School Curriculum Too Negative About America?

I never learned anything negative about the US in high school. The history curriculum was so watered down and devoid of context, it was hard to say if it was negative about anything. Has the curriculum changed that much? This report smacks of Lynne Cheney’s initiative to whitewash American history.

The only balanced understanding I have of US history and politics has come from reading Zinn, Chomsky, and Vidal. Lies My Teacher Told Me is a good book about the lies and distortions in history class.

By high school’s textbook (Lexington, Ky., 1997) did a decent job of balance. I do have to agree with the others who complain about a lack of attention to the Vietnam War. Also, neither the textbook nor my teacher ever made any mention of the CIA involvement in Latin America, Iran, and elsewhere duirng the 50’s and 60’s, which retrospectively would have to be my biggest complaint. I do recall spending what seemed like a lot of time on Watergate.

The textbook, by the way, was The Enduring Vision, by Paul Boyer.

James Loewen has an amusing section about the sweeping, romantic names of history text books in his *Lies My Teacher Taught Me. * As he puts it, “Chemistry textbooks are called Principles of Chemistry, not *The Rise of the Molecule.” *

I teach US History at the high school level and the book I mainly use is The American Pageant by Bailey and Kennedy. But remember, most all GOOD teachers do not merely repeat what is found in the textbook. Hopefully, they have a wealth of knowledge and primary sources that go well beyond some of the bare bones facts that end up in the book. For example, Chapter 39 of The American Pageant devotes a single paragraph to the whole Rosenberg spy case. I however, have also read “The Brother” which tells the story about how David Greenglass gave up his own sister (Ethel Rosenberg) to the feds in order to save his wife Peggy from prosecution. Therefore, I supplement the textbook with details from the other book and give the students a much more interesting and personal take on the entire situation. And no, I don’t argue that the Rosenbergs were actually innocent or really guilty. I provide the students with as much relevant info as I can given the time constraints of the class, and then let them figure that answer out for themselves.

They should go back to teaching American History the old fashioned way:
-Columbus discovered America
-The Indians saved the Pilgrims and created thanksgiving
-The mean old King of England taxed our tea so we revolted
-George Washington chopped down a cherry tree
-The Civil War was fought to free the slaves
-Abe Lincoln was born in a log cabin and had his head blown off by John Wilkes Booth
-Custer got himself killed by Injuns
-WWI - the Germans lost
-WWII - We got attacked at Pearl Harbor and then kicked ass
-We fought the communists in Korea
-Helicopters were instrumental in Vietnam
-Nixon was impeached because of Watergate
-Gas was expensive in the 70s
-Ronald Regan was president in the 80s

and I guess that was about it. Our textbooks didn’t go much furthur than that.

I graduated about 3 years ago. Actually, if anything, one of my gripes that it seemed like every year when we did history, we focused Way too much on the Native Americans and Colonial America. Not trying to say they weren’t important, but when we only got to Korea one year, maybe it’s best to focus a bit more on things that happened after 1700AD and not before.

Some have speculated that this is intentional. Vietnam is still to fresh and controversial. It’s much more within the comfort zone to examine the actions of the long-dead than the still-living.

I can never understand this argument that we should have our history taught in a more jingoistic rah-rah manner than it is today. Isn’t one of the things we have learned in the past two years that we view ourselves very differently than the rest of the world, even our allies, view us?!? Do we think it is necessary to further expand that gulf between how we view ourselves and how others view us?!?

Well…I am in high school now. In truth, all the teachers ever do is bash figures in American history. We put Columbus on trial in 8th grade (with a strong favoring towards the “completely innocent” natives, and ignoring the fact of European customs at the time), we are taught that Vietnam was unmixed evil, and that the Civil War was fought over nothing but slavery. And our textbook is 1/2 People’s History of the US, mentioned in an above post.

When we were asked to evaluate textbooks, one of the five criteria ranked (good, fair, poor, etc) was “emphasized the accomplishments of minorities”. Emphasized!

But then, I am in Liberal Central, New Joisey.

The reason why we’re turning out cynical and disinterested voters from our school systems (as the article states) is perhaps because of the disconnect between the facts we learn in school and the concurrent trumpeting of America’s superiority. It’s hard not to get cynical when you learn one day that we’re the greatest country ever, and then spend the next day learning about the trail of tears, and not addressing how those two days of learning conflict or can be reconciled.

It’s probably true for any given country that it views itself differently than the rest of the world does. But imho this is particulary true for the US. One thing is what you learn at school, the other thing is what you learn outside school.
A half year exchange to a foreign country during high school is worth more than all the history classes you can take. My advice: Travel abroad if you can.

I think you need some actual data there. And specifically, data that compares the change in attitudes among Baby Boomers with the simultaneous change in attitude (if any) of older and younger generations. IOW, if the Baby Boomers voter participations declined by 20% as compared to previous generations at comparable ages, and those younger and older declined by similar or greater percentages, the data would not indicate that the “rah-rah” education is not the factor.

As I mentioned earlier, the change to a more negative attitude towards the US in education did not take place in a vacuum - it reflected larger changes in society’s attitudes towards itself. (I would imagine that Vietnam and Watergate would be big contributing factors.) This change would have an impact on everyone regardless of how they were educated. If you want to look at the impact of different types of educational focus, you have to isolate for the effects of education alone.

Funny. I saw no evidence that either the Hoover people or the Albert Shanker people did that.

Until the Shanker and Hoover folks demonstrate that their studies isolated for education, I would suggest that the continued lies of repeated administrations has far more to do with disengagment than anything in the history books (particularly when the history books are filled with pap).

I guess I’m a unique case from reading the other posts. In MY high school history class (I graduated in '82) we spent the majority of the time learning about Vietnam and the 60’s. I can’t say we spent more than a month on the pilgrams and revolutionary war period at all, skimmed briefly through the civil war (like maybe a day or two as I recall), maybe a week on the early 20th century, spent some time on Korea (we were actually shown the movie MASH and told this was a good example of the times…lol) and then spent the rest of the year talking about the '60s, Vietnam, Nixon, etc etc. My HS history teacher had a real hard on for America, and so we learned all the ‘facts’ about the evils in America. I NEVER heard anything good about America at all.

I basically came out of HS puzzled as to how, due to the horrific losses we were sufferning in Vietnam, losing every battle and with the war being SO very unpopular at home, how we could have fought for so long under such a case. I was puzzled about a lot of things taught in class, and I was VERY negative towards the US for years (much to the frustration of my father). It wasn’t until years later that I started reading other things on my own or in college that I got a more balanced view of what REALLY happened…the good and the bad.

As has been posted before in this thread, there was bad AND good happening…and a lot of the bad has to be put in context with the time. This isn’t excusing the actions…its simply impossible to judge people from another time by the standards of our own in any meaningful way. People THOUGHT differently then, there were different norms and different things that were acceptable…and unacceptable. I don’t know how teachers would go into the details to be honest, but it would be nice and it would be more balanced.

I’d say that, from my experience though, most HS students don’t give a damn about history at all (if they give a damn about anything learning related at all). I know in my class, most people either went to sleep or cut up the whole time (I sat in back reading Sci-Fi or fantasy novels). It seems to be the case today. The fundamental way that history (and every other subject IMO) is presented (i.e. rote memorization of ‘facts’ and dates) is just boring, and not working very well. I think this has a lot to do with the watered down nature of history taught in the US.


eeeeek! When you said you graduated “four years ago” I thought one of your parents was using your login and meant “forty years ago.”

As others have pointed out, as long as the public high school curriculum restricts American History to a single year course which must be adjusted to the pace of the most apathetic sluggard in the class you cannot expect the public education system to produce people with a profound understanding of how we got where we are or where we are likely to end up. Quite frankly, if it were not for private reading and an inspiring teacher the first semester of high school American History and a couple good courses in college and if my knowledge and understanding of the matter was based solely on what I got in high school American History some 45 years ago I’d be a candidate for one of Jay Leno’s man on the street clips. Even back when American History ended with the Armistice of 1918 there was not enough time to cover the subject with anything like the attention it disserved.

And don’t get me started on the World History course taught by some bored coach in his time away from diagramming plays by reading the textbook to us in a deadly monotone.

If you are going to make American History a two year course (year one: 1492 to 1898; year two 1898 to last week) what are you going to cut out of the mandatory curriculum to make room for the second year? Do you eliminate a science requirement, or a year of language or mathematics? Do you just make high school a year longer? Or do you just keep the present program and gallop the kids over the top, memorizing dates and avoiding any discussion of cause and effect, purposes, alternatives? I can’t think of a worse way to teach history than the standard balderdash I was exposed to with mimeographed fill-in-the-blank worksheets due every Friday, and a liberal dash of flag waiving and an avoidance of any connection between the Civil War and the Civil Rights Movement.

I think the best school project I ever did was in 5th grade. we all got parts and had to roll play landing on mars and meeting natives. it was all just a metaphore for colonizeing america but we basicly played out the whole thing exactly as it happened (but in space) given situations that showed what everyone was probobly motivated by… without any “europeans are evil!!!” or “indians are as smart as fancy monkeys”

The very essence of good teaching! It sounds to me like owlofcreamcheese had the benefit of a good 5th grade teacher too.

Spavined Gelding, American history certainly deserves at least two years! No one can have a thorough understanding of the U.S. today without a real grasp of Vietnam and Watergate. In my generation it was most important to understand the Great Depression and WWII. I don’t think we covered either very well.

See, I did have more than one year of American history. In fact, I would say I had at least three if not four. The problem was that it was the same year over and over again. Every year we’d start with Columbus and end with WWII. If they had done it in sequence I probably could have learned a lot. This would have all been in the 6th-10 grade range of time.

This was 6, nearly 7 years ago and I don’t recall any glaring biases but then again I am in general pretty content with and non-reflective about my public education experience. I agree with what seem sto be the general feeling that the solution is not to deliberately skew our teaching one way or another, but to teach the material well, which IMHO precludes too strong a bias in either direction.

I think this could be a very successful method of teaching history if each year the detail became richer and gave a fuller picture of not only names, place and dates, but a real sense of what life was like during the time they’re studying. Each year, they would delve deeper into each subject amd tme period, rather than just a repition of dry facts.

Only by understanding our ancestors’ way of life can we possibly understand their points of view. It’s unfair to judge historical figures without an understanding of the way society worked in their time and how ours differs. I think that a lot of time kids miss out on the bigger picture by not understanding histroical figures’ motives in context. Not doing so makes historical people seem more remote and less “real” since their actions or way of thinking are utterly foreign.