivering the 34th annual Jefferson Lecture of the National Endowment for the Humanities


      "People who decry the fact that businesses are in business 'just to make money' seldom understand the implications of what they are saying. You make money by doing what other people want, not what you want."
      -- Thomas Sowell

      "The first lesson of economics is scarcity: There is never enough of anything to fully satisfy all those who want it. The first lesson of politics is to disregard the first lesson of economics."
      -- Thomas Sowell, Ph.D., Is Reality Optional?: And Other Essays

      "Since wealth is the only thing that can cure poverty, you might think that the left would be as obsessed with the creation of wealth as they are with the redistribution of wealth. But you would be wrong."
      -- Thomas Sowell, Ph.D., Column: The Cure for Poverty? Wealth

      "It is amazing how many of the intelligentsia call it 'greed' to want to keep what you have earned, but not greed to want to take away what somebody else has earned, and let politicians use it to buy votes."
      -- Thomas Sowell, Ph.D., Controversial Essays

      "Much confusion comes from judging economic policies by the goals they proclaim rather than the incentives they create."
      -- Thomas Sowell, Ph.D., Basic Economics: A Common Sense Guide to the Economy

    Also see our full page on education quotations.

Copyright 2012, The Illinois Loop. All Rights Reserved.
Home Page     Site Map     Contact Us