Your experiences with history education in United States schools, K-12

I should rephrase: I don’t think teaching it that way was is the best way to create the foundation. Obviously, it does work because many people who love history that were taught that way. However, most of them seem to have gained that interest/love either through external sources or after high school. If it was in high school, it’s typically ascribed to a great teacher. I think that’s a real problem. Why can’t we teach high school history the way we do the prerequisite college history classes? It doesn’t have to delve into the subject as much, but high schools could imitate their general teaching practices. I think it would be a better foundation for students.

ETA: I think your daughter’s friend might have had a problem with logic rather than history. :smiley:

The last thing I remember from high school American History class was about how Jimmy Carter had a terrifying killer rabbit incident, complete with images. This is an example of what they found important for us to know about our country’s history in my mid-eighties Tennessee public school.

I had a great world history teacher though. She was one of those teachers you could just tell she loved the subject. She would get so excited it really rubbed off on us. She was a great storyteller. I feel like we spent a lot of time on Romans and European history. I don’t recall a thing we covered about Africa once we got past King Tut.

My big brother is a 26 year teacher of high school American History. He is miserable. He is a great historian, loves everything about human history but the way the system has them teaching is so nutty, all he can do is push test questions to prep for the big test. There’s no time for storytelling or reflection.

I think I can honestly say that I learned more history from Walt Kelly’s “Pogo” (annotated by my dad’s explanations) than I learned in school. That was a wonderful funny-papers resource, and I think most kids I knew had some historical perspective just from talking a bout Pogo.

Honestly, the only thing I remember about history classes in school was Mr. Carey, 10th grade World History. He spent way too much time talking about his family and his personal views on child-rearing. And apparently in his house, snacks were called “taste treats.” :rolleyes:

History was always rote memorization of dates and battles, no context, no point to any of it. It hasn’t been until fairly recently that I’ve started watching documentaries about events and seeing how everything fits together. It’s no longer about knowing answers to trivia questions - it actually means something! Sadly, it seems too few teachers know how to present the material so that the students care.

The problem is that children are, and this is a technical description, rock stupid. I say this as a career educator. This isn’t a bad thing: they get better. I was rock stupid. You were rock stupid. Education cures rock stupidy. But until you’ve been there and done that, you wouldn’t believe the amount of time and energy it takes to get what now appears to be a simple idea into the head of even a bright, engaged 15 year old. You don’t remember this: no one does. When the idea finally locks in, kids think they just heard it the first time and it was obvious. They literally have no memory of all the groundwork you laid, all the other times you exposed them to that concept. And that’s okay. That’s how learning works. But it means things take a lot of time.

So you could do a more college-type history class in high school, but you’d have to do very little of it. Great huge swaths of history would have to go entirely untaught, and I’m not that sanguine that most kids would ever find out about WWI or Puritans founding Boston or Dred Scott if those things weren’t explicitly taught. Now, there’s an argument that a more abstract, contextualized history might be worth the sacrifice: that the gains in abstract thinking skill and in understanding how history works might be worth never having heard of segregation or MLK. AP is headed that direction, with much less emphasis on the flash-card knowledge, and much more freedom to cover fewer subjects in more depth. But in comprehensive classes you’d have to cut a lot to have the time to teach super-abstract, and you’d cut it from the kids least likely to ever get it anywhere else. It’s a hard call–and politically impossible, because everyone freaks out if you decide to cut anything from the state standards, because committees set the standards–and everyone has a sacred cow (“I am a proud descendant of the War of Jenkin’s Ear and this crucial turning point in colonial history must be included!”)

Now, the best history teachers do manage to give their kids some sort of historical consciousness–it can be done. But from the outside perspective of someone who went on to college, it looks really trivial and like it’s not much of an accomplishment–but, again, even that mild sense of historical awareness represents a deliberate goal constructed by a careful teacher. It’s like looking at an Alg 2 class and asking why they go so slow and cover so little . . . that’s just how kids work. It takes a lot of time and practice to get the skills we already teach. Adding a lot more skills means you’d need to cut a **lot **of something else, or quit teaching something else and double-block history.

AP Social Sciences courses assume that you got the “hey, there was a Civil War” and “hey, there was a Civil Rights movement” in middle school - in other words, that timeline foundation was laid and absorbed by the students in an AP course to provide basic context - and they are therefore ready to move on to the “and what does that mean” part of learning History - in fact, would be frustrated if we went back to the timeline version of History. People in an AP U.S. History Course should know that we fought a war to break with England (King George) and found a nation - and are therefore ready to go past that and into why and what happened. They are ready to hear about John Locke and his influence on our government. It isn’t uncommon for the High School History teachers to have kids in their high school classes who find the revolutionary war a completely new fact - despite having been taught it three times already.

Where the regular Social Sciences coursework seemed to assume that those concepts were not yet absorbed by the class, and that a second or third time through them was needed before you were ready to move onto a college teaching style of “and what does that mean.” And that is normal - most people don’t absorb something the first or second or even third time through. And History is about context, so you need the basic timeline to give context.

And that’s probably a good thing - my daughters Middle School History class didn’t make it to the Depression (first year teacher who wanted to explore the concepts and therefore ran out of time) so there were kids in her high school class that didn’t know about WWII in any more depth than it provides Nazis for filmmakers to use as the bad guys - they certainly weren’t exposed to Watergate or the HUAC unless they had managed to stumble into those topics in a YouTube video or meme - which are both really important US History topics.

Who takes AP History in that school? When I was in high school AP classes were for those in the top previous classes. In my current school district, out of fairness, AP classes are open to all, and so they are less restrictive then honors classes. In this kind of environment I can see kids in there who are forced to for college admission purposes, not because they give a damn about history.

AP courses are open to all, and there are no honors courses. And a lot of people end up in AP courses because the only other option is the courses where the kid forgot that the Revolution happened between middle school and tenth grade.

And since several kids managed to get 5s on the AP test, plenty of people who SHOULD take it (I think they have a 70% 3 or above rate on the APUSH test).

My experience 1963 on was a mixed bag. 1-6 were self contained classrooms and three of the teachers were big history fans; I still remember a lot I learned there. Grades 7 & 8 were actual “history teachers” but neither was very good - not only cannot I remember anything I learned there but I can’t even recall their faces or rough names. Grades 9-12 was very little actual history and more Problem of Democracy and some of the more touchy-feely aspects related to history.

I’m sure I learned some history in elementary school, but since we didn’t have separate classes for each subject, it’s hard to remember what was covered.

I got American History in 8th grade and then again in 11th grade. 8th grade history—I think I liked the class okay but didn’t love it. There was a bit too much emphasis on wars and battles for my personal taste. 11th grade American History was AP, and I remember thinking at the time that the textbook was really well written. Alas, now I can’t remember what it was, except that it had an orange cover. We also real The Jungle and The Ugly American as supplementary reading.

Those were the only history classes I took in middle or high school. So I didn’t get a class in world history or in the history of any other particular country. But there was a required one-semester course called Global Studies, that included units on the Middle East, China, and the Soviet Union, which included some historical background of those regions. And I got exposed to a little British history in English Lit, and a little German history in German (language), but not much.

(Cracks knuckles)
(Just to establish bonafides - I have California Single Subject Credentials in Social Studies, English, Life Sciences, and Earth Sciences, plus GATE and CLAD certification. And 31 years experience teaching in the California school system.)

I taught AP European History for 20 years. 50% of the kids in the class didn’t belong there. This year there are 4 sections being taught at our school. My guess is that 40 kids are actually going to take the test seriously.

The usual sequence around here is:

9th - World Geography/AP Human Geography
10th- World History/AP European History
11th - U. S. History/AP U. S. History
12th - American Government/Economics/AP American Government/Economics

AP courses are open to all, which I approve of. But it does lead to really crappy pass rates on the tests. I finally got fed up with the whole mess and am spending my last years before retirement teaching regular, run-of-the-mill Government and Economics. It’s a kick. I LOVE my random student classes. You can actually make a difference with these kids, and they aren’t so focused on colleges as to be unteachable. We deal with current events daily. In fact, I started this year by announcing to my classes that American Government would be entirely theoretical this year, since the election and all…

We are having fun, and the kids are responding well to having a raving socialist as a Government teacher. :smiley:

Note: For those who missed it, there was a thread a few months ago called Why Is History Education so Uncomprehensive?

That is the sequence in our high school. Some Minnesota schools swap the 10th and 11th grade. And our high school doesn’t offer AP American Government and Econ - instead they offer College in the Schools Political Science and Microecon - which are University of Minnesota credits with the UofM syllabus and rubric. The teachers in those classes don’t have a lot of room - it has to match the Intro to courses offered by the U.

And I wish our AP students were more focused on college. One of the weaknesses of my kid’s high school is that the administration really has not been at all interested in preparing them - outside of the curriculum, on their post high school experience. So most of our Seniors are bumping around in the dark about college.

Our school is the exact opposite - every student is tracked into a college path, usually UC/CSU. The problem is, of course, that a good 40% of our students have absolutely zero business being in college, and would be much better served by apprenticeships/job training/ROP/junior college, etc. But that sounds “defeatist” to the District and such, so everybody gets prepped for a four-year college, come Hell or high water. Teachers who care actually get into knock-down drag-outs with counselling over what students should take. Counselling knows fuck all, of course. But it takes parents complaining and screaming to get things to change.

I attended California schools in the late 50’s and early 60’s and IIRC there was a standard three-year cycle: California history in 4th, 7th and 10th grades; U.S. history in 5th, 8th and 11th grades; world history in 6th and 9th grades.

I do NOT recall any “controversies” being taught at all. Although our school district had a high reputation, the history classes were no good — much of the history I know now was learned decades later, in recreational reading or here at SDMB.

History was taught chronologically and IIRC never got to the 20th century! California history seemed to focus on the 21 Spanish missions, but never with a hint that the natives were mistreated. :smack:

UK here early through late 90s. At my primary school we studied an utterly random mix of Tudors, ancient Greece, Egypt, Rome and anything else anyone showed an interest in; it was a tiny school with a very flexible syllabus, and classes were often inspired by one student’s interest in a topic. I loved history there, we’d frequently spend a whole week just immersed in stuff like Greek myth, making ancient recipes, role playing Greek notables, just occasionally surfacing for a gulp of maths.

Then at age 11, I started secondary school, and everything got much more serious. The first year was, iirc, about Tudor England, in slightly greater depth than in primary school, followed by a brief skim from there through Victorian England. All from a positive UK perspective, skimming lightly over any controversy, nary a negative comment about Imperialism. From then on, it was WW1 and WW2, exclusively. Very heavy on battles and dates, UK centric, and dull, dull, dull. I dropped the subject as soon as I could, age 13, after finding out that was all that it was going to be for another 2 years.

My memory is foggy. Public education years were 80s and 90s, with the significant ones in Indiana:

3rd grade–state history
4th grade–world cultures
5th grade–American history, with a teacher who was all about the Civil War
6th grade–ancient world history, again the focus was on culture rather than events
7th grade–modern world history, mostly geography and culture
8th grade–American history again
9th grade–20th century European history, WWI and the Age of Anxiety and the Russian Revolution
10th grade–20th century American history

And that was the end of history classes for my public education. Looking at it, it’s clear that what was taught largely reflects what the teachers happened to be interested in. I was always in the accelerated/AP track. 9th and 10th grades had history and literature literally combined into a single double-length class, which led to literature predominating everything. And I think that’s a fine thing to do; it helps to circumvent the dry names-and-dates stuff. But I wish to heck we’d gotten some real history of something other than America and before the 20th century.

k-3: Don’t remember
4: Wisconsin – the year of many field trips (Wade House, Old World Wisconsin, Grignon Home, etc)
5: U.S. (we had to write a report on every state: Geography, Industry, Agriculture, History, etc)
6: South America for sure., possibly more
7: World Civ stuff (Mesopotamia, Egypt, etc). Rome?, Medieval Europe (I remember some made catapults for extra credit)
8: The Constitution, Urban planning (we had to design a city), the Stock market. Don’t remember if we had history
9-12 My HS had Social Study electives. I had some anthropology classes, one on ethics (the movie class we watched Casablanca and an edited Easy Rider), one on Future Shock and I think one on Japan
My mom was mad we didn’t have heave history

In college I had World Civ I as one of my electives but could have done something else to meet my humanities electives

Mine was in the late 70s early 80s (which is why I talk about what my kids had - far more relevant than mine).

We had Social Studies in Junior high - just general stuff - some History, some basic Civics. We learned how to budget and balance a checkbook in those classes.

Ninth grade was Geography - mostly U.S. - and included weather. I remember weather.
Tenth was Civics
Eleventh was U.S. History
Twelfth was a a Social Sciences overview - there was some Economics and Psychology in there. I’m not sure what else - possibly some Anthropology. I remember that was the class where we played stock market games.

I do remember that we had no History that wasn’t U.S. History. We never even needed to know Divorced Beheaded, Died, Divorced, Beheaded Survived. The world only existed as people we fought with or against. I picked up a History minor in college.

My high school offered no AP coursework and only about 10% of its student body went on to four year colleges. So my Social Sciences courses were mostly stacked with people who lacked intellectual curiously - or a reason to develop it. It was a really bad school. When late night shows do “man on the street” stuff where people can’t place Canada on a map, I suspect those are my high school classmates - and I went to high school in Minnesota - you should have some clue so you don’t cross into Canadian waters while walleye fishing without the proper license.

I had both US History and Texas History in the 7th grade. Enjoyed both classes.

Had US history again in the 11th grade. That was a bad time in my life and I had the bad luck to get a teacher that was a bully. Really made my life extra fun, you bet.

Had US history again in college. I registered for it with fear and trepidation and I had the incredibly good luck to get a teacher who knew his shit, was passionate about it and could actually teach. I guess I was a late bloomer or something, because I totally credit him with kindling my love of learning in general and history in particular.